Tags Archives: History

Visit the global History archives for posts from all DGR sites.

How Many Minutes to Midnight? Hiroshima Day 2014

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25388-how-many-minutes-to-midnight-hiroshima-day-2014

If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era).  The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.

Day one of the NWE was marked by the “success” of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb.  On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design.  Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid — no mean logistical achievement — attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading “Japan has surrendered.” Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.

Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE.  As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived.  We can only guess how many years remain.

Some reflections on these grim prospects were offered by General Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which controls nuclear weapons and strategy.  Twenty years ago, he wrote that we had so far survived the NWE “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

Reflecting on his long career in developing nuclear weapons strategies and organizing the forces to implement them efficiently, he described himself ruefully as having been “among the most avid of these keepers of the faith in nuclear weapons.” But, he continued, he had come to realize that it was now his “burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my judgment they served us extremely ill.” And he asked, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear-weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”

He termed the U.S. strategic plan of 1960 that called for an automated all-out strike on the Communist world “the single most absurd and irresponsible document I have ever reviewed in my life.” Its Soviet counterpart was probably even more insane.  But it is important to bear in mind that there are competitors, not least among them the easy acceptance of extraordinary threats to survival.

Survival in the Early Cold War Years

According to received doctrine in scholarship and general intellectual discourse, the prime goal of state policy is “national security.”   There is ample evidence, however, that the doctrine of national security does not encompass the security of the population.  The record reveals that, for instance, the threat of instant destruction by nuclear weapons has not ranked high among the concerns of planners.  That much was demonstrated early on, and remains true to the present moment.

In the early days of the NWE, the U.S. was overwhelmingly powerful and enjoyed remarkable security: it controlled the hemisphere, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the opposite sides of those oceans as well.  Long before World War II, it had already become by far the richest country in the world, with incomparable advantages.  Its economy boomed during the war, while other industrial societies were devastated or severely weakened.  By the opening of the new era, the U.S. possessed about half of total world wealth and an even greater percentage of its manufacturing capacity.

There was, however, a potential threat: intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.  That threat was discussed in the standard scholarly study of nuclear policies, carried out with access to high-level sources — Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years by McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies.

Bundy wrote that “the timely development of ballistic missiles during the Eisenhower administration is one of the best achievements of those eight years.  Yet it is well to begin with a recognition that both the United States and the Soviet Union might be in much less nuclear danger today if [those] missiles had never been developed.” He then added an instructive comment: “I am aware of no serious contemporary proposal, in or out of either government, that ballistic missiles should somehow be banned by agreement.”  In short, there was apparently no thought of trying to prevent the sole serious threat to the U.S., the threat of utter destruction in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Could that threat have been taken off the table?  We cannot, of course, be sure, but it was hardly inconceivable.  The Russians, far behind in industrial development and technological sophistication, were in a far more threatening environment.  Hence, they were significantly more vulnerable to such weapons systems than the U.S.  There might have been opportunities to explore these possibilities, but in the extraordinary hysteria of the day they could hardly have even been perceived.  And that hysteria was indeed extraordinary.  An examination of the rhetoric of central official documents of that moment like National Security Council Paper NSC-68 remains quite shocking, even discounting Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s injunction that it is necessary to be “clearer than truth.”

One indication of possible opportunities to blunt the threat was a remarkable proposal by Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin in 1952, offering to allow Germany to be unified with free elections on the condition that it would not then join a hostile military alliance.  That was hardly an extreme condition in light of the history of the past half-century during which Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia twice, exacting a terrible toll.

Stalin’s proposal was taken seriously by the respected political commentator James Warburg, but otherwise mostly ignored or ridiculed at the time.  Recent scholarship has begun to take a different view.  The bitterly anti-Communist Soviet scholar Adam Ulam has taken the status of Stalin’s proposal to be an “unresolved mystery.” Washington “wasted little effort in flatly rejecting Moscow’s initiative,” he has written, on grounds that “were embarrassingly unconvincing.” The political, scholarly, and general intellectual failure left open “the basic question,” Ulam added: “Was Stalin genuinely ready to sacrifice the newly created German Democratic Republic (GDR) on the altar of real democracy,” with consequences for world peace and for American security that could have been enormous?

Reviewing recent research in Soviet archives, one of the most respected Cold War scholars, Melvyn Leffler, has observed that many scholars were surprised to discover “[Lavrenti] Beria — the sinister, brutal head of the [Russian] secret police — propos[ed] that the Kremlin offer the West a deal on the unification and neutralization of Germany,” agreeing “to sacrifice the East German communist regime to reduce East-West tensions” and improve internal political and economic conditions in Russia — opportunities that were squandered in favor of securing German participation in NATO.

Under the circumstances, it is not impossible that agreements might then have been reached that would have protected the security of the American population from the gravest threat on the horizon.  But that possibility apparently was not considered, a striking indication of how slight a role authentic security plays in state policy.

The Cuban Missile Crisis and Beyond

That conclusion was underscored repeatedly in the years that followed.  When Nikita Khrushchev took control in Russia in 1953 after Stalin’s death, he recognized that the USSR could not compete militarily with the U.S., the richest and most powerful country in history, with incomparable advantages.  If it ever hoped to escape its economic backwardness and the devastating effect of the last world war, it would need to reverse the arms race.

Accordingly, Khrushchev proposed sharp mutual reductions in offensive weapons.  The incoming Kennedy administration considered the offer and rejected it, instead turning to rapid military expansion, even though it was already far in the lead.  The late Kenneth Waltz, supported by other strategic analysts with close connections to U.S. intelligence, wrote then that the Kennedy administration “undertook the largest strategic and conventional peace-time military build-up the world has yet seen… even as Khrushchev was trying at once to carry through a major reduction in the conventional forces and to follow a strategy of minimum deterrence, and we did so even though the balance of strategic weapons greatly favored the United States.” Again, harming national security while enhancing state power.

U.S. intelligence verified that huge cuts had indeed been made in active Soviet military forces, both in terms of aircraft and manpower.  In 1963, Khrushchev again called for new reductions.  As a gesture, he withdrew troops from East Germany and called on Washington to reciprocate.  That call, too, was rejected. William Kaufmann, a former top Pentagon aide and leading analyst of security issues, described the U.S. failure to respond to Khrushchev’s initiatives as, in career terms, “the one regret I have.”

The Soviet reaction to the U.S. build-up of those years was to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in October 1962 to try to redress the balance at least slightly.  The move was also motivated in part by Kennedy’s terrorist campaign against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, which was scheduled to lead to invasion that very month, as Russia and Cuba may have known.  The ensuing “missile crisis” was “the most dangerous moment in history,” in the words of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s adviser and confidant.

As the crisis peaked in late October, Kennedy received a secret letter from Khrushchev offering to end it by simultaneous public withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey.  The latter were obsolete missiles, already ordered withdrawn by the Kennedy administration because they were being replaced by far more lethal Polaris submarines to be stationed in the Mediterranean.

Kennedy’s subjective estimate at that moment was that if he refused the Soviet premier’s offer, there was a 33% to 50% probability of nuclear war — a war that, as President Eisenhower had warned, would have destroyed the northern hemisphere.  Kennedy nonetheless refused Khrushchev’s proposal for public withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and Turkey; only the withdrawal from Cuba could be public, so as to protect the U.S. right to place missiles on Russia’s borders or anywhere else it chose.

It is hard to think of a more horrendous decision in history — and for this, he is still highly praised for his cool courage and statesmanship.

Ten years later, in the last days of the 1973 Israel-Arab war, Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser to President Nixon, called a nuclear alert.  The purpose was to warn the Russians not to interfere with his delicate diplomatic maneuvers designed to ensure an Israeli victory, but of a limited sort so that the U.S. would still be in control of the region unilaterally.  And the maneuvers were indeed delicate.  The U.S. and Russia had jointly imposed a cease-fire, but Kissinger secretly informed the Israelis that they could ignore it.  Hence the need for the nuclear alert to frighten the Russians away.  The security of Americans had its usual status.

Ten years later, the Reagan administration launched operations to probe Russian air defenses by simulating air and naval attacks and a high-level nuclear alert that the Russians were intended to detect.  These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment.  Washington was deploying Pershing II strategic missiles in Europe with a five-minute flight time to Moscow.  President Reagan had also announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) program, which the Russians understood to be effectively a first-strike weapon, a standard interpretation of missile defense on all sides.  And other tensions were rising.

Naturally, these actions caused great alarm in Russia, which, unlike the U.S., was quite vulnerable and had repeatedly been invaded and virtually destroyed. That led to a major war scare in 1983.   Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than historians had previously assumed.  A CIA study entitled “The War Scare Was for Real” concluded that U.S. intelligence may have underestimated Russian concerns and the threat of a Russian preventative nuclear strike.  The exercises “almost became a prelude to a preventative nuclear strike,” according to an account in the Journal of Strategic Studies.

It was even more dangerous than that, as we learned last September, when the BBC reported that right in the midst of these world-threatening developments, Russia’s early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States, sending its nuclear system onto the highest-level alert.  The protocol for the Soviet military was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.  Fortunately, the officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, decided to disobey orders and not report the warnings to his superiors.  He received an official reprimand.  And thanks to his dereliction of duty, we’re still alive to talk about it.

The security of the population was no more a high priority for Reagan administration planners than for their predecessors.  And so it continues to the present, even putting aside the numerous near-catastrophic nuclear accidents that occurred over the years, many reviewed in Eric Schlosser’s chilling study Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. In other words, it is hard to contest General Butler’s conclusions.

Survival in the Post-Cold War Era

The record of post-Cold War actions and doctrines is hardly reassuring either.   Every self-respecting president has to have a doctrine.  The Clinton Doctrine was encapsulated in the slogan “multilateral when we can, unilateral when we must.” In congressional testimony, the phrase “when we must” was explained more fully: the U.S. is entitled to resort to “unilateral use of military power” to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.” Meanwhile, STRATCOM in the Clinton era produced an important study entitled “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,” issued well after the Soviet Union had collapsed and Clinton was extending President George H.W. Bush’s program of expanding NATO to the east in violation of promises to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev — with reverberations to the present.

That STRATCOM study was concerned with “the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era.” A central conclusion: that the U.S. must maintain the right to launch a first strike, even against non-nuclear states.  Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be at the ready because they “cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.” They were, that is, constantly being used, just as you’re using a gun if you aim but don’t fire one while robbing a store (a point that Daniel Ellsberg has repeatedly stressed).  STRATCOM went on to advise that “planners should not be too rational about determining… what the opponent values the most.”  Everything should simply be targeted. “[I]t hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed… That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project.” It is “beneficial [for our strategic posture] if some elements may appear to be potentially ‘out of control,’” thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack — a severe violation of the U.N. Charter, if anyone cares.

Not much here about the noble goals constantly proclaimed — or for that matter the obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to make “good faith” efforts to eliminate this scourge of the earth.  What resounds, rather, is an adaptation of Hilaire Belloc’s famous couplet about the Maxim gun (to quote the great African historian Chinweizu):

“Whatever happens, we have got,

The Atom Bomb, and they have not.”

After Clinton came, of course, George W. Bush, whose broad endorsement of preventative war easily encompassed Japan’s attack in December 1941 on military bases in two U.S. overseas possessions, at a time when Japanese militarists were well aware that B-17 Flying Fortresses were being rushed off assembly lines and deployed to those bases with the intent “to burn out the industrial heart of the Empire with fire-bomb attacks on the teeming bamboo ant heaps of Honshu and Kyushu.” That was how the prewar plans were described by their architect, Air Force General Claire Chennault, with the enthusiastic approval of President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall.

Then comes Barack Obama, with pleasant words about working to abolish nuclear weapons — combined with plans to spend $1 trillion on the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the next 30 years, a percentage of the military budget “comparable to spending for procurement of new strategic systems in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan,” according to a study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Obama has also not hesitated to play with fire for political gain.  Take for example the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs. Obama brought it up with pride in an important speech on national security in May 2013.  It was widely covered, but one crucial paragraph was ignored.

Obama hailed the operation but added that it could not be the norm.  The reason, he said, was that the risks “were immense.” The SEALs might have been “embroiled in an extended firefight.”  Even though, by luck, that didn’t happen, “the cost to our relationship with Pakistan and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory was… severe.”

Let us now add a few details. The SEALs were ordered to fight their way out if apprehended.  They would not have been left to their fate if “embroiled in an extended firefight.”  The full force of the U.S. military would have been used to extricate them.  Pakistan has a powerful, well-trained military, highly protective of state sovereignty.  It also has nuclear weapons, and Pakistani specialists are concerned about the possible penetration of their nuclear security system by jihadi elements.  It is also no secret that the population has been embittered and radicalized by Washington’s drone terror campaign and other policies.

While the SEALs were still in the bin Laden compound, Pakistani Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was informed of the raid and ordered the military “to confront any unidentified aircraft,” which he assumed would be from India.  Meanwhile in Kabul, U.S. war commander General David Petraeus ordered “warplanes to respond” if the Pakistanis “scrambled their fighter jets.” As Obama said, by luck the worst didn’t happen, though it could have been quite ugly.  But the risks were faced without noticeable concern.  Or subsequent comment.

As General Butler observed, it is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far, and the longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

We All Must Become Zapatistas

By Chris Hedges

Practice First, Then Theory: The Zapatista Little School

By Kristin Bricker / CIP Americas Program

By Kristin Bricker / CIP Americas Program

The first night of my homestay during the Zapatista Little School, my guardian and her husband asked if their students had any questions.  My classmate and I both had experience working with the Zapatistas, so we politely limited ourselves to the safe questions that are generally acceptable when visiting rebel territory: questions about livestock, crops, local swimming holes, and anything else that doesn’t touch on sensitive information about the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

My guardian’s husband patiently answered our mundane questions. Then he said, “Look, we entered into clandestinity in 1983, when the organization was just being formed. We walked hours at night to organize other towns, always at night so that the plantation owners wouldn’t get suspicious, and we went into the brush to train. My wife risked her life walking at night to bring bags of tostadas to the camps so that the insurgents would have food to eat during training. Now, do you have any other questions?”

My classmate and I looked at each other, our eyes seeming to say the same thing: “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be at the Zapatista Little School.” Then our questions began in earnest, and our guardians and their neighbors enthusiastically answered every single one.

Setting the Record Straight

The Zapatistas made the decision to open up their homes to their long-time supporters and teach them about their past, present, errors, victories, and advances for several reasons. During the Little School, Zapatistas repeatedly said that they hoped their supporters could learn from their experiences.

“Self-governance… is possible. If we achieved it with just a few compañeros and compañeras, why not with thousands or millions?” asked a Zapatista woman from Oventik. “We hope you’ll tell us if our practice, our experience with self-governance is in some way useful for you.”

“Many people think that what we’re doing, our form of governance, is a utopia, a dream,” said another Zapatista in Oventik. “For us Zapatistas, it is a reality because we’ve been doing it… through daily practice over the past 19 years. And that is why we think that if we join together with millions of Mexicans, we can form our own governments.”

Years ago, a Zapatista told me that they often learn more from their mistakes than from their victories. In that spirit, the Little School curriculum includes brutally honest discussions about errors the Zapatistas have committed over the years. For example, the textbooks include a frank discussion about the demise of the Mut Vitz coffee cooperative in 2007. Even though the cooperative’s sudden, unexplained closure was felt throughout the United States and Europe when roasters suddenly found themselves without a source of Zapatista coffee, the Zapatistas had not explained the reasons for Mut Vitz’s downfall until now.

In the Little School textbooks, Roque, a former member of the cooperative and current member of the San Juan de la Libertad Autonomous Municipal Council in Oventik, reveals that mismanagement and corruption ultimately lead to Mut Vitz’s demise. The cooperative had hired an outside accountant who, for reasons unknown to the cooperative members, did not accurately declare Mut Vitz’s assets to Mexico’s tax agency, which allowed the government to freeze their bank account. As Mut Vitz underwent an internal audit to determine what money the cooperative had left outside of the frozen account to pay producers who had supplied coffee on credit pending its sale, the Oventik Good Government Council discovered that members of the Mut Vitz board of directors were stealing money from the cooperative. The Council issued an order to arrest the guilty parties and seized some of their assets to replace the money they had stolen.

The Zapatistas also hoped to use the Little School to set the record straight about the state of their movement. They read the news, and they told students that they know the corporate media reports that Zapatismo is a dying movement, that the Zapatistas have turned their guns over to the government, that Subcomandante Marcos died of lung cancer or was fired, that the Comandancia (the Zapatista military leadership) meets secretly with the “bad government” and accepts millions of pesos from it, and that the Zapatistas are closet communists, amongst other baseless claims.

Furthermore, the Zapatistas admit that there have been traitors, compañeros who left the organization and collaborated with the government. As one European activist said at the end of the Little School, “I think they realized that it had gotten to the point where Mexico’s security agencies knew more about how the Zapatistas’ government works than their own civil society supporters did, so they decided to let us in on what they’ve been up to.”

The Zapatistas’ civilian government is, after all, not clandestine, and non-Zapatista indigenous people routinely use its clinics, justice system, public transportation permits, and other services that they can’t seem to obtain through the Mexican government. Moreover, any non-Zapatista—be it the bad government or another indigenous organization—that wants to develop an infrastructure project that passes through Zapatista territory (roads or electricity, for example) must negotiate with the Zapatistas’ “good government” and therefore understands how it is structured. With the Little School, the Zapatistas have officially and for the record explained exactly how their government works.

Perhaps one of the Little School’s most important benefits for the Zapatistas occurred during its preparation. The Little School’s four textbooks, Autonomous Government part I and II, Women’s Participation in the Autonomous Government, and Autonomous Resistance, as well as the two DVDs that accompany the books, were all created by Zapatistas themselves. The textbooks are the result of Zapatistas from all five caracoles (Zapatista government centers) traveling to regions other than their own to collect testimonies and interview fellow Zapatistas about how they self-govern.

The Zapatistas’ bottom-up approach to government means that while all of the caracoles operate under the same basic principles and towards the same goals, their day-to-day operations sometimes differ drastically. For example, every caracol has a Good Government Board, the maximum governing body in the region. However, each caracol’s Board is structured differently. Many of the Zapatistas’ questions to their compañeros from other caracoles in the interview portion of the textbooks revolved around their experiences and what has worked and what has not.

For example, a Board member from Oventik asked former Board members from Morelia, “Are the twelve members of the [Morelia] Board able to do all of their work? Because in Caracol II [Oventik] there’s 28 of us, and sometimes we feel overwhelmed.” The Morelia Zapatistas’ response was that they, too, are overwhelmed, and they feel the need to restructure the Board, but they have been unable to come up with a better proposal thus far.

Governing from Below

When the Zapatistas rose up in arms in Chiapas on January 1, 1994, they knew they wanted freedom and autonomy. “But we didn’t have a guide or a plan to tell us how to do it,” a Zapatista education promoter explained to me. “For us, it’s practice first, then theory.”

While part of the EZLN drove rich landowners off of their plantations in the Chiapan countryside in the pre-dawn hours of New Year’s day, other contingents took seven major cities around the state. “All that we’ve accomplished was thanks to our weapons that opened up the path that we are walking down today,” explains a Zapatista from Oventik on a Little School DVD. “[Since then] everything that we have achieved, we have achieved without firing a single shot.”

Immediately following the uprising, the Zapatistas implemented autonomous government at the town level. Each town named its local authorities and formed an assembly. “But since we were at war, we kept losing local authorities,” explains Lorena, a health promoter from San Pedro de Michoacán in La Realidad. “There was disorder in the communities.” As a stopgap measure, the EZLN’s military leadership had to step up and fulfill roles that civilian authorities were unable to carry out during the chaos of the war.

The military leadership held consultations with civilian authorities, and together they decided to create autonomous municipalities in order to bring order and civilian governance to the rebel territory. In December 1994, the Zapatistas inaugurated 38 autonomous municipalities comprised of an undisclosed number of towns. Each autonomous municipality had its own municipal council named by the towns, allowing for increased coordination between towns and more formal organization of civilian affairs.

As solidarity activists began to arrive in Zapatista territory to donate money and labor, the EZLN’s command realized that some municipalities were receiving more support than other, more isolated ones. “At [the command’s] urging, the municipal councils met and began to hold assemblies to start to see how each municipality was doing, what support each was receiving, what projects were being carried out,” explains Doroteo, a former member of La Realidad’s Good Government Board.

In 1997, the Zapatistas formalized the assemblies of municipal councils by creating the Association of Autonomous Municipalities, comprised of representatives from each autonomous municipality. “With the association of municipalities, tasks and work in health, education, and commerce were overseen,” recalls Doroteo. “During that time a dry goods warehouse was created… with the idea of [economically] supporting the full-time workers in the [Zapatista] hospital in San José del Río.”

During the creation of the Association of Autonomous Municipalities, the Zapatistas formally redistributed the land they had taken over in the 1994 uprising. Landless Zapatistas left the communities in which they were born to settle on recuperated land they could finally call their own, fulfilling revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata’s creed, “The land belongs to those who work it.”

In 2003, the Zapatistas inaugurated the third level of their autonomous government, the five Good Government Boards, located in La Realidad, Oventik, La Garrucha, Morelia, and Roberto Barrios. However, the organization of higher levels of government does not mean that the Zapatistas are moving further away from direct democracy through local assemblies. On the contrary, all proposals must be approved by town assemblies.

Proposals can originate in town assemblies and work their way up the different levels of autonomous government if they affect more than just the town in which they originated. The proposals pass through the municipal councils, which then brings approved proposals to the Good Government Council, which then runs them by the command, which then sends the proposals back down through the five Good Government Boards, which send them to the municipal councils, which in turn send the proposals to the people at the town level for consultation and implementation.

The command can also create its own proposals and send them down through the three levels of civilian government to the town assemblies for consultation and approval. Therefore, even though the Good Government Boards are the highest level of the autonomous government, they have no authority to create laws. The Boards are limited to two main roles: to coordinate and promote work in their regions and to enforce and carry out Zapatista laws and mandates that have already been approved by the people.

Because the Zapatistas constructed their government from the bottom up, with people organizing themselves into community assemblies, which in turn organized municipal councils, which in turn organized the five Good Government Boards, every Caracol is different. All work to implement the Zapatistas’ demands: land, housing, health, education, work, food, justice, democracy, culture, independence, freedom, and peace. However, the Zapatistas’ progress in implementing those demands varies from Caracol to Caracol. Some Caracols, such as La Garrucha, have collective economic projects such as stores or cattle to fund political activities at each of the three levels of government; other Caracols like Oventik only have collective economic projects in some towns.

Likewise, methods and success in implementing the Zapatistas’ Revolutionary Women’s Law varies. Morelia, for example, struggles to find ways to promote women’s participation in the higher levels of autonomous government. However, Morelia is unique amongst the Caracols because its Honor and Justice Commission (the judicial system) has a special plan for dealing with rape that aims to reduce re-victimization and encourage women to report crimes.

Constant Progress

Many have referred to recent Zapatista mobilizations such as their December 21, 2012, silent march and the creation of the Little School as a Zapatista “resurgence.” The Little School left one thing very clear: this is not a resurgence, because the Zapatistas never went away. During the school, students learned about the seemingly endless new cooperatives, the Zapatistas’ experiments in collective governance that are always being fine-tuned, and how donations from supporters were invested in livestock and warehouses so that they would pay dividends that would provide a steady long-term budget for hospitals and clinics.

The Little School’s lesson is clear: if the Zapatistas aren’t talking to the press, don’t commit the error of thinking that they are losing steam or have faded away. They are simply working extremely hard to advance their autonomy, and are too busy to get bogged down in countering the naysayers.

After all, their success is measured in their achievements and not their rhetoric. As one Zapatista man said at the end of a Little School class in Oventik, “We are demonstrating to the bad government that we don’t want it and we don’t need it, and it’s not necessary, for us to provide for ourselves.”

Kristin Bricker is a reporter in Mexico. She is a contributor to the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.

– – – – – – – – – –

Originally posted by CIP Americas here.

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part II

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

This is the second part of a two piece series on strategic resistance. Read Part I here.

Humans are storytelling creatures, and our current strategy as a movement is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.  We need to ask whether that story matches up with reality, and with the way social change has happened throughout history.

So here’s the story as it stands:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

We all know this narrative, we hear it referenced all the time, and it resonates with a lot of people, but we need to examine it with a critical eye along with the historical narratives that are used to back it up. There are truths behind these ideas, but there is also the omission of truth, and we can decipher the interests of the historian by reading between the lines. Let’s take each piece of this narrative in turn to try and find out what’s been omitted and those interests that omission may be concealing.

So let’s start with the idea of “a shift in consciousness.”  The idea that we can educate society into a new and different state of consciousness has been popularized most recently by writers like David Korten, who bases his analysis on the idea:

“The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration.”

Another way that this idea is often mentioned is in the form of the Hundredth Monkey myth. A primatologist named Lyall Watson wrote about a supposed phenomenon where monkeys on one island began teaching each other to wash sweet potatoes in the ocean before eating them. Myth has it that once the hundredth monkey learned to do it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with the original potato washing monkeys spontaneously began washing potatoes, exhibiting a kind of tipping point or collective jump in consciousness. The existence of this phenomenon has been thoroughly debunked, and even Watson himself has admitted that he fabricated the myth using “very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay.” This hasn’t stopped optimistic environmentalists from invoking the hundredth monkey phenomenon to defend the idea that through raising our collective consciousness, by getting through to that hundredth monkey, we’ll spark a great turning of humankind away from the behaviors that are killing the planet.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn’t pan out historically. Let’s take the example of resistance against the Nazi regime and the genocide it committed. And let’s look at some omitted historical information. In 1952, after the Nuremberg Trials, after all of the information about the atrocities of the holocaust had become common knowledge, still only 20% of German citizens thought that resistance was justifiable during wartime which, under the Nazis or any other empire, is all the time. And mind you, the question was not whether they personally would participate in the resistance; it was whether they thought any resistance by anyone was justifiable.

Continue reading

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part I

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

View video of the event at the Deep Green Resistance Youtube channel

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This quote by Spanish writer and philosopher George Santayana was posted on the wall in my high school history classroom. The idea, as my history teacher explained, it is that learning about history is vitally important because by knowing and understanding past events, we can actively shape the future.  According to my teacher’s view, at least the view he shared with his students, the history in our textbooks is objective, time-tested truth, and nothing more nor less.

Some time after that class ended, I read another George Santayana quote, which is somewhat less often quoted, “history is a pack of lies about things that never happened told by people who weren’t there.”

Taken at face value, this statement goes to the other extreme and completely writes off the history we’re taught as lies, as intentionally untrue.  I think that both these views let us off too easy, because the stories we call history, and the process by which some stories become the dominant stories, the ones we teach to our children, is more complex than the dichotomy of truth vs. lie.

Another often repeated idea about history is that it’s “written by the victors.”  This gets closer to a nuanced look at what history means and what it does.

For instance, in 1890 the US army massacred 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, burying them in a mass grave.  Twenty US soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for this atrocity, just one of the many perpetrated by European colonizers who called genocide their manifest destiny.  The vast majority of “historical” accounts throughout the decades don’t call Wounded Knee a massacre; they lend it a false legitimacy by calling it a battle. The same goes for the Washita massacre carried out by Custer in 1868.  So-called historical accounts refer to this event as the Battle of the Washita.  As it’s been said, “When a white army battles Indians and wins, it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre.”

Continue reading