Guilty by Association

Fanny Kemble felt accused from the moment she arrived at her husband’s Georgia plantation in December of 1838. On the faces of his slaves, she saw the same sad and fearful expression, conveying “a sense of incalculable past loss and injury and a dread of incalculable future loss and injury.” Deep down, she must have known that, for all her pity, and despite her small acts of kindness toward “these wretched people,” as she called them, she was complicit in their oppression.
Kemble, a famous actress in England before she married Pierce Butler, gave up earning her own living to be kept by a wealthy husband whose family had lived off the unpaid labor of slaves for two generations. From the comfort of her Philadelphia mansion, she could entertain abolitionists. She could even write against slavery, but this did not change the fact that, as Butler bluntly put it, “the act of marrying a slave owner made her also a slave owner...”
At moments in her Journal, Kemble admits as much to herself:
I am getting perfectly savage over all these doings, and really think I should consider my own throat and those of my children well cut if some night the people were to take it into their heads to clear off scores in that fashion.
She cannot pretend to be pure, cannot stand above the ugly reality she witnesses. Sad and fearful, and guilty, she fled the Georgia plantation after four months.
A century later, white outsiders who, like Kemble, became insiders in the South—the Jim Crow South—felt the same complicated emotions as they contemplated the situation of the blacks. Refugee Jewish scholars from Hitler’s Germany who came to the United States and wound up teaching in black colleges in the segregated South, were dismayed to find themselves transformed overnight from victims to oppressors, owing to their white skin. Their response was quietly to circumvent the Jim Crow Laws, inviting their students into their homes while holding them to the same high standards they had expected of their students back in their German universities, replicating as best they could in their impoverished circumstances the vibrant academic community they had lost. Tellingly enough, few returned to Germany after the war.

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and Noble Nook Books, Kobo and Google Books.  Her current project, Lost Belongings, explores the moral and political choices of exiled Holocaust survivors after the war.

A continually expanding concept of national security is not viable for America's future

by John Prados

The following is excerpted from John Prados' 11,000 word essay Rethinking National Security available for e-Readers through Now and Then Reader.

America today stands at a crossroads. Beset by economic woes, driven to attempt reform that might enable the nation to regain a sense of honor and purpose, and seeking desperately to identify what actions are needed, Americans are searching for a way forward. But there is an elephant in the room that blocks the way: what we call “national security.” Few observers have paid much attention to national security. Citizens have long deferred to government and allowed it full sway in the defense of the land. But our present crisis is too great, and our resources too strained, to continue with business as usual. America’s myriad difficulties cannot be overcome without dealing with the issue of national security.

As presently conceived, national security is a trap. Left untouched, pursuit of it will continue to cripple our country. In the essay that follows I try to show how national security evolved, why in its present form it ensnares the nation, what would be the consequences of failure to correct the situation, and what a new approach might look like. I also argue that a solution to this problem is urgent: escaping the national security trap may be the critical issue of our era.

During his presidential campaign Barack Obama made many promises, some of them concerning foreign policy and defense. His ideas resonated with Americans. Candidate Obama promised to end the war in Iraq; close the notorious detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; stop torture and renditions; move away from the nuclear standoff that still exists with Russia; ratify the comprehensive test-ban treaty; end regulations that oppress gay Americans serving in the military; strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency; and place U.S. diplomacy on a broader foundation. Mr. Obama foresaw a global fair deal in which the United States would multiply assistance to the Third World, forgive the debts of underdeveloped countries, and reduce foreign hostility by means of transparent policies and frank answers to critics of America. Candidate Obama believed in strengthening common security by investing in the common humanity of all peoples.

Four years on, much of this agenda remains unfulfilled. Case in point: the day after his inauguration, President Obama issued an executive order providing that the Guantanamo prison be closed within a year. He was not able to enforce that directive. Objections from politicians, officials, and citizens over the relocation or release of detainees comprised a mounting wave of resistance that stalled the program. The administration’s initiative to move the trial of admitted terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed, one of the architects of the attacks of September 11, 2001, to a civilian court—and thus end the gravely flawed military tribunals created by the Bush administration—then failed. The collapse of this effort effectively ended the president’s entire program for detainees.

Obama had also advocated a variety of steps to reset U.S. relations with Russia and eradicate the vestiges of the nuclear balance of terror, disturbingly persistent even after the end of the Cold War. Final ratification of a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty, making new designs for nuclear weapons more difficult, and reaching a fresh agreement with Moscow on further reductions in existing weapons stockpiles were among these initiatives. But Senate fears of weakening the nation’s defenses put the final nails in the coffin of ratification. When Obama went ahead and canceled design of a new generation of weapons, senators made the program’s continuation a condition for their ratification of the arms-reduction agreement.

To reduce the danger of accidental nuclear war, the Obama administration suggested that both the United States and Russia modify the command control of their long-range missiles so that targets in the other nation would not be preset into the rockets’ guidance systems. Meanwhile a different initiative held over from the Bush administration called for an anti-ballistic-missile defense system that requires placing early-detection radars on the territory of nations contiguous to Russia. Moscow considers this an aggressive action aimed at Russia, but Obama officials continued the program. The Russians responded with actions of their own, including the rejection of the measure to reduce the danger of accidental war.

One campaign promise that President Obama fulfilled was his commitment to end the oppressive treatment of gay Americans by the military in the form of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” regulations, under which admitted homosexuals were dismissed from the armed forces. When the White House mandated cancellation of this regimen, a procession of generals and admirals—and powerful politicians—resisted by arguing that permitting gays to serve openly in the military would reduce the effectiveness of U.S. forces. Obama won through, and legislation ending the obsolete regulations was enacted into law.

In each of these situations involving foreign policy and defense, a common thread may be found in behind-the-scenes maneuvering and policy debates: the single concept of “national security.” Unremarked by nearly everyone, the idea of national security has expanded to the point where today it has acquired a quasi-mystical meaning. Almost anything that relates remotely to the nation’s well-being is declared within the realm of national security. As a candidate Barack Obama subscribed to many forward-thinking ideas. As president many of his campaign commitments remain in limbo precisely because of the demands of national security. But the president is not merely a prisoner of aggressive national security stalwarts. In important ways he himself believes in its precepts.

The central problem is not an individual—even a president—and not a cohort of advocates. America’s crisis today hinges in large part on an overweening and outmoded concept of national security. Left over from Cold War days, it has ballooned far beyond its original meaning. And this has happened without serious consideration by American citizens. If it is not curbed, national security will drive the decline of the very state it aims to preserve. Traditional national security is a trap.


John Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He is the author of more than twenty books in the field, including 'Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA;' 'Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945–1975;' 'Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of U.S. Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II;' and 'Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush.' He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.


The complete essay 'Rethinking National Security' is available to purchase for $2.99 Kindle and iPad through Amazon and iTunes.

Happy Birthday, Charles Fourier

Picture yourself in a commune near Boston

With lions as butlers and lemonade seas

Everyone’s willing to share their possessions

And work for the community

Happy small children collect all the trash

Riding on Shetland ponies

Free education, free love

Total equality

The magnificent failure known as Brook Farm, a utopian commune set up in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, was more fantastic than anything dreamed up by John Lennon. Founded by free-thinking New Englanders in 1841—the hippies of their generation—its ambitious program gave ownership of the community to anyone who lived and worked there, one share distributed for each day a member worked, and provided a high-quality education from preschool through college for all of the colony’s children. Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the original shareholders; Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet and Transcendentalist, along with feminist author Margaret Fuller, and the fathers of Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe were all enthusiastic about the enterprise.

The experiment was based on the socialist ideals of the French reformer Charles Fourier. Like other late-18th-century rationalists, including Ben Franklin, Fourier believed you could solve all the problems of the world if you just put your mind to it. Putting his mind to the problems of urban and industrial society, he came up with the “back-to-the-land” philosophy that inspired not only Brook Farm, but numerous communes throughout the United States, not to mention the Kibbutz model in Israel.

But Fourier didn’t stop at social engineering. He predicted that a new planetary alignment would change the earth. The North Pole would melt and the seas would lose their saltiness and turn to lemonade. Wild animals would become the servants of humankind. So maybe he went off the deep end, but his ideas were incredibly influential. Karl Marx “borrowed” his criticism of capitalism, the exploitation of workers for the benefit of factory owners, and his understanding of the way that factory work alienated workers. Others picked up on his support of women’s rights—Fourier coined the word “feminism”— his critique of the institution of marriage and advocacy of sexual freedom, including same-sex unions.

All in all, he was a pretty radical guy, not only for his time, but for ours as well. “The first right of men is the right to work and the right to a minimum wage,” he said. “This is precisely what has gone unrecognized in all the constitutions. Their primary concern is with favored individuals who are not in need of work.”

Charles Fourier was born on April 7, 1772, and died on October 10, 1837.

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Google Books.