Tag Archives: Social Justice

August 18, 1991 (a Sunday)

Yeltsin stands on a military tank to defy the August Coup in 1991.

On this date, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was placed under house arrest during an attempted coup d’état (known as the August Putsch or August Coup) by high-ranking members of his own government, military and police forces.

Since becoming secretary of the Communist Party in 1985 and president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1988, Gorbachev had pursued comprehensive reforms of the Soviet system, greatly improving Soviet relations with Western democracies, particularly the United States. However, within the USSR, Gorbachev faced powerful critics. Conservative, hard-line politicians and military officials thought he was driving the Soviet Union toward its downfall and making it a second-rate power, while more radical reformers – particularly Boris Yeltsin, president of the most powerful socialist republic, Russia – complained that Gorbachev was just not working fast enough.

The August 1991 coup was carried out by the hard-line elements within Gorbachev’s own administration, as well as the heads of the Soviet army and the KGB, or secret police. Detained at his vacation villa in the Crimea, he was placed under house arrest and pressured to give his resignation, which he refused to do. Claiming Gorbachev was ill, the coup leaders, headed by former vice president Gennady Yanayev, declared a state of emergency and attempted to take control of the government.

Yeltsin and his backers from the Russian parliament then stepped in, calling on the Russian people to strike and protest the coup. When soldiers tried to arrest Yeltsin, they found the way to the parliamentary building blocked by armed and unarmed civilians. Yeltsin himself climbed aboard a tank and spoke through a megaphone, urging the troops not to turn against the people and condemning the coup as a “new reign of terror.” The soldiers backed off, some of them choosing to join the resistance. After thousands took the streets to demonstrate, the coup collapsed after only three days.

Gorbachev was released and flown to Moscow, but his regime had been dealt a deadly blow. Over the next few months, he dissolved the Communist Party, granted independence to the Baltic states, and proposed a looser, more economics-based federation among the remaining republics. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned. Yeltsin capitalized on his defeat of the coup, emerging from the rubble of the former Soviet Union as the most powerful figure in Moscow and the leader of the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Surprisingly, no one predicted the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Chas Freeman, a former diplomat who served as Richard Nixon​’s interpreter during his visit to mainland China in 1972, once recalled conversations he had had when living in Taiwan in the 1970s, before Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang party had moved from quasi-military rule to open elections:

People would say they are corrupt, they have no vision, they have a ridiculous ideology we have to kowtow to, but that no one believes in practice.

And I would say, ‘If they’re so bad, why don’t you get rid of them?’ That would be greeted with absolute incredulity.

Taiwanese of that era would tell him that, corrupt or not, the party was steadily bringing prosperity. Or that there was no point in complaining, since the party would eliminate anyone who challenged its rule. A generation later, Taiwan had become democratized.

People predicted the fall of the Chinese Communist Party in 1989, but it didn’t happen. The point of this post is, as the Danish physicist Neils Bohr (1885 – 1962) once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

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August 8, 1942 (a Saturday)

Rudolf Brazda, photo taken at Mulhouse, late 1940 (Private Collection)

On this date, following two convictions for violating section 175 of the former German Criminal Code, Rudolf Brazda was sent to the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald. The bureaucracy of the horror of the degradation is listed matter-of-factly in the original documents from the Buchenwald concentration camp:

Registered on 8 August 1942, Paragraph 175 homosexual, prisoner number 7952, pink triangle.

Brazda was probably the last surviving “Pink Triangle”, men who were rounded up by the Nazis and detained in concentration camps for being gay. The Nazis outlawed homosexuality in 1936 and it is estimated that they sent between 5,000 and 15,000 gays to concentration camps. After the end of World War II, Brazda setted in Alsace in northeastern France. He started visiting local gay cruising grounds, notably the Steinbach public garden where ironically Pierre Seel, another homosexual deportee who later came out, had been identified by the French police shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Brazda, like Seel and thousands of others, had to remain silent for decades after World War II ended because homosexuality remained a crime (it was decriminalized in France only in 1982). He spoke out in this interview:
_____________________________________________________


_____________________________________________________

Rudolf Brazda died on August 3, 2011.

Suggested reading/watching:

  • Bent, the 1997 movie made from Martin Sherman’s 1979 play of the same name
  • Epstein and Friedman, Paragraph 175
  • Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (Holt, 1988)
  • Pierre Seel, Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel [I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual] (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1994)

August 5, 1985 (a Monday)

Jewish slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Jena, Germany. Elie Wiesel is on the second row from the bottom, seventh from the left. Reportedly Mel Mermelstein is on the top bunk at the far right. (16 April 1945)

On this date, Long Beach, California businessman Melvin Mermelstein struck a powerful blow against bogus history and historical hoaxes. Mel was awarded a judgment in a California court, in a contract case.

In 1980, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a Torrance, California organization that claimed that the planned extermination of Jews by the Nazis was a myth, had offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove that the Holocaust actually happened.

Mermelstein was 17 years old in May, 1944, when he was sent to Auschwitz, the largest of the World War II concentration camps. He was freed from the Buchenwald camp in April, 1945. His parents, two sisters and one brother did not survive the Nazi death camps. He offered his evidence to the IHR: Mermelstein sent the institute a lengthy affidavit recounting how he and his family were arrested in the spring of 1944 and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. He described how he witnessed Nazi guards ushering his mother and two sisters and others towards (as he learned later) gas chamber number five.

The Holocaust deniers, of course, had no intention of paying up. They dismissed any evidence offered as inadequate, and continued to claim no one could prove that the Holocaust actually occurred.

Mermelstein, however, knew the law. He knew that the offer of the reward was a sweepstakes, a form of contract. He knew it was a contract enforceable in court. He sued the IHR, contending that the institute reneged on its offer after he submitted proof of the murders. The issue in court would be, was Mermelstein’s evidence sufficient?

Mermelstein’s lawyer, William John Cox, had a brilliant idea. He petitioned the court to take “judicial notice” of the fact of the Holocaust. The doctrine of judicial notice allows courts to recognize as fact something that is so well established that it doesn’t need to be evidenced when it is introduced in court — such as, 2 + 2 = 4, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius, the Earth orbits the Sun, etc.

In a pre-trial hearing on 9 October 1981, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas T. Johnson resolved the most controversial part of the case; the court ruled that the Holocaust had occurred. The judge declared:

Under Evidence Code Section 452(h), this court does take judicial notice of the fact that Jews were gassed to death at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during the summer of 1944.

(…)

It just simply is a fact that falls within the definition of Evidence Code Section 452(h). It is not reasonably subject to dispute. And it is capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonably indisputable accuracy. It is simply a fact.

That ruling meant that, by operation of law, Mermelstein had won the case, obviating the need for a court trial.

“It was the greatest ruling I could have hoped for,” Cox later said. “It would have been very easy for the judge to say the motions on summary judgment are denied. There was no real requirement that he do this…. It was a courageous decision.”

“His taking judicial notice was important, not in that it validated the Holocaust, but it avoided providing Holocaust deniers with a platform to grandstand and to present their historical distortion,” Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt said.

On 5 August 1985, Judge Robert A. Wenke entered a judgment [archived here] based upon the Stipulation for Entry of Judgment agreed upon by the parties on July 22, 1985. The judgment required IHR and other defendants to pay $90,000 to Mermelstein and to issue a letter of apology to “Mr. Mel Mermelstein, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald, and all other survivors of Auschwitz” for “pain, anguish and suffering” caused to them.

Mermelstein was portrayed by Leonard Nimoy and Cox was played by Dabney Coleman in a 1991 TV movie about the 1981 lawsuit called Never Forget. Mel wrote of the court battle in his autobiography entitled By Bread Alone: The Story of A-4685 (1979).

[Thanks to Ed Darrell, author of the blog entitled Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, for bringing Mel Mermelstein to my attention. — Ed.]

References:

At the Intersection of Science and Human Rights

Inmates sew at a compulsory drug rehabilitation centre in Kunming.

A study by Xue et al, published in Science‘s 13 April 2012 issue, tested an experimental treatment for addiction on 66 former heroin users confined at two detention centers in Beijing.

According to Reuters:

Studies published by Science must have approval from an ethics board; the Chinese scientists say their study had such approval from Peking University.

BUT…

Again quoting Reuters:

Joseph Amon, director of the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch, charged in [a] letter that in both [detention centers] addicts are ‘detained without due process’ and, he told Reuters, ‘held in a closed institution where monitoring of human rights abuses is not allowed.’ It is not clear from the study whether the addicts ‘were voluntary patients’ at the facilities or forcibly held, Amon said in his letter.

Mr. Amon, who is also an associate in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and a lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University, is correct. Arrest for illegal drug use in China can lead to compulsory treatment (for a minimum of 2 years) at detention centers that function as de facto penal colonies where inmates are fed substandard food and denied basic medical care. The detentions are enforced by police, where the drug user has no opportunity to have a trial, face a judge, or raise an appeal. When a drug user leaves detention, the problems do not end there: their having been arrested for drug use is noted on their national identification card, making future employment difficult and leaving them vulnerable to frequent and humiliating searches by police.

This is not a rare phenomenon: according to a May 2009 report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), half a million people are confined in drug detention centers in China at any given time. Most reports indicate that “treatment” during detention looks like punishment, exploitation, or merely lame, consisting of unpaid labor in chicken farms or shoe factories, or in the form of untested “therapies” like sandbox play, art, or boxing.

The study by Xue et al was conducted at Beijing Ankang and Tiantanghe Drug Rehabilitation Centers, but these are two of the facilities that have raised concerns about human rights violations over the past years.

‘The journal is not an investigative body,’ a spokeswoman for Science told Reuters. ‘On the basis of the authors’ response as well as (the editors’) own internal review, which included a science ethicist, the concerns about human rights seem to have been addressed, and the paper remains in good standing at this time.’

Daniel Wikler, a bioethicist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, publicly commented:

Human Rights Watch has published valuable reports on inhumane treatment of drug addicts in many lands, including both China and the United States…But why brand the experiment by Xue et al as unethical?… Mr. Amon’s objections to the Xue et al study do not amount to much. He seems to be using the publication of the study as a means of drawing attention to wrongs in China’s treatment of addicts… it would be a shame if Mr. Amon’s letter tarnished the reputation of Chinese and U.S. scientists who seem to have conducted an innocuous (but valuable) experiment… [emphasis added]

Wikler is a frequent lecturer on ethics and health in the PRC and Hong Kong and holds honorary appointments at two Beijing research institutions, but he is no expert on the Chinese government’s attitude toward human rights and the rule of law. It seems at least equally plausible that Mr. Amon is using the wrongs in China’s treatment of addicts as a means of drawing attention to the unethical nature of the Xue et al experiment.

Inmates take an oath to resist drugs at a mandatory rehab center in Wuhan, China. (Stringer Shanghai/Reuters).

The authors of the study included 11 scientists at Peking University, led by Yan-Xue Xue, and two scientists, David Epstein and Yavin Shaham, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The NIDA declined to allow the two U.S. scientists to speak about the study. And the two NIDA researchers did not sign the response, nor did three of the Beijing University scientists. So the response to Amon’s letter published by Science in their 3 August 2012 issue was actually signed by only eight authors, all from Peking University, out of the total of 13.

In the authors’ response, the scientists explain that their work used subjects who they say were “court mandated” — but as noted before, drug users are usually sent to detention centers without any formal trial, never seeing the inside of a courtroom, because drug abuse in China isn’t considered a criminal offense. They dismiss Amon’s charges by stating, “The human rights violations mentioned by Amon would have violated China’s new National Narcotics Control Law and Chinese law in general…Patients who work are always paid. This provision has been put into effect for many years, and recently has been written in the National Narcotics Control Law, which bans forced labor.” This sounds like something written by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Such naivete about China’s respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights is disturbing. Chinese laws hardly justify confidence in the humane treatment of their study subjects.

There is a well-known saying in China that makes despotic officials (such as those staffing detention centers) happy: “the heaven is high and the emperor, far away”; therefore even if the central government is good and has formulated good laws, regulations, rules, codes, policies, etc., a despotic official may still do whatever he wants. China is too large and the central government is too far away to be aware of their malpractices; while the God who always upholds justice, is too high away to meddle.

In institutional settings, where conformity and compliance are rewarded, people may not feel that they have a real choice. Prisoners are aware that behavior is continuously monitored and assessed, and that this can have very real consequences.

As a scientist, I am appalled at the glib way the AAAS addresses human rights concerns. With drug user detainees in such circumstances in China, is voluntary informed consent of participants really possible? Are researchers who conduct research in these facilities complicit in the ill-treatment of drug users at the hands of Chinese authorities? I believe so.

Although the NIDA didn’t provide direct funding for the study, it did contribute financial support for the paper by paying the salaries of Epstein and Shaham. In a statement released to the Associated Press on April 22, the NIDA explained that its scientists “advised on the experimental design of the preclinical studies, and were involved in the data analyses and in the preparation of the manuscript.” Science magazine’s guidelines, as well as the NIDA’s code of conduct and standard scientific protocol, state that all co-authors are responsible for the sum total of any article published in its pages. By allowing their names to be published on the study, Epstein and Shaham took responsibility for the entire contents of the report, including the ethics of the research. Since these two scientists were significant enough contributors to the research to warrant authorship, should the study have also been reviewed under the (rather stringent) U.S. regulations governing prisoner research? I believe so. If it had been, would it have passed muster? I believe not. For one thing, under American law, federally funded research on inmates must be approved by a panel that includes at least one prisoner who volunteers to serve (see Title 45 CFR Part 46.304(b)).

I strongly urge Science magazine to retract this study for not adhering to standards protective of human subjects; verification of compliance with human rights standards should be obtained from third-party sources, not affiliated in any way with the CCP (which includes Peking University), as a matter of policy whenever considering publication of such studies from China.

References:

August 4, 2010 (a Wednesday)

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

— John Adams, “Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,” December 1770

Zen stones

Scales of Justice

On this date, U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that Proposition 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that banned same-sex civil marriage, was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling put Walker, a Republican, at the forefront of the gay marriage debate and marked the latest in a long line of high-profile legal decisions for the longtime federal judge. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987, but his nomination was held up for two years in part because of opposition from gay rights activists. (As a lawyer, he had helped the U.S. Olympic Committee sue a gay ex-Olympian who had created the Gay Olympics, an athletic competition.)

Ironically, most major media organizations, from the New York Times and ABC News to the Washington Post and National Public Radio, have lately reported on Judge Walker as gay or had commentators saying it. In fact, he has never confirmed to anyone in the media what sexual orientation he may be. As Michelangelo Signorile recently pointed out in the Huffington Post:

[T]he outrageous hypocrisy here on the part of the corporate media — and one that shows how they are manipulated by the right — is the fact that, even with proof and evidence, news organizations refuse to report on the secretly gay sexual orientation of conservative, anti-gay politicians and public figures when the argument for their exposure is made from the left. [emphasis added]

Lawyer Brian Levine, an attorney who practices civil litigation in San Francisco, wrote an analysis of the Perry ruling in which he said:

Most of the decision (the first 109 pages) is the “factual findings.” This is crucial, and here’s why. On appeal, Judge Walker’s conclusions of law are basically irrelevant. Questions of law are decided fresh on appeal, and the trial court’s thoughts on the law are entitled to no deference. On the other hand, only a trial court can make factual findings. A Court of Appeal must give great deference to the factual findings of the trial court, especially when those findings are based on the credibility of witness testimony. Judge Walker knows this. He knows that his primary role in this case is to weigh the credibility of the evidence that was presented at trial and apply the facts that were proven to the law. But the law — unlike the facts — ultimately will be decided by nine Justices at a higher pay grade. Consequently, we should be grateful to Judge Walker for carefully and diligently going through the facts of the case, creating a detailed and compelling record for the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

So, the trial court’s findings of fact and rulings on credibility are here to stay, no matter whether Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, or Alito approve of same-sex marriage or not. Lawyer Paul Hogarth, an attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco, identified several important findings of fact, including:

[Fact #] 27. Marriage between a man and a woman was traditionally organized based on presumptions of a division of labor along gender lines. Men were seen as suited for certain types of work and women for others. Women were seen as suited to raise children and men were seen as suited to provide for the family.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 32. California has eliminated marital obligations based on the gender of the spouse. Regardless of their sex or gender, marital partners share the same obligations to one another and to their dependents. As a result of Proposition 8, California nevertheless requires that a marriage consist of one man and one woman.

Homosexual couples and heterosexual couples are equal.

These two factual findings together lead to the logical conclusion that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is an archaic concept that relies on a presumption that men and women are different, and somehow both indispensable to form a marriage. The times are changing, and justices in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) cannot simply “stick their heads in the sand.” Three more factual findings are also noteworthy:

[Fact #] 58. Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 67. Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 79. The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child.

These three factual findings together strongly suggest that Prop 8 was motivated by an irrational fear (animus) toward gays and lesbians. In ruling on Perry, Walker stated:

The evidence at trial regarding the campaign to pass Proposition 8 uncloaks the most likely explanation for its passage: a desire to advance the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples. The campaign relied heavily on negative stereotypes about gays and lesbians and focused on protecting children from inchoate threats vaguely associated with gays and lesbians. . . .

At trial, proponents’ counsel attempted through cross-examination to show that the campaign wanted to protect children from learning about same-sex marriage in school. . . . The evidence shows, however, that Proposition 8 played on a fear that exposure to homosexuality would turn children into homosexuals and that parents should dread having children who are not heterosexual. . . .

The testimony of George Chauncey places the Protect Marriage campaign advertisements in historical context as echoing messages from previous campaigns to enact legal measures to disadvantage gays and lesbians. The Protect Marriage campaign advertisements ensured California voters had these previous fear-inducing messages in mind. The evidence at trial shows those fears to be completely unfounded.

Judge Vaughn R. Walker

Walker correctly recognized that the rhetoric of “defending marriage”, which proponents have always been unable to explain satisfactorily in my view, actually amounts to simply saying that heterosexual couples are morally better than homosexual couples. Note that both Judge Walker in his ruling and David Fleischer in The Prop 8 Report identified the same campaign strategy used by Prop 8 proponents as responsible for the passage of the initiative. Fleischer observed:

Recycling a lie as old as Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign whipped up fears about kids to move voters to its side. . . . Yes on 8’s fear-mongering about children was particularly effective because No on 8 waited sixteen of the thirty days remaining until the election was over to directly respond.

Judge Walker’s ruling concluded:

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples. . . . Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Supporters of same-sex marriage march from San Francisco's Castro neighborhood to celebrate the ruling on Prop 8.

After the ruling was announced, a lawyer on the defense team, Jim Campbell, repeated their familiar but nevertheless misleading refrain:

In America, we should uphold and respect the right of [the] people to make policy changes through the democratic process, especially changes that do nothing more than uphold the definition of marriage that has existed since the founding of this country and beyond.

As a lawyer, Campbell should know better — that the will of the majority is not unlimited. A minority who must depend on the benevolence of those outside of its community is always subject to popular attacks. And as the framers envisioned, the role of the judiciary is to act as “counter-majority” in order to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I remind Campbell and the rest of his defense team of what Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most influential Founding Fathers, said in his first Inaugural Address (1801):

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Likewise, John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859 in his famous essay, On Liberty:

The “people” who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised; and the “self-government” spoken of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power. [emphasis in original]

This idea was embedded in a 1943 SCOTUS decision, West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette (319 US 624). Judge Walker quoted in Perry from the opinion written by Justice Robert Jackson 67 years ago:

One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

In the case of West Virginia, the SCOTUS did a rare reversal of itself, acknowledging a mistake it had made in a Jehovah’s Witness case three years earlier. What happened between 1940 and 1943 to Jehovah’s Witnesses gave Judge Walker in 2010 his most potent precedent to show that voter will does not trump the protection of minority rights. Lillian Gobitas was among thousands of Jehovah’s Witness children expelled from public school for not saluting the flag. This religious sect believes that the flag salute is an idolatrous act of worship of a man-made symbol, which is forbidden by their God. Her case, Minersville School District v Gobitis (310 US 586), went to the SCOTUS and a fundamental question was asked: Should a free society force its citizens to engage in patriotic ritual? In 1940, the court answered “Yes.” National unity was at stake. It also said the threat of being expelled from school was a good way to achieve compliance. If anyone felt put out, the court said, he could seek remedy at the ballot box by asking the majority to see it his way.

At the height of World War II, when the U.S. was fighting nationalism in Germany, where Jehovah’s Witnesses were being sent to concentration camps for refusing to do the Nazi salute, the SCOTUS revisited the case. When Justice Jackson got the chance, he tackled the ballot box notion head-on. He wrote that the “very purpose” of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from the volatility of politics and “place them beyond the reach of majorities.”

Of course, Walker’s ruling is not the end of Perry v Schwarzenegger; both sides are preparing for an appeal. The appeal would go first to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, then to the SCOTUS if the high court justices agree to review it. And, Prop 8 proponents may ultimately prevail, especially in the SCOTUS as presently constituted. But regardless of the final outcome, even if Prop 8 is ultimately upheld, Judge Walker’s ruling has broken ground in American jurisprudence and I believe his reasoning will someday be affirmed by the nation’s highest court.

August 3, 2007 (a Friday)

Ban the Chinese Government

On this date, in one of history’s more absurd acts of dictatorship and totalitarianism, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a decree (State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5) that all reincarnations of tülkus of Tibetan Buddhism must get government approval, otherwise they are “illegal or invalid”. The Chinese word for tülku is huófó (活佛), which literally means “living Buddha” and is sometimes used to mean tülku, although this is rare outside of Chinese sources. However, according to the Dalai Lama, “this is wrong. Tibetan Buddhism recognizes no such thing.” Also, in interviews that he has given, the Dalai Lama has frequently dismissed the notion of “living Buddha”, referring to it as “nonsense”. In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, tülku is used to refer to the corporeal existence of enlightened Buddhist masters in general. 

The Chinese decree stated, “It is an important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation of living Buddhas. The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups and the selection process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country.” It also requires that temples which apply for reincarnation of a living Buddha must be “legally-registered venues for Tibetan Buddhism activities and are capable of fostering and offering proper means of support for the living Buddha.”

In other words, China banned reincarnation without government permission. Tibetan Buddhists believe lamas and other religious figures can consciously influence how they are reborn, and often are reborn many times so they can continue their religious pursuits. So, the Chinese government decree, which took effect September 1, 2007, requires that each of these people who plan to be reborn must complete an application and submit it to several Chinese government agencies for approval.

This is what the Chinese Communist Party bosses like to call “religious freedom”. But beyond the irony was China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and (at that time) political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, who, by tradition, is reborn to continue the work of relieving suffering.

July 25, 306 C.E.

Bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed emperor in 306 C.E.

On this date, Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (27 February 272 C.E.–22 May 337 C.E.) commonly known as Constantine I, Constantine the Great, or (among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians) Saint Constantine was proclaimed augustus (Roman emperor) by his troops, and ruled an ever-growing portion of the Roman Empire until his death.

Constantine is best remembered in modern times for the so-called Edict of Milan in January 313, which fully legalized Christianity in the empire for the first time, and the Council of Nicaea in 325, which he chaired. A previous edict of toleration had been recently issued by the emperor Galerius from Serdica and posted up at Nicomedia on 13 May 311. By its provisions, the Christians, who had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity”, were granted an indulgence:

Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.

Their confiscated property, however, was not restored until the Edict of Milan was signed. The Christians’ meeting places and other properties were to be returned:

…the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception…

The church could now own land, Christians could worship openly, and imperial patronage resulted in the affirmation of a single creed. However, now that bishops had imperial support, those who dissented from the dominant concept of orthodoxy or othopraxis could be punished. Thus, Christianity was changed from a fairly loose and diverse body of believers into a orthodoxy based on a uniform faith with a disciplined hierarchical institution on the Roman pattern.

Previously reluctant to engage in military action, Christians now joined the army and reconciled violence with their faith. Once Christianity became established as the state religion in the years following Constantine, the state began to impose Christianity on everyone and to persecute dissent, just as it had once persecuted Christians before Constantine’s conversion. Ironically, Christian leaders wasted no time taking advantage of their power to punish heretics, pagans, and Jews, now backed by the coercive power of the state.

When Constantine said “In hoc signo vinces” (“In this sign we conquer”), he wasn’t kidding.

July 24, 1984 (a Tuesday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the body of nine-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton was found in a wooded area of Rosedale, Maryland, near her home. The young girl had been raped and beaten to death with a rock.

After witnesses saw a suspicious man in the area of the murder scene, a police sketch was publicized on television and in newspapers. Two weeks later, an anonymous caller identified Kirk Bloodsworth, a 23-year-old ex-Marine, as the man in the sketch. Bloodsworth, who had been in Baltimore (which is close to Rosedale) at the time of Hamilton’s murder, later returned to his home in Cambridge and told friends that he had done something that would “harm his marriage”.

Prosecutors, with little evidence other than this, accused Bloodsworth of murder. During his trial, the defense presented several witnesses who said that they were with Bloodsworth at the time of the murder, but the state had presented five witnesses who testified that they had seen Bloodsworth with the victim. The jury convicted Bloodsworth in March of 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of the nine year old girl and sent him to death row.

On appeal, Bloodsworth won a new trial, on the ground that the prosecution had withheld evidence indicating that another suspect might have been the killer. A few weeks before the second trial, evidence of yet another suspect was made available to Bloodsworth’s counsel, who chose not to pursue the lead. This time, he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms, to run consecutively.

For the next seven years, Bloodsworth maintained his innocence while in prison. In the meantime, forensic DNA testing had come of age. On Dawn Hamilton’s underwear, police had observed a spot of semen, smaller than a dime, and science had finally progressed to the point where this small amount of physical evidence could be tested. Bloodworth’s attorney, Bob Morin, with support from the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic formed to promote the use of DNA analysis to exonerate innocent prisoners, persuaded prosecutors in 1992 to compare Bloodsworth’s DNA with the DNA of dried sperm found on the victim. The DNA testing, performed by Forensic Science Associates, a private California laboratory, excluded Bloodsworth.

After the FBI’s crime lab confirmed this test, prosecutors in Baltimore County had no choice but to release Bloodsworth (but pointedly refused to apologize). On 28 June 1993, nine years after first going to jail, Kirk Bloodsworth was released. He was officially pardoned in December 1993. He had spent over eight years in prison, two of those years facing execution.

PCR DNA tests, Bloodsworth case, 1993 (Forensic Science Associates)

In 2003, after much prodding from Bloodsworth and Innocence Project lawyers, Maryland authorities finally searched their DNA database for a “cold hit” match of the evidence in the Dawn Hamilton case. The search turned up Kimberley Shay Ruffner, a convicted rapist who Bloodsworth had known in prison, who was then tried and found guilty of the 1984 murder.

Bloodsworth thus became the first person to be exonerated from death row through postconviction DNA testing. This led to the Justice for All Act of 2004, which included the Innocence Protection Act of 2004 as Title IV, legislation that, among other things, grants any federal inmate the right to petition a federal court for DNA testing to support a claim of innocence. Title IV also established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program to award grants to States to help defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. By August 2004, a total of 144 prisoners, some on death row, had been exonerated by DNA testing.

Most Americans know that there is at least a danger that innocent people will be executed. Yet according to a recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll (4 Oct 2011), 81% of Americans still support the death penalty for convicted murderers. Many believe that we can ensure that the innocent are never executed if we take further measures — provide competent defense counsel, improve police methods, and so on. But as the Bloodsworth case underlines, this faith in the perfectibility of capital punishment is misplaced. The system can be improved, but it cannot be perfected.

Today, Bloodsworth is an activist for criminal justice reform and a public speaker. Over 30 state and regional innocence projects are at work.

July 16, 1997 (a Wednesday)

Dharmsala, India.

On this date, Chen Kuiyuan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, gave a speech on “legitimate” art, “acceptable” tradition, and the role of Buddhism in Tibetan culture in which he said:

In inheriting traditional culture, we must distinguish the essence from the dross and continue to create something new.

(…)

Some people say that the Tibetan national culture is connected to religion in form and essence. Some others say that college teaching material will be void of substance if religion is not included and that in that case, colleges would not be real colleges. If what such people talked about were a Buddhist college, I would have no comment. But what they refer to is a Tibet University, so they have no reason whatsoever to make such an allegation. After all, is the Tibetan national culture equivalent to a Buddhist culture? If one should say that the Tibetan national culture came into being after Buddhist culture, one would have shorten the history of Tibetan civilization by more than 1,000 years. As is known to all, there was no Buddhism in Tibet over a long period of time. Buddhism came into being only a little over 2,500 years ago.

(…)

Is only Buddhism Tibetan culture? It is utterly absurd. Buddhism is a foreign culture. If it is said that the Tibetan nationality had no culture before the arrival of Buddhist culture, is it not said that the Tibetan people used to be a nationality without a culture? The view of equating Buddhist culture with Tibetan culture not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself. I just cannot understand that. Some people, claiming to be authorities, have made such shameless statements confusing truth and falsehood. Comrades who are engaged in research on Tibetan culture should be indignant at such statements. Making use of religion in the political field, separatists now go all out to put religion above the Tibetan culture and attempt to use the spoken language and culture to cause disputes and antagonism between nationalities, and this is the crux of the matter. [emphasis added]

Later, at a secret meeting held in December 1999 in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, Chen Kuiyuan recommended to the Central Chinese Government that an all-out effort must be made to eradicate Tibetan Buddhism and culture from the face of the earth so that no memory of them will be left in the minds of coming generations of Tibetans – except as museum pieces. Chen Kuiyuan stated that the main cause of instability is the existence of the Dalai Lama and his Government-in-exile in Dharamsala and these must be “uprooted”. He recommended that Tibet, Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhism – in other words the very name of Tibet – must be destroyed and the “Tibet Autonomous Region” be merged with provinces like Sichuan.

Chen’s statements, as arrogant and ignorant as they made him appear to be [which can be illustrated by paraphrasing Chen: Communism is a foreign government. If it is said that the Tibetan nationality had no government before the arrival of the Communist (Chinese) government, is it not said that the Tibetan people used to be a nationality without a government? The view of equating Communist (Chinese) government with Tibetan government not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself.], were hardly the isolated or extreme views of a minor CCP official. From July 20 to 23, 1994, Beijing had staged the Third Forum on Work in Tibet, which had expressed deep concern at the continued popularity of Tibetan Buddhism. The Party publicly ordered a halt to any further spread of Buddhist institutions or of the monastic population in Tibet:

There are too many places where monasteries have been opened without permission from the authorities, and having too much religious activity. Some districts have built monasteries without limits and without permission. The waste of manpower, materials and money was tremendous.

(…)

There are problems [p.that have?*] arisen from religion, i.e. sometimes interfering in administration, law, education, marriages, birth control planning, people’s productivity and their daily life…

However, what really had concerned the authorities was not monks wasting social resources but the perceived relationship between the clergy and the continuing activism of the pro-independence movement:

A number of religious institutions [p.trans: including places?*] have been used at times by a few people who harbor sinister motives to plot against us and have become counter -revolutionary bases.

(…)

The influence of our enemy in foreign countries, especially the Dalai clique, was slipping into the monasteries of our region more than ever. They assume that “to get hold of a monastery is the equivalent of [p.trans: getting hold of?*] a district of the Communist Party”, and they are putting great effort [p.hope?*] into achieving it.

Although most recent demonstrations calling for independence in Tibet had been initiated and carried out by members of the Tibetan clergy, few if any of these protests in Lhasa lasted more than a few minutes and none was known to have involved more than fifteen people. In other words, the protests carried out by the clergy were frequent but insignificant in size; the really large-scale demonstrations of this period were entirely lay affairs. The Third Forum’s identification of Tibetan monasteries with opposition to the state was grossly exaggerated. The result of the Third Forum’s policy on religion was to give approval at the highest level for stricter control over the monastic institutions of Tibet:

We must teach and guide Tibetan Buddhism to reform itself. All those religion laws and rituals must be reformed in order to fit in with the needs of development and stability in Tibet, and they should be reformed so that they become appropriate to a society under socialism.

Not surprisingly, then, on 5 April 1996, the Tibet Daily formally announced the ban on public display of Dalai Lama photographs:

The hanging of the Dalai’s portrait in temples should gradually be banned. We should convince and educate the large numbers of monks and ordinary religious believers that the Dalai is no longer a religious leader who can bring happiness to the masses, but a guilty person of the motherland and people.

Religious and cultural rights are internationally recognized human rights. The incorporation of these rights in international law is a recognition that the preservation of these values is of concern to the entire world community. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thereby represents an international standard applicable to all nations. The inseparability of religion and culture in Tibetan society means that the Tibetan people’s freedom of religion is also protected under article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (signed by the People’s Republic of China in October 1997), which recognizes the right of everyone “(t)o take part in cultural life”. China regularly claims that the Tibetan people’s human rights are being observed and that they enjoy full religious freedom, but this is an unequivocal lie.

References:

July 11, 1977 (a Monday)

The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name

By James Kirkup

Christ blessing - Raphael, 1506.

‘Christ Blessing’ – Raphael, 1506.

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms–
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh

For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death’s final ejaculation.

 Christ at the Column - Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), 1514.

‘Christ at the Column’ – Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), 1514.

I knew he’d had it off with other men-
with Herod’s guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit – even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.

It was the only way I knew to speak our love’s proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth – I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit’s final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

Christ at the Column - Donato Bramante,  c. 1490.

‘Christ at the Column’ – Donato Bramante, c. 1490.

-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they die of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another’s limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.

Zen stones

'Gay News' issue #96, dated 3 June 1976.

‘Gay News’ issue #96, dated 3 June 1976.

The above poem alluding to Jesus Christ and same-sex attraction was published, along with a drawing by the illustrator Tony Reeves, on page 26 of issue 96 dated 3 June 1976 of the British periodical Gay News. It expresses the fictional love of a Roman Centurion for Jesus and describes him having sex with the Christ’s crucified body. It also suggests Jesus had sex with Pontius Pilate, the disciples, and John the Baptist.

In early November 1976, a certain Mary Whitehouse obtained a copy of the poem and construed it as blasphemous. She announced her intention to bring a private prosecution against the magazine under the Blasphemy Act of 1697. Under Section 8 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act of 1888, intended to protect newspapers from vexatious litigation, this required the leave of a judge in chambers. Leave to bring this prosecution was granted on 9 December 1976. The charges named Gay News Ltd and Denis Lemon as the publishers. A charge against Moore Harness Ltd for distributing was subsequently dropped.

The indictment described the offending publication as “a blasphemous libel concerning the Christian religion, namely an obscene poem and illustration vilifying Christ in his life and in his crucifixion”. The Gay News Fighting Fund was set up in December 1976. Judge Alan King-Hamilton QC heard the trial at the Old Bailey on 4 July 1977, with John Mortimer QC and Geoffrey Robertson representing the accused and John Smyth representing Mary Whitehouse.

'The Dead Christ' - Andrea Mantegna, 1480.

‘The Dead Christ’ – Andrea Mantegna, 1480.

Prosecuting Counsel John Smyth told the court: “It may be said that this is a love poem — it is not, it is a poem about buggery.” The defense argued that far from being “vile” and “perverted” the poem glorified Christ by illustrating that all of mankind could love him. During the six-day trial columnist and TV personality Bernard Levin and novelist Margaret Drabble testified that the Gay News was a responsible paper that did not encourage illegal sexual practices.

On Monday, 11 July 1977, the jury gave their 10-2 guilty verdict in the case of Whitehouse v. Lemon. Gay News Ltd was fined £1,000. Denis Lemon was fined £500 and sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended. It had been “touch and go”, said the judge, whether he would actually send Denis Lemon to jail.

Mary Whitehouse’s costs of £7,763 were ordered to be paid four-fifths by Gay News Ltd and one-fifth by Lemon. Gay News Ltd and Denis Lemon appealed against conviction and sentence. On 17 March 1978, the Court of Appeal quashed Denis Lemon’s suspended prison sentence but upheld the convictions. Gay News readers voted by a majority of 20 to 1 in favor of appealing to the House of Lords. The Law Lords heard the appeal against conviction and delivered their judgment on 21 February 1979. At issue was whether or not the offense of blasphemous libel required specific intent of committing such a blasphemy. The Lords concluded that intention was not required. The appeal was lost.

Man of Sorrows - Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532.  The artist has depicted Christ with an erection, which according to some scholars' interpretation, is a symbol of his resurrection and lifelong power.

‘Man of Sorrows’ – Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532. The artist has depicted Christ with an erection, which according to some scholars’ interpretation is a symbol of his resurrection and lifelong power.

The European Commission of Human Rights declared the case inadmissible to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights on 7 May 1982. The £26,435 raised by the Gay News Fighting Fund through benefits and donations from the gay community and others, including a £500 donation from Monty Python, was sufficient to cover the costs of the trial and appeals.

On 11 July 2002, a deliberate and well-publicized public reading of the poem took place on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square in central London, but failed to lead to any prosecution. Police officers surrounded the campaigners as a collection of people opposed to the reading attempted to shout as loud as they could to prevent anyone from hearing. The protest passed off without any incidents, with campaigners arguing for blasphemy laws to be scrapped. “We have won an important victory for free speech and the right to protest”, declared human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The author, James Falconer Kirkup, at the time 84, criticized campaigners because he did not want the poem to be used for “political ends”.

For years, publishing this poem was illegal in the UK, although the poem was and is widely available on the Internet. Whitehouse v. Lemon was the last prosecution for blasphemy in the UK. Britain’s ancient laws of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, which made it illegal to insult Christianity, were finally abolished by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008.

'Saint Sebastian' - Guido Reni, 1615, currently at Palazzo Russo in Genoa.

‘Saint Sebastian’ – Guido Reni, 1615, currently at Palazzo Russo in Genoa.

The scandal “The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name” provoked was out of all proportion to any offense it might have caused to believing Christians, just as the celebrity it achieved was out of all proportion to any merit it might have enjoyed as literature. The poem would probably have been read by only a few hundred people, and perhaps largely forgotten, if it were not for the publicity of the trial.

The poem’s lack of originality is apparent from its title, which is not merely an inverted cliché but one that is a reference to the famous poem by Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), “Two Loves“, which was itself a reference to the Shakespeare sonnet #144, also named “Two Loves.” The imagery of Kirkup’s poem is relentlessly shocking, from the opening verse where we read that the dead Christ has “the tough, lean body of a man no longer young, beardless, breathless, but well hung” to the fifth verse, an enumeration of Christ’s sexual partners (although it clearly is not pornographic because it is not obscene simply for the sake of obscenity). The mention of Paul is particularly inane, since Paul never met Christ and many Christians suspect that his message might have been very different if he had. Moreover, Kirkup betrays his ignorance of the gospel story by leaving out the most likely candidate for “the disciple whom Jesus loved”: Saint John.

Central figures in Bernini's 'Ecstasy of Saint Teresa'.

Central figures in Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’.

Yet, much classic religious art has always been intensely erotic, whether it be Guido Reni’s Saint Sebastian, which was a favorite painting of both Oscar Wilde and Yukio Mishima, or Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture which depicts a truth evident to any open-minded reader of the story of Teresa of Avila: that her “raptures” are essentially orgasmic. The two central figures of the swooning nun and the angel with the spear derive from an episode described by the mystical cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun in her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus (1515–1582). In the passage, she describes being pierced by a seraphim’s spear: “In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with the love of God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it.”

It was a pity that the furor overshadowed Kirkup’s other achievements as a poet and writer, which were considerable. His poem “No More Hiroshimas” [archived here] is particularly moving.

July 9, 1955 (a Saturday)

The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945 rose some 18 kilometers (11 mi) above the bomb’s hypocenter.

On this date, The Russell–Einstein Manifesto was released by Bertrand Russell in London, England, United Kingdom in the midst of the Cold War. It highlighted the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and called for world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to international conflict.

Eleven eminent intellectuals and scientists signed the statement, including Albert Einstein, who had signed it just days before his death on 18 April 1955, and Linus Pauling, who signed it after its initial release. The Manifesto was one of several efforts by scientists in the 1950s to focus world attention on the critical need for new approaches to international security in the nuclear age. In particular, scientists feared that national leaders and the public little understood the implications of the new and devastating hydrogen bombs.

The first nuclear fission (“atomic”) bomb (or “A-bomb”), which employed plutonium and was code-named “Trinity”, had been detonated as a test by the United States on 16 July 1945 on the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, about 230 miles south of the headquarters of the Manhattan Project (so-called because of where the research began) at Los Alamos, New Mexico. On 6 August 1945, the U.S. had dropped a uranium atomic bomb code-named “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and, three days later, a plutonium atomic bomb code-named “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. These two bombings resulted in casualties — mostly civilians — estimated at 105,000 dead and 94,000 wounded (in spite of the fact that “Little Boy” had actually misfired: only 1.38% of its uranium had fissioned). The first nuclear fusion (thermonuclear or “hydrogen”) bomb (or “H-bomb“), code-named “Mike”, had been detonated as a test at the Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands on 1 November 1952, also by the United States.
_____________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________
As soon as he learned about the bombing in Hiroshima, Joseph Rotblat, the only scientist to leave the Manhattan Project on moral grounds, became gravely concerned about the possibility of a hydrogen bomb. He remarked in an interview in 2003:

I knew a little bit more than other people about what was going on. So I knew that it would begin an arms race and that the hydrogen bomb would come in. And then…for the first time I became worried about the whole future of mankind. Because…once you are going to develop these huge weapons, where are you going to stop? And this was my reaction on the 6th of August [1945].

On 18 August 1945, the Glasgow Forward published the first known recorded comment by philosopher Bertrand Russell on atomic weapons, which he began composing the day Nagasaki was bombed. It contained threads that would later appear in the Manifesto:

The prospect for the human race is sombre beyond all precedent. Mankind are faced with a clear-cut alternative: either we shall all perish, or we shall have to acquire some slight degree of common sense. A great deal of new political thinking will be necessary if utter disaster is to be averted.

‘Mike’, detonated on 1 November 1952.

Interestingly, the physicist Max Born wrote to Einstein about engaging fellow scientists to draw greater attention to the dangers of the nuclear age and to encourage governments to take action in a letter dated 28 November 1954:

I read in the paper recently that you are supposed to have said: “If I were to be born a second time, I would become not a physicist, but an artisan.” These words were a great comfort to me, for similar thoughts are going around in my mind as well, in view of the evil which our once so beautiful science has brought upon the world….I am thinking of using my present popularity [as a Nobel laureate]…to try and arouse the consciences of our colleagues over the production of ever more horrible bombs.

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was released during a press conference at Caxton Hall, London. Rotblat, who chaired the meeting, described it as follows:

…It was thought that only a few of the Press would turn up and a small room was booked in Caxton Hall for the Press Conference. But it soon became clear that interest was increasing and the next larger room was booked. In the end the largest room was taken and on the day of the Conference this was packed to capacity with representatives of the press, radio and television from all over the world. After reading the Manifesto, Russell answered a barrage of questions from members of the press, some of whom were initially openly hostile to the ideas contained in the Manifesto. Gradually, however, they became convinced by the forcefulness of his arguments, as was evident in the excellent reporting in the Press, which in many cases gave front page coverage.

Russell began the conference by stating:

I am bringing the warning pronounced by the signatories to the notice of all the powerful Governments of the world in the earnest hope that they may agree to allow their citizens to survive.

The Manifesto called for a conference where scientists would assess the dangers posed to the survival of humanity by weapons of mass destruction (then only considered to be nuclear weapons). Emphasis was placed on the meeting being politically neutral. It extended the question of nuclear weapons to all people and governments. One particular phrase is quoted often, including by Rotblat upon receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995:

We appeal, as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. [emphasis added]

The heart of The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was the following short resolution, to which its signatories invited “this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe”:

In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.

The Manifesto was signed by Max Born (Professor of Theoretical Physics at Göttingen, Nobel Prize in Physics), Percy W. Bridgman (Professor of Physics, Harvard University, Foreign Member of the Royal Society, Nobel Prize in Physics), Albert Einstein, Leopold Infeld (Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Warsaw, Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences), Frédéric Joliot-Curie (Professor of Physics at the College de France, Nobel Prize in Chemistry), Herman J. Muller (Professor of Zoology, University of Indiana, Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine), Linus Pauling (who added his name after the initial release, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, Nobel Prize in Chemistry), Cecil F. Powell (Professor of Physics, Bristol University, Nobel Prize in Physics), Joseph Rotblat (Professor of Physics, University of London, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College), Bertrand Russell, and Hideki Yukawa (Professor of Theoretical Physics, Kyoto University, Nobel Prize in Physics).

It was at the time a significant accomplishment to have signatures from men from such a wide range of countries and political perspectives. However, the lack of Russian signatures was notable. Rotblat reflected that Russell’s earlier strong anti-Communist stand was “to some extent…one of the reasons why no Russians signed the Manifesto….They still didn’t quite trust him.”

As Joseph Rotblat has recently commented, The Russell-Einstein Manifesto is still relevant today:

…In other words, is the Russell-Einstein Manifesto still relevant today? My answer to this question is an emphatic “Yes”: the Manifesto is highly relevant in 2005.

(…)

The most important outcome of the realization of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which came into force in 1970. It has, by now, an almost universal acceptance, with 188 signatories, 98% of the UN membership.

(…)

The single most important event in the post-war era was the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Russia’s leader. Realizing the awesome consequences of a continuing nuclear arms race, he took a momentous decision: to bring the arms race to a halt.

(…)

To some extent, these attempts to rid the world of nuclear weapons were an outcome of the Manifesto which so vividly described the consequences of a nuclear confrontation.

(…)

The worst setback came in 2000, with the election of George W. Bush as President of the USA. In statements on nuclear policy, soon after the election, he not only made it clear that he wants to keep nuclear arsenals ad infinitum, but he elevated nuclear weapons to the status of weapons of first use, to be an essential element of the US general armed forces. Moreover, in accordance with these policies, the possession of nuclear arsenals by other states would be allowed, provided they are friends of the USA; those not friendly to the USA would be prevented, by force if necessary, from acquiring such weapons.

Thus, 50 years after the Manifesto that warned us about the dire consequences of a nuclear war, the world is still in danger of a nuclear holocaust; the nuclear states still refuse to honour their obligations under the NPT; there are still huge nuclear arsenals held by the former two super powers; the USA still seeks to develop new nuclear warheads; more nations are likely to acquire nuclear arsenals on the excuse that they are needed for their security. A new nuclear arms race has become a real possibility. On top of all this, there is the real danger of terrorist groups acquiring nuclear weapons.

As of 7 May 2012, the Federation of American Scientists estimates that the world’s combined stockpile of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: more than 19,000, with around 4,400 of them kept in “operational” status, ready for potential use.

References:

  • Sandra Ionno Butcher. The Origins of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto – Issue 1 of Pugwash History Series (Washington, DC: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, 2005). Accessed 13 July 2012 at http://www.pugwash.org/publication/phs/history9.pdf.

July 8, 1969 (a Tuesday)

Edmund White (Feb 2009)

On this date, Edmund White, the author of A Boy’s Own Story (1982) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), among other books and essays, wrote a letter to his friends, poet Alfred Corn and his wife Ann, describing the Stonewall Uprising just a few days after the event. It reads in part:

Dear Ann and Alfred,

Well, the big news here is Gay Power. It’s the most extraordinary thing. It all began two weeks ago on a Friday night. The cops raided the <SW>, that mighty Bastille which you know has remained impregnable for three years, so brazen and so conspicuous that one could only surmise that the Mafia was paying off the pigs handsomely. Apparently, however, a new public official, Sergeant Smith, has taken over the Village, and he’s a peculiarly diligent lawman. In any event, a mammoth paddy wagon, as big as a school bus, pulled up to the Wall and about ten cops raided the joint. The kids were all shooed into the street; soon other gay kids and straight spectators swelled the ranks to, I’d say, about a thousand people. Christopher Street was completely blocked off and the crowds swarmed from the Voice office down to the Civil War hospital.

As the Mafia owners were dragged out one by one and shoved into the wagon, the crowd would let out Bronx cheers and jeers and clapping. Someone shouted “Gay Power,” others took up the cry — and then it dissolved into giggles. A few more gay prisoners — bartenders, hatcheck boys — a few more cheers, someone starts singing “We Shall Overcome” — and then they started camping on it. A drag queen is shoved into the wagon; she hits the cop over the head with her purse. The cop clubs her. Angry stirring in the crowd. The cops, used to the cringing and disorganization of the gay crowds, snort off. But the crowd doesn’t disperse. Everyone is restless, angry and high-spirited. No one has a slogan, no one even has an attitude, but something’s brewing.

Some adorable butch hustler boy pulls up a parking meter, mind you, out of the pavement, and uses it as a battering ram (a few cops are still inside the Wall, locked in). The boys begin to pound at the heavy wooden double doors and windows; glass shatters all over the street. Cries of “Liberate the Bar.” Bottles (from hostile straights?) rain down from the apartment windows. Cries of “We’re the Pink Panthers.” A mad Negro queen whirls like a dervish with a twisted piece of metal in her hand and breaks the remaining windows. The door begins to give. The cop turns a hose on the crowd (they’re still within the Wall). But they can’t aim it properly, and the crowd sticks. Finally the door is broken down and the kids, as though working to a prior plan, systematically dump refuse from the waste cans into the Wall, squirting it with lighter fluid, and ignite it. Huge flashes of flame and billows of smoke.

Now the cops in the paddy wagon return, and two fire engines pull up. Clubs fly. The crowd retreats.

(. . .)

This last weekend, nothing much happened because it was the Fourth of July and everyone was away. Charles Burch has decided it’s all a drag. When he hears that gay kids are picketing Independence Hall in Philly because they’re being denied their constitutional rights, he says: “But of course, the Founding Fathers didn’t intend to protect perverts and criminals.” Who knows what will happen this weekend, or this week? I’ll keep you posted.

Although White is known as a novelist whose work has been widely praised by such writers as Vladimir Nabokov and Susan Sontag, it is as a cultural critic that White has perhaps had his greatest influence. Urbane, knowing, sophisticated, he has chronicled gay life in the seventies through the nineties with wit and insight. His pioneering book The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Life (1977), written with Dr. Charles Silverstein, introduced millions, gay and straight and curious alike, to a brave new world of sexual practices and lifestyle.

Suggested Reading:

  • Letter published in David Bergman, ed., The Violet Quill Reader and Lisa Grunwald, Stephen J. Adler, eds. Letters of the Century: America, 1900-1999.

July 6, 1935 (a Saturday)

The 14th Dalai Lama as a child in Amdo, shorty after his discovery by a party of monks.

On this date, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (born Lhamo Dondrub) was born to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is also well known for his lifelong advocacy for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet.

Dalai Lamas are the head monks of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists traditionally believe them to be the reincarnation of their predecessors and a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Lhamo Dondrub was selected as the rebirth of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of 2, although he was only formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama on 17 November 1950 at the age of 15.

July 3, 1914 (a Friday)

This map shows the original political boundaries of Tibet. Historic Tibet embraced the entire Tibetan Plateau, an area the size of Western Europe with an average elevation of 15,000 feet above sea level. The three main provinces of Tibet were U – Tsang, comprising Central and Western Tibet; Kham in the east; and Amdo in the northeast. After China conquered Tibet in 1950, Amdo and eastern Kham were incorporated forcibly into China. Ambo became Qinghai province, while eastern Kham was made a part of Sichuan province. U – Tsang and western Kham were proclaimed the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965.

On this date, Tibetan independence was confirmed in the Simla Accord, or the Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, in Simla. The British had convened a tripartite conference in Simla, India in 1913 where the representatives of the three nations met on equal terms. As the British delegate reminded his Chinese counterpart, Tibet entered into the conference as an “independent nation recognizing no allegiance to China.

The Accord provided that Tibet would be divided into “Outer Tibet” and “Inner Tibet”. Outer Tibet, which roughly corresponded to Ü-Tsang and western Kham would “remain in the hands of the Tibetan Government at Lhasa under Chinese suzerainty”, but China would not interfere in its administration. “Inner Tibet”, roughly equivalent to Amdo and eastern Kham, would be under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government. The Accord with its annexes also defined the boundary between Tibet and China proper and between Tibet and British India (the latter became known as the McMahon Line).

Representatives of Tibet, Great Britain, and China at Simla Accord 1914.  Front row, from left: an assistant to Ivan Chen; Sekyong Trulku, Prince of Sikkim; Ivan Chen, Chinese plenipotentiary; Sir Henry McMahon, British Plenipotentiary; Lonchen Shatra, Tibetan Plenipotentiary; Teji Trimon, assistant; Nedon Khanchung, Secretary.

Representatives of Tibet, Great Britain, and China at Simla Accord 1914. Front row, from left: an assistant to Ivan Chen; Sekyong Trulku, Prince of Sikkim; Ivan Chen, Chinese plenipotentiary; Sir Henry McMahon, British Plenipotentiary; Lonchen Shatra, Tibetan Plenipotentiary; Teji Trimon, assistant; Nedon Khanchung, Secretary.

However, China rejected the Accord and their plenipotentiary, Ivan Chen, withdrew on 3 July 1914. The British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries then attached a note denying China any privileges under the Accord and sealed it as a bilateral agreement the same day:

We, the Plenipotentiaries of Great Britain and Tibet, hereby record the following declaration to the effect that we acknowledge the annexed convention as initialed to be binding on the Governments of Great Britain and Tibet, and we agree that so long as the Government of China withholds signature to the aforesaid convention she will be debarred from the enjoyment of all privileges accruing therefrom.

Communist China has argued that because it did not sign the Simla Accord, it did not surrender its claim to Tibet. This argument misses the point. The results of the Simla Conference are not principally what demonstrates Tibet’s capacity to enter into international relations. Rather, it is the participation of Tibet as an equal party which demonstrates that capacity. Because Tibet participated as an equal with China and Great Britain, Tibet and Great Britain could only have entered a treaty if Tibet were an autonomous state, albeit one with links to China. A binding treaty could have resulted from the Simla Conference, had the negotiations gone well, because the parties had the capacity to form such a treaty.

McMahon’s work was initially rejected by the British government as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention, but this convention was renounced in 1921. Consequently, the British began using the McMahon Line on Survey of India maps in 1937, and the Simla Accord was published officially in 1938. Prior to 1937, Burma was a province of British India. It is noteworthy that, when China and Burma settled their border in 1960, they defined it along the McMahon Line.

June 28, 1969 (a Sunday)

Stonewall Inn (Sept 1969) – The sign in the window reads: We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine

In the early morning hours on Sunday, 28 June 1969, police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a small bar located on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Although mafia-run, the Stonewall, like other predominantly gay bars in the city, got raided by the police periodically.

But for some reason, the crowd that had gathered outside the Stonewall, a crowd that had become campy and festive and had cheered each time a patron emerged from the bar, soon changed its mood. No one knows for sure who threw the first punch. Some say it was a drag queen, while others claim it was a butch lesbian, who initially defied the police.

The first Stonewall Riot ended the morning of Saturday, June 28. That night the second riot broke out, as thousands of demonstrators — in the name of Gay Pride — flocked to the streets in front of and around the Stonewall Inn. Once again there were confrontations with the police until the early morning hours. Disturbances continued nightly for several days – the last occurred on the evening of Wednesday, July 2.

Stonewall Inn (2003)

Gay and lesbian activism certainly existed prior to this time, but the confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City catalyzed the movement and inspired gay men and lesbians to move their cause to entirely new heights utilizing entirely new tactics.

In 1999 the United States government proclaimed the Stonewall Inn as a national historic site. The following year, the status of the Stonewall was improved to “historic landmark,” a designation held by only a small percentage of historical sites.

Forty years after the Stonewall uprising, President Obama became the first president to recognize its significance by declaring June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month:

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
A PROCLAMATION

Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.

LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country’s response to the HIV pandemic.

Due in no small part to the determination and dedication of the LGBT rights movement, more LGBT Americans are living their lives openly today than ever before. I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration. These individuals embody the best qualities we seek in public servants, and across my Administration — in both the White House and the Federal agencies — openly LGBT employees are doing their jobs with distinction and professionalism.

The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect.

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.

These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

BARACK OBAMA

Pride Guide 2009

In the forty years since the Stonewall uprising, its anniversary has been celebrated every June, officially or unofficially, in more and more places around the world. This usually involves a parade referred to as a “Gay Pride Parade.” To some non-homosexuals, reserving a day or month to be proud of being gay seems odd – as odd as a “Straight Pride Parade” for heterosexuals would seem.

However, the reason that Gay Pride is necessary today is that for centuries, homosexual men and women have been persecuted, prosecuted, tortured, and killed in many cultures for simply being who they are. Homosexuals were told that they are “worse than” the rest of the population and, conversely, heterosexuals believed that they are “better than” homosexuals.Gay Pride is an effort to tell society that homosexual people are neither worse than nor better than everyone else. In other words, Gay Pride is an effort to normalize the self-esteem of gay people, not to disrespect anyone else. If the tables are turned and straight people ever suffer similar oppression from homosexuals, then perhaps every straight person will understand the need for Pride events.

A Democratic Spring Ends: June 27, 1954 (a Sunday)

The Price of Bananas:

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

On this date, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the United States to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the ‘90s. Human rights groups estimate that, between 1954 and 1990, the repressive operatives of successive military regimes murdered at least 100,000 and probably more than 200,000 civilians.

In a radio broadcast in July 1954, Arbenz said:

They have used the pretext of anti-communism. The truth is very different. The truth is to be found in the financial interests of the fruit company [United Fruit] and the other U.S. monopolies which have invested great amounts of money in Latin America and fear that the example of Guatemala would be followed by other Latin countries… I was elected by a majority of the people of Guatemala, but I have had to fight under difficult conditions. The truth is that the sovereignty of a people cannot be maintained without the material elements to defend it…. I took over the presidency with great faith in the democratic system, in liberty and the possibility of achieving economic independence for Guatemala. I continue to believe that this program is just. I have not violated my faith in democratic liberties, in the independence of Guatemala and in all the good which is the future of humanity.

United Fruit, one of America’s richest companies, functioned in Guatemala as a state within a state. It owned the country’s telephone and telegraph facilities, administered its only important Atlantic harbor and monopolized its banana exports. A subsidiary of the company owned nearly every mile of railroad track in the country.

The fruit company’s influence amongst Washington’s power elite was equally impressive. On a business and/or personal level, it had close ties to the Dulles brothers, various State Department officials and congressmen, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and others. Anne Whitman, the wife of the company’s public relations director, was President Eisenhower’s personal secretary. Under-secretary of State (and formerly Director of the CIA) Walter Bedell Smith was seeking an executive position with United Fruit at the same time he was helping to plan the coup. He was later named to the company’s board of directors.

Furthermore, in the early 1940s, United Fruit had brought on as its public relations counsel Edward Bernays, a diminutive man who had proven his ability to act big by convincing a generation of American women to smoke the cigarettes made by his client American Tobacco Co., luring a generation of children into carving sculptures from Ivory Soap bars made by client Proctor and Gamble, and generally tapping the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, on why people behave the way they do, only to reshape those behaviors for the benefit of his paying customers.
 Bernays helped mastermind the propaganda campaign for his fruit company client to convince Americans that Arbenz was a Communist threat to the U.S., drawing on every public relations tactic and strategy he had refined since helping to convince Americans that Germany was a threat to the U.S. during World War I.
_____________________________________________________

A singing, dancing Chiquita banana, modeled after Carmen Miranda, became the symbol for the United Fruit Company. Through this sexy banana symbol, Latin America was feminized, creating images in Americans’ minds of a colonial Latin America with an indigenous population of topless women, which was of course not the case.

_____________________________________________________
The Eisenhower Administration painted the coup as an uprising that rid the hemisphere of a Communist government backed by Moscow. But Arbenz’s real offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said. Both Arbenz and his immediate predecessor, Juan Jose Arevalo, who was the first democratically-elected Guatemalan president, were motivated by the policies and practices of the New Deal; their support for labor and their actions towards American businesses must be viewed in this light and were never any worse than those of the Roosevelt Administration during the Depression in the United States.

In 1970, the United Fruit Company merged with AMK Corporation; the new corporation was called the United Brands Company. This company became Chiquita Brands International in 1990.

On 10 March 1999 during remarks made in the Reception Hall in the National Palace of Culture in Guatemala City, President Bill Clinton apologized for U.S. support of the Guatemalan military (but not for the 1954 coup), saying U.S. “support for military forces or intelligence units which engage in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong”. He was forced into this “damn-near” apology after the U.N.’s independent Historical Clarification Commission (Spanish: Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) issued a nine-volume report called Guatemala: Memory of Silence [Conclusions and Recommendations archived here] on 25 February 1999.

Created as part of the 1996 peace accord that ended Guatemala’s civil war, the CEH and its 272 staff members interviewed combatants on both sides of the conflict, gathered news reports and eyewitness accounts from across the country, and extensively examined declassified U.S. government documents. The CEH concluded that for decades, the U.S. knowingly gave money, training, and other vital support to Guatemalan military regimes that committed atrocities as a matter of policy, and even “acts of genocide” against the Mayan people.

However, the Commission’s findings weren’t really news at all. That the Guatemalan military committed genocide and widespread atrocities had been widely known for many years. That the U.S. supported and trained the Guatemalan military had been a matter of public record. What was new here was the depth of documentation, and that the information was coming from an official source.

The CEH attributed 93% of the atrocities and 626 massacres to government forces, while only 3% of the atrocities were attributable to the guerrillas. (Responsibility for the remaining 4% could not be assigned with certainty.) Out of 200,000 documented victims, the CEH report found that 83% were indigenous. And worse, the vast majority of victims were non-combatant civilians. Merely trying to form an opposition political party was reason enough to be killed. So was being a trade unionist, a student or professor, a journalist, a church official, a child or elderly person from the same village as a suspected rebel, a doctor who merely treated another victim, or even a widow of one of the disappeared simply asking for the body.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles,  replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles, replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

In fact, the same day that Clinton issued his damn-near apology, new documents obtained by the National Security Archive — a non-profit group of truth-seekers who do tremendous work obtaining and analyzing the internal records of things we aren’t supposed to know — were released that indicate that the U.S. was more intimately involved with the Guatemalan paramilitary than even the CEH report indicated.

These new documents proved irrefutably that as early as 1966, officials from the U.S. State Department, far from opposing the torturers, set up a “safe house” for security forces in Guatemala’s presidential palace, which eventually became the headquarters for “kidnapping, torture… bombings, street assassinations, and executions of real or alleged communists.” CIA documents also proved that from the very beginning, U.S. intelligence was fully aware that “disappearances” were actually kidnappings followed by summary executions. Rather than act to stop the slaughter, however, the U.S. State Department continued to provide tens of millions of dollars in aid. Once Ronald Reagan was elected president, covert money and support for the Guatemalan dictatorship soared, as did the atrocities. In fact, Reagan was the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide.

In a muted ceremony at the National Palace in Guatemala City on 20 October  2011, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom turned to Arbenz’s son Juan Jacobo and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the state for the overthrow of his father in 1954. “That day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it yet,” he said. “It was a crime to Guatemalan society and it was an act of aggression to a government starting its democratic spring.”

On 21 October 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the organization Rights Action issued an open letter to President Obama [archived here] asking the administration to follow the example of the Guatemalan government and issue an apology on behalf of the U.S. government for its role in the coup d’état and subsequent human rights violations perpetrated by the Guatemalan state. It stated:

The willingness of the United States to support illegitimate governments in Latin America did not begin and unfortunately did not end with Guatemala. In fact, Guatemala was one of the most atrocious but still just one of the bloody, repressive and destabilizing interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean that the U.S. government supported over the last century. Unfortunately, this interventionism continues today. Your October 5, 2011 White House meeting with and pledged support for President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras in the aftermath of the June 2009 coup d’état and the subsequent illegitimate elections there is a cogent example of the United States’ continued wrongheaded policy approach to Latin America. Honduras is engulfed in a wave of politically motivated violence where scores of opposition activists and journalists have been murdered since the coup. Support for the repressive Lobo government is in direct contradiction to the nationwide peoples’ movement of Honduras which is demanding an end to impunity for the repression against their movement and accountability for the 2009 coup d’etat.

CCR and Rights Action concluded the letter by urging President Obama to change the course of his administration’s foreign policy in Latin America and to put his words into action by ceasing to actively undermine Latin American peoples’ right to peacefully choose their leaders democratically and have these decisions be respected by the United States.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

On 12 January 2012, Efrain Rios Montt, former head of state of Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983, the bloodiest period in its history, appeared in a Guatemalan court on charges of genocide. During the trial, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule. The evidence clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill Mayans.

On 10 May 2013, Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The verdict was the first time in history in which a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a national tribunal in his or her own country. However, the victory was short-lived. On May 20, Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, vacated the verdict against Ríos Montt and annulled all the legal proceedings that had taken place after April 19; a retrial may possibly occur in January 2015. During the week following Montt’s conviction, there had been forceful and repeated calls from CACIF, Guatemala’s powerful business association, for the verdict to be overturned, explicit threats made by Rios Montt’s lawyer of national paralysis if the Constitutional Court did not rule in Rios Montt’s favor, and bomb threats at the Constitutional Court and other government offices. Guatemala has to now decide if it wants to be known throughout the world as “The Land of Eternal Spring” or as “The Land of Eternal Impunity.”

As for Chiquita Brands International, it is just as corrupt as its predecessor.

In the late 1990s, in one of many chapters in the Colombian government’s decades-old dirty war with leftist guerrillas, more than 15,000 people in the northern region of Curvaradó were forced from their land. Those that followed were las mocha cabezas, meaning “the beheaders” — paramilitary death squads fighting as the military’s proxies. Thousands fled their massacres, bombardments, and executions. Behind the beheaders came the agribusinesses, which converted the territory into African palm plantations and cattle ranches under paramilitary protection. Thus began the cozy relationship between the corporations and the paramilitaries.

Chiquita had been operating in Colombia since the early 1960s through a wholly-owned subsidiary called “Banadex”. Between 1997 and 2004, officers of Banadex paid approximately $1.7 million to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC) in exchange for local employee protection in Urabá, a region north of Curvaradó. The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports, although they are fighting the guerrilla insurgency in order to preserve the political and economic status quo in Colombia. No later than September 2000, Chiquita’s senior executives knew that the corporation was paying the AUC and that the AUC was a violent, paramilitary organization. Similar payments were also made to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN) from 1989 to 1997, both leftist guerrilla organizations, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted. Not only were the FARC and ELN targeting U.S. personnel, they were also fighting against U.S. political and economic interests in Colombia.

The FARC and the ELN were placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997, while the AUC was added in 2001; on 14 March 2007, Chiquita Brands said it had agreed to a $25 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for having ties to them. The plea agreement [archived here] claimed that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments” (see paragraph 23). Chiquita instead characterized itself as a victim of “extortion”.

But court documents subsequently obtained by the National Security Archive from the Justice Department and released as “The Chiquita Papers” in April 2011 show conclusively that Chiquita Brands International had, in fact, benefited from its payments — extorted or otherwise — to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups. According to a 1994 legal memo, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó admits that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” In a March 2000 memo, Chiquita lawyers describe a conversation with a company manager who said that it was absolutely necessary to make payments to right-wing paramilitary groups, not because of intimidation, but rather because they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.” It is still not known why U.S. prosecutors overlooked this clear evidence of culpability that they had in their possession while they were pursuing the case against Chiquita.

Even before “The Chiquita Papers”, there were other indications that the 2007 plea agreement was dishonest. On a broadcast of the U.S. news program 60 Minutes of 11 May 2008 [transcript archived here], correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed Salvatore Mancuso, former supreme leader of the AUC, in a Colombian maximum-security prison. Mancuso said the multinational Chiquita Brands agreed to pay the paramilitaries for their safety without threats:

Kroft: Chiquita says the reason they paid the money was because your people would kill them if they didn’t. Is that true?

Mancuso: No it is not true. They paid taxes because we were like a state in the area, and because we were providing them with protection which enabled them to continue making investments and a financial profit.

Kroft: What would have happened to Chiquita and its employees if they had not paid you?

Mancuso: The truth is, we never thought about what would happen because they did so willingly.

Kroft: Did [the company] have a choice?

Mancuso: Yes, they had a choice. They could go to the local police or army for protection from the guerrillas, but the army and police at that time were barely able to protect themselves.

Kroft: Was Chiquita the only American company that paid you?

Mancuso: All companies in the banana region paid. For instance, there was Dole and Del Monte, which I believe are U.S. companies.

Kroft: Dole and Del Monte say they never paid you any money.

Mancuso: Chiquita has been honest by acknowledging the reality of the conflict and the payments that it made; the others also made payments, not only international companies, but also the national companies in the region.

Kroft: So you’re saying Dole and Del Monte are lying?

Mancuso: I’m saying they all paid.

Kroft: Has anyone come down here from the United States, from the U.S. Justice Department, to talk to you about Dole, or to talk to you about Del Monte or any other companies?

Mancuso: No one has come from the Department of Justice of the United States to talk to us. I am taking the opportunity to invite the Department of State and the Department of Justice, so that they can come and so I can tell them all that they want to know from us.

Kroft: And you would name names?

Mancuso: Certainly, I would do so.

Mancuso had helped negotiate a deal with the Colombian government in 2003 that allowed more than 30,000 paramilitaries to give up their arms and demobilize in return for reduced prison sentences. As part of the deal, the paramilitaries must truthfully confess to all crimes, or face much harsher penalties. Since the interview aired, other jailed paramilitary leaders have corroborated Mancuso’s claims that they received protection money from Chiquita. At the time of the interview, Mancuso had been indicted in the U.S. for smuggling 17 tons of cocaine into the country. On 13 May 2008, Mancuso, along with 13 other paramilitary warlords, was unexpectedly extradited to the United States allegedly for failing to comply with the peace pact.

To distance itself from the scandal, Chiquita in June 2004 sold off its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, which had provided the company with approximately 11 million crates of bananas every year. The company also partnered with Rainforest Alliance, which certified that all of Chiquita’s farms had fair health, labor, and environmental practices. However, Banadex was bought by Invesmar, the British Virgin Islands-registered conglomerate that is the holding company of a Colombian banana producer and exporter called “Banacol”. The $51.5 million deal included an agreement that Banacol would supply Chiquita with 11 million crates of bananas every year through 2012. And low and behold, Banacol in 2011 was Chiquita’s largest global supplier, accounting for 10 percent of Chiquita’s banana purchases, according to Chiquita’s annual statement to shareholders.

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods in Charlotte, NC

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods store in Charlotte, NC

When the displaced communities first began to return to Curvaradó in 2002, they found a desert of African-palm plantations and cattle ranches in place of the small farms that once dotted their land. Most of the palm crops are now dead — killed by a mysterious fungal plague — and a number of the businessmen involved in colluding with the paramilitaries are in prison, under investigation, or on the run. However, as the palm trees have withered, the banana companies have advanced. In 2009, Banacol announced plans for a government-backed $6.4 million project planting 2,470 acres of plantain in Curvaradó for sale on international markets.

A legal complaint [archived here] against Chiquita filed before a U.S. federal court in Washington on 22 March 2011 on behalf of victims of the AUC claims that the former Banadex management now runs Banacol, that workers continued under Banadex contracts as late as 2009, and that the farms sold to Banacol — which make up over 70 percent of Banacol’s Colombian land — continue to supply Chiquita. “Banacol has acted as [Chiquita’s] alter ego since 2004,” the complaint concludes (see paragraph 870). The new accusations have arisen in the Curvaradó region of Colombia, where the Rainforest Alliance says it does not certify Banacol farms as environmentally and socially responsible.

While Chiquita’s payments to the AUC ended by 2004, Banacol continued paying security companies that were used to launder payments to the paramilitaries until at least 2007, according to details from a Colombia Prosecutors Office investigation of Chiquita, Banadex, and Banacol, which was leaked to the press in 2009.

In Colombia, it is apparently business as usual for Chiquita Brands International.

References:

June 26, 2003 (a Thursday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Lawrence v Texas (539 US 558). This landmark ruling (6 to 3) struck down a Texas law that prohibited sodomy (that is, anal sex) between same sex couples. The Court had previously addressed the same issue in 1986 in Bowers v Hardwick (478 US 186), where it upheld a challenged Georgia statute, not finding a constitutional protection of sexual privacy.

The case arose when police received an anonymous tip of a disturbance in an apartment. The police went to and entered the apartment and discovered two men engaged in homosexual activity. The men were arrested and convicted under a Texas law that prohibits “deviate sexual intercourse.” They were fined $200. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed their convictions and rejected challenges to the Texas law based on both privacy and equal protection.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that the right to privacy protects a right for adults to engage in private, consensual homosexual activity. He said that this right is protected under the word “liberty” in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and is not trivial. Kennedy wrote:

The Court began its substantive discussion in Bowers as follows: ‘The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of the many States that still make such conduct illegal and have done so for a very long time.’ That statement, we now conclude, discloses the Court’s own failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse…

When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.

Justice Kennedy expressly analogized to Supreme Court precedents protecting the right to purchase and use contraceptives and the right to abortion as aspects of privacy. The Court concluded that:

Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.

Justice O’Connor, who had voted with the majority in Bowers, concurred in the judgment in Lawrence but said that she would not overrule Bowers. Instead, she would invalidate the Texas law because it applied only to same-sex couples. For her, the Georgia law in Bowers was different because it applied both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. In some ways, O’Connor’s opinion was broader than the majority’s, for as Antonin Scalia noted in dissent, it explicitly cast doubt on whether laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples could pass rational-basis scrutiny. O’Connor explicitly noted in her opinion that a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would pass the rational-basis test as long as it was designed to preserve traditional marriage, and was not simply based on the state’s dislike of homosexual persons.

However, O’Connor does not explain how a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples could be designed to “preserve” (whatever that means) traditional marriage WITHOUT being motivated by the state’s dislike of homosexual persons. Furthermore, if a state provides nearly all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples but calls it “civil union” or “domestic partnership”, its duplicity and prejudice become even more obvious by refusing to allow them to marry.

Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, dissented. He said, with his characteristic hyperbole and hysteria, that the Court was not justified in overruling the precedent of Bowers v. Hardwick. Scalia’s dissenting opinion argued that states should be able to make the moral judgment that homosexual conduct is wrong and embody that judgment in criminal statutes. He also averred that State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers‘ validation of laws based on moral choices.

However, Scalia’s assertion is NOT true — proscribing adult incest can be justified on medical grounds, since children produced by such activity are more likely to suffer genetic disorders, and proscribing bestiality can be justified on grounds of animal cruelty. Also, it logically follows from Scalia’s reasoning that states should be able to make the moral judgment that interracial marriage is wrong and embody that judgment in criminal statutes – except that the Supreme Court has previously ruled those laws unconstitutional as well.

With Lawrence, Scalia concluded, the Court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.” While Scalia said that he has “nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means,” Scalia argued that the Court has an obligation to decide cases neutrally. 

Of course, Scalia’s use of the term “agenda”, implying that the action against Texas is part of a wider, covert effort to legalize the activities he mentions above, debases homosexual persons, and his protestation that he has nothing against them only confirms his bias, or at least makes his self-professed neutrality suspect.

June 26, 1987 (a Friday)

From Article 5 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On this date, the United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect. Since 1998, each anniversary has been observed as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day, we pay deep respect and tribute to all those around the world who have suffered and endured the worst torture.

The Convention obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

As of June 1998, the Convention had been ratified by 105 States. These States parties are required to report to the UN Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.

These 105 States parties to the Convention against Torture are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Yugoslavia.

Notice that China is a signatory to the Convention against Torture. Sixty years have passed since China invaded Tibet in 1949. From then until 1979, a total of  1.2 million Tibetans were brutally killed and more than six thousand monasteries razed to rubble according to a report by the Central Tibetan Administration. The situation over the years hasn’t changed as the Chinese government continues to subject Tibetan people to various forms of physical and mental tortures depriving them of human dignity and freedom, which all people are entitled to, irrespective of caste, color, creed and religion, by virtue of being a part of the same global family, that is, humanity.

The 2008 peaceful protests in Tibet against the Chinese government’s cruel policy resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of imprisonments, involuntary disappearances, and severe injuries to hundreds of Tibetans. The year 2010 saw immense political suppression on influential Tibetans after the post-2008 peaceful protests across the Tibetan region.

Freedom House published a special report dated 1 June 2011 entitled Worst of the Worst: The Worlds Most Repressive Societies that provided data on the countries that received the lowest combined ratings for political rights and civil liberties from the highly respected human rights organization. Hundreds of thousands of human beings in these countries languish every day in prisons or labor camps — generally in subhuman conditions and subject to physical or mental abuse — purely for their political or religious beliefs. In particular, the report is designed to direct the attention of the UN Human Rights Council to states and territories that deserve investigation and condemnation for their widespread violations. The report identified the territory of Tibet as one of the ten “Worst of the Worst” political entities in terms of human rights abuses.

The brutal clamping down on influential Tibetans by the Chinese government is a futile attempt to diminish or end the public influence on Tibetan civic and intellectual leaders, writers, and artists. Despite the recent incidents of harsh crackdown on Tibetans in Amdo Ngaba and Kardze by Chinese authorities, Tibetan people continue to carry out peaceful protests to demand freedom. Tibetans’ spirit for freedom and justice has never been bogged by tortures, brutalities, intimidation, or coercion.

Question:  In light of its persistent and pervasive violation of human rights, why does the United States government continue to give the People’s Republic of China “most favored nation” (MFN) trade status?

The Coup d’état of Zhao: June 24, 1989

On 19 May 1989, Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Zhao Ziyang picked up a bullhorn and urged student demonstrators to end their hunger strike against the Chinese government in the name of peace and national stability. This was his last public appearance.

On this date, a Saturday, Zhao Ziyang was formally ousted as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party weeks after voicing sympathy for student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. Jiang Zemin replaced him, and Zhao spent the rest of his life under house arrest. His removal from power was “effectively a coup,” according to American diplomatic officer Raymond Burghardt, who was chief political officer in Beijing at the time.

During his 16-year confinement, Zhao was able to clandestinely record his memoirs on 30 one-hour cassette tapes. Recorded over his children’s music and Peking Opera tapes, Zhao numbered each one with faint pencil before passing them to trusted friends to be smuggled out in separate batches under the nose of his captors. The full contents, including audio clips, were published in Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang on 19 May 2009, more than four years after his death.

Zhao, a reformist who pleaded with China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to take a softer line with the protesting students, described the killings as a “tragedy”. Recalling the moment he finally knew his efforts to prevent bloodshed were in vain, Zhao wrote: “On the night of June 3, while sitting in the courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire. A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted, and was happening after all.”

Among the key passages of the book is Zhao’s account of the meeting on May 17 at the house of Deng Xiaoping at which it was decided – despite Zhao’s vigorous representations – to impose martial law and clear the square by force:

I had no other choice but to express my views to Deng personally, in a face-to-face meeting. Since I had asked for a personal meeting with Deng, only to have Deng call for a full Standing Committee meeting at his home, I realized that things had already taken a bad turn.

I expressed my views roughly as follows: “The situation with the student demonstrations has worsened, and has grown extremely grave. Students, teachers, journalists, scholars and even some government staff have taken to the streets in protest. Today there were approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people. Quite a large number of workers and peasants are also sympathetic. Besides the hot issues of corruption and government transparency, the main impetus for all these different social groups is that they want an explanation for how the Party and the government can be so coldhearted in the face of hunger-striking students, doing nothing to try to save them… If the hunger strike continues and some people die, it will be like gasoline poured over a flame. If we take a confrontational stance with the masses, a dangerous situation could ensue in which we lose complete control.”

While I was expressing my view, Deng appeared very impatient and displeased.

In the end, Deng Xiaoping made the final decision. He said: “Since there is no way to back down without the situation spiraling completely out of control, the decision is to move troops into Beijing and impose martial law”.

When the meeting adjourned, Zhao recalls that he left immediately, not pausing to talk further with his colleagues. “At that moment, I was extremely upset. I told myself that no matter what, I refused to become the General Secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on the students.” But Zhao accepted the likely consequences:

By insisting on my view of the student demonstrations and refusing to accept the decision to crack down with force, I knew what the consequences would be and what treatment I would receive. Mentally, I was fully prepared, I knew that if I persistently upheld my view, I would ultimately be compelled to step down. If I wanted to keep my position, or give up my post in some face-saving way, I would have to give up my viewpoint and conform. If I persisted, then I had to be prepared to step down.

Zhao died on 17 January 2005 in a Beijing hospital at 07:01 AM, at the age of 85.

June 23, 1912 (a Sunday)

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.


On this date, the mathematician Alan Mathison Turing was born. Turing was a genius and a visionary who foresaw the digital world in which we now live and who believed machines would one day think. In the eyes of scientists today, Turing sits alongside Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin at the table of scientific greats.

Turing’s first professional success came with publication of his paper entitled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (1936). In the course of solving Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem (Decision Problem), Turing invented the hypothetical device that became known as the Turing machine, and proved that some such machine would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. Andrew Hodges, a biographer of Turing, describes it this way:

The concept of “the Turing machine” is like that of “the formula” or “the equation”; there is an infinity of possible Turing machines, each corresponding to a different “definite method” or algorithm. But imagine, as Turing did, each particular algorithm written out as a set of instructions in a standard form. Then the work of interpreting the instructions and carrying them out is itself a mechanical process, and so can itself be embodied in a particular Turing machine, namely the Universal Turing machine. A Universal Turing machine can be made do what any other particular Turing machine would do, by supplying it with the standard form describing that Turing machine. One machine, for all possible tasks.

It is hard now not to think of a Turing machine as a computer program, and the mechanical task of interpreting and obeying the program as what the computer itself does. Thus, the Universal Turing Machine embodies the essential principle of the computer: a single machine which can be turned to any well-defined task by being supplied with the appropriate program.

This is why Turing is given credit for having invented the principle of the modern computer.

But in the 1930s, when Turing began working on the Entscheidungsproblem, the word “computer” had a meaning different from the one it has today: it meant simply a person who did computations — that is to say, a person engaged in the active use of algorithms. Turing wrote:

We may compare a man in the process of computing a real number to a machine which is only capable of a finite number of conditions q1, q2, …, qR which will be called “mconfigurations”. The machine is supplied with a “tape”, (the analogue of paper) running through it, and divided into sections (called “squares”) each capable of bearing a “symbol”.

The point should be emphasized: Turing was not considering the computing machines of his day. No such machines existed at the time, only calculating devices too crude to undertake any complex mathematics, and certainly not programmable. He was actually modelling the action of human minds. The physical machines would come ten years later.

British mathematician Alan Turing, shown aged 16 at the Sherborne School in Dorset in 1928.

Turing is best known for his work in cracking the Nazi codes, which gave the allies a consistent intelligence advantage over the enemy, shortening World War II by years and saving millions of lives. “Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them,” said Richard Dawkins. “After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody,” referring to Turing’s sexual orientation.

Turing also devised what is known today as the “Turing Test.” The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine’s capability to perform human-like conversation. Described by Alan Turing in the 1950 paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence“, it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. It is assumed that both the human and the machine try to appear human. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of some machine), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel, such as a teletype machine as Turing suggested.

However, Turing was a gay man living in an era when the word still meant “happy” or “lighthearted” and anyone who acted on a homosexual impulse was subject to criminal prosecution, not only in England where Turing lived but in many other countries as well. Nevertheless, rather naive and somewhat unworldly, Turing was never particularly concerned to hide his sexuality, and throughout his life he spoke openly of his attraction to men.

In 1952, Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old recent acquaintance of Turing’s, helped an accomplice to break into Turing’s house, and Turing went to the police to report the crime. As a result of the police investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray, and a crime having been identified and settled, they were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

Turing came to trial on 31 March 1952 and made no serious denial or defense, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of his profession in Manchester, England. Turing was convicted of the same crime Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than 50 years before. He was given the choice between imprisonment or probation, the latter conditional on his undergoing hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. To avoid going to jail, he accepted the estrogen hormone injections, which lasted for a year, with side effects including gynecomastia (breast enlargement). His lean runner’s body took on fat. His conviction led to a removal of his security clearance and prevented him from continuing consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) on cryptographic matters. At this time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents. In America, Robert Oppenheimer had just been deemed a security risk.

On June 8, 1954, his housekeeper found Turing dead, with a half-eaten apple left beside his bed; the previous day, he had died of cyanide poisoning. The apple itself was never tested for contamination with cyanide. The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental; there was enough poison to fill a wine glass. Turing, thought the pathologist, had taken bites from the apple to make his last drink more palatable. Although he left no note, most believe that his death was intentional; Turing had himself spoken of suicide. His mother, however, strenuously argued that the ingestion was accidental due to his careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in this ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. Others suggest that Turing was reenacting a scene from “Snow White”, reportedly his favorite fairy tale. It has even been suggested that Turing’s suicide was in fact the work of the British secret service determined to remove a security risk.

Interestingly, in 1928 while a student at Sherborne School, Turing fell in love with a boy one year ahead of him in school, Christopher Morcom. The boys bonded over their shared passion for science. Unfortunately, on 13 February 1930, Turing’s beloved Christopher died at the age of 18 of bovine tuberculosis, which he had contracted years earlier when he drank tainted milk. His death profoundly affected Turing and may have spurred his intellectual achievements.

A letter sent from Alan Turing to Christopher Morcom’s mother.

In his biography of Turing, Andrew Hodges refers to an essay Turing wrote to the mother of his deceased boyfriend:

He fell in unrequited love with Christopher Morcom, a very talented youth in the school sixth form, and his longing for friendship brought him to communicate. A brief flowering of scientific collaboration perished when Morcom suddenly died in February 1930 of tuberculosis. Turing’s correspondence with the dead boy’s mother gives insight into the development of his ideas in the aftermath. He was concerned to believe the dead boy could still exist in spirit, and to reconcile such a belief with science. To this end he wrote for Mrs Morcom an essay [entitled ‘Nature of Spirit‘], probably in 1932. It is the private writing of a twenty-year-old, and must be read as testament to background and not as a thesis upheld in public; nevertheless it is a key to Turing’s future development.

The essay begins with a general account of the influence of developments in physics and quantum mechanics on the scientific conception of the universe, then moves quickly into the question of free will:

It used to be supposed in Science that if everything was known about the Universe at any particular moment then we can predict what it will be through all the future. This idea was really due to the great success of astronomical prediction. More modern science however has come to the conclusion that when we are dealing with atoms and electrons we are quite unable to know the exact state of them; our instruments being made of atoms and electrons themselves. The conception then of being able to know the exact state of the universe then must really break down on the small scale. This means that the theory which held that as eclipses etc. are predestined so were all our actions breaks down too. We have a will which is able to determine the action of the atoms probably in a small portion of the brain, or possibly all over it. The rest of the body acts so as to amplify this.

In stating the classic paradox of physical determinism and free will, Turing is influenced by Arthur Stanley Eddington’s assertion that quantum mechanical physics (“more modern science”) yields room for human will. Eddington asked how could “this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine?” and Turing tries to find some answer.

There is now the question which must be answered as to how the action of the other atoms of the universe are regulated. Probably by the same law and simply by the remote effects of spirit but since they have no amplifying apparatus they seem to be regulated by pure chance. The apparent non-predestination of physics is almost a combination of chances.

Here, Turing says that although the atoms, in their action, “seem to be regulated by pure chance” (emphasis added), in fact they are “probably” subject to the same “will” by means of which we as human beings are able to control at least a small portion of our brains. Thus the “remote effects of spirit” have not, in fact, been banished.

As McTaggart shows matter is meaningless in the absence of spirit (throughout I do not mean by matter that which can be a solid a liquid or a gas so much as that which is dealt with by physics e.g. light and gravitations as well i.e. that which forms the universe). Personally I think that spirit is really eternally connected with matter but certainly not always by the same kind of body. I did believe it possible for a spirit at death to go to a universe entirely separate from our own, but now I consider that matter and spirit are so connected that this would be a contradiction in terms. It is possible however but unlikely that such universes may exist.

Then as regards the actual connection between spirit and body I consider that the body by reason of being a living body can “attract” and hold on to a “spirit,” whilst the body is alive and awake the two are firmly connected. When the body is asleep I cannot guess what happens but when the body dies the “mechanism” of the body, holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later perhaps immediately.

As regards the question of why we have bodies at all; why we cannot live free as spirits and communicate as such, we probably could do so but there would be nothing whatever to do. The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use.

Alan Turing, 29th March 1951. Image supplied by NPL Archive, Science Museum (London, UK).

By the time of the publication of “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950, Turing had decided that artificial intelligence was possible — a machine could be built that could have the qualities of a human mind — which his now-famous test was designed to detect. In his paper he addressed an argument opposed to his view:

This argument is very well expressed in Professor Jefferson’s Lister Oration for 1949, from which I quote. ‘Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain — that is, not only write it but know that it had written it. No mechanism could feel (and not merely signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants.’ This argument appears to be a denial of the validity of our test. According to the most extreme form of this view the only way by which one could be sure that a machine thinks is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking. One could then describe these feelings to the world, but of course no one would be justified in taking any notice. Likewise according to this view the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man. It is in fact the solipsist point of view.

The gist of Turing’s view now was that the existence of consciousness (“but know that it had written it”) is an illusion, a quality emerging from and ultimately to be explained by great complexity. His approach would not accept “intentionality” as any better an explanation than “spirit” or “soul”. In this conviction he is close to Buddhism. “I do not wish to give the impression that I think there is no mystery about consciousness,” he wrote. “There is, for instance, something of a paradox connected with any attempt to localize it.”

The mystery of how matter comes to support human mind was the burning theme of Alan Turing’s lifelong inquiry. In 1932, he believed that “spirit” could live on, and in a sense he proved that yes, it could. In the end, Christopher Morcom’s spirit lived on not in his body but in a wholly different form, in the work of Alan Turing.

References:

June 23, 1894 (a Saturday)

On this date, the American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology Alfred Charles Kinsey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1947, he founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Kinsey’s research on human sexuality profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries.

The Kinsey Scale

Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of sexology, the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey’s study of the variations in mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were.

The Kinsey Reports — starting with the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948, followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female — reached the top of bestseller lists and turned Kinsey into an instant celebrity. Based on his research, Kinsey concluded that:

The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.

During this work, Kinsey developed a scale classifying sexual behavior, now known as the Kinsey Scale. The scale ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual; a rating of 7, for asexual, was added later by Kinsey’s associates. It is important to note that Kinsey said in both the Male and Female volumes that it was impossible to determine the number of persons who are “homosexual” or “heterosexual”. It was only possible to determine behavior at any given time.

The 2000s have seen renewed interest in Kinsey. The musical Dr. Sex focuses on the relationship between Kinsey, his wife, and their shared lover Wally Matthews (based on Clyde Martin). The play—with score by Larry Bortniker, book by Bortniker and Sally Deering—premiered in Chicago in 2003, winning seven Jeff Awards. It was produced off-Broadway in 2005. The 2004 biographical film Kinsey, written and directed by Bill Condon, stars Liam Neeson as the scientist and Laura Linney as his wife. In 2004 as well, T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel about Kinsey, The Inner Circle, was published. The following year, PBS produced the documentary Kinsey in cooperation with the Kinsey Institute, which allowed access to many of its files. Mr. Sex, a BBC radio play by Steve Coombes concerning Kinsey and his work, won the 2005 Imison Award.

June 20, 1960 (a Monday)

Subpoena issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate to appear before it at 10:00 Am on 20 June 1960.

Subpoena issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate to appear before it at 10:00 AM on 20 June 1960.

On this date, Linus Pauling, who had in 1954 won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for study of the nature of the chemical bond and the determination of the structure of molecules and crystals, and his counsel arrived at 10:00 AM, as requested, at the New Senate Office Building in Washington D.C., but the Senate was in session, so Pauling’s hearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) was postponed until the following morning. The next morning, Pauling defied the U.S. Congress by refusing to name circulators of petitions calling for the total halt of nuclear weapons testing.

The FBI began to monitor Pauling in 1950, when he became a contract employee of the US Navy. As Pauling involved himself more closely with the peace movement, the FBI likewise began to monitor his activities more stringently.

By 1960 Linus Pauling had become a controversial political figure. His importance in the international peace movement was cemented in 1957 when he wrote the “Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and Peoples of the World“, a petition against nuclear bomb testing worldwide. Pauling, along with more than 13,000 other scientists throughout the world, signed this petition in an effort to curb the deleterious health effects that nuclear bomb tests were causing to humans. This effort resulted in Pauling’s receipt of a second Nobel, the Peace Prize, in 1963.

An Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and People of the World. January 15, 1958. Signed by Alfred Romer.

An Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and People of the World. January 15, 1958. Signed by Alfred Romer.

Not only the FBI, but also the SISS had begun to keep tabs on Pauling’s peace work and ultimately subpoenaed Pauling in June 1960. The purpose was to investigate Pauling’s anti-Bomb petitions — how they were devised, who gathered signatures, and where the funding came from. The underlying question was: How had Pauling managed to get all those thousands of names without a large — possibly Communist — organization behind him? .

When he appeared before the committee with his lawyer at his side, Pauling answered all the members’ questions except one: a request to provide the names of everyone who had helped him circulate his petitions. Pauling, after conferring with his lawyer, refused to name names. “The circulation of petitions is an important part of our democratic process,” he told the committee. “If it is abolished or inhibited, it would be a step toward a police state. No matter what assurances the subcommittee might give me concerning the use of names, I am convinced the names would be used for reprisals against these enthusiastic, idealistic, high-minded workers for peace.” Pauling did not want the system to be curtailed “by representatives of defense industries who benefit financially from the cold war.” He knew he was risking a citation for contempt of Congress. But he was adamant. He was told in reply that the committee would give him a month to come up with the requested names.

By the time he was called back before the SISS on August 9, 1960, Pauling’s refusal to provide names to the committee had become a national issue. His petitions, he told the press, “were not Communist inspired. I inspired them.” He attacked the committee for attempting to stifle free speech. “Do you think anybody tells me what to do — with threats? I make up my mind. If I want to take a chance, I take a chance.”

His brave words masked deep concern. His refusal to cooperate with the Senate could cost him up to a year in prison. But by this time the McCarthy Era was nearing its end, and public opinion was beginning to swing away from knee-jerk support for anti-Communist witch hunts. The nation’s newspaper editorialists began writing in support of Pauling, with one calling the SISS investigation “superfluous,” and another editorialist writing “My blood tingles with pride now as I read Dr. Pauling’s refusal to bow to this bullying committee.” Pauling’s lawyer succeeded in postponing the next hearing until October, giving the Paulings time to travel and speak widely about the investigation.

Pauling was behaving more like an honored diplomat than a fellow traveler, speaking across the US and Europe, and meeting in Geneva with the American, British, and Soviet ambassadors. He attacked the SISS in every speech he gave. By the time his second appearance neared in the Fall, Pauling appeared to have marshaled public opinion behind him.

On the night of October 10, he was served with a subpoena to appear before the committee the next morning — and to bring the requested information about his petitions. The hearing room the next day was packed. He was asked again for the names of those who had helped him. “I am unwilling to subject these people to reprisals by the committee,” he said. “I could protect myself by agreeing, but I am fighting for other persons who could not make a fight themselves.” The committee counsel retreated, then turned in another direction, grilling Pauling for the remainder of the day about his affiliation with suspect groups. In the end the committee leadership, unwilling to make Pauling a martyr, backed down. Pauling never gave the names, and was never cited for contempt.

Despite Pauling’s dismissal by the committee, many articles continued to be published in newspapers and magazines around the country that decried Pauling as a communist supporter and criticized his refusal to release the names of the people who had help to collect signatures for the bomb test petition.

Although it was successful on the international level, the bomb test petition was controversial at home due to the conservative political climate at the time and the strong anti-communist sentiment prevailing during the Cold War. Pauling wished to collaborate with all citizens throughout the world on the petition, regardless of their governmental or economic system, a position that many saw as a potential threat to U.S. security. Indeed, in the eyes of some, opposition to nuclear bomb testing was equated with being a communist.

In an interview with Harry Kriesler on 18 January 1983, Pauling reflected about his advocacy of nuclear disarmament:

Kriesler: Were charges made against you that you were for unilateral disarmament? In a public debate there tends to be such a distortion of views that are so different from the conventional as yours were in the fifties.

Pauling: There were some irresponsible statements about me to the effect that I was working for disarming the United States, that I was taken by Soviet propaganda, and that sort of thing. Of course, I was speaking out contrary to the official opinion. If we had had a dictatorship in this country, I might well have been accused of the crime of seditious libel, which is used in dictatorships to suppress criticism. When I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, Life Magazine published an editorial with the heading “A Weird Insult from Norway — The Norwegian Nobel Committee Awards the Peace Prizes.” I think that the writer of this editorial thought that it was insulting to give the peace prize to someone who advocated something that was not the official policy of the United States government.

Kriesler: And, indeed, when you circulated a 1958 petition which was signed by 2,000 American scientists, and I think 8,000 foreign scientists from 49 different countries, there was government harassment, there was harassment in the press, and charges of working for the enemy.

Pauling: I first announced that 2,000 American scientists had signed the petition asking for cessation of the testing of nuclear weapons on the atmosphere where they were liberating radioactive fallout over the whole world that would cause defective children to be born and that would damage living human beings, causing cancer and other diseases. We asked that the nations make an agreement to stop testing of nuclear weapons. At that time, the government policy was not to make this treaty, it had not yet been decided, but pretty soon it was decided to make such a treaty. I think that I got a good bit of support but some criticism also. I’d written this petition together with Barry Commoner and Ed Condon. Ed Condon is a Berkeley man who was at that time Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis; Barry Commoner was Professor of Biology at Washington University. We circulated the petition. Scientists from foreign countries began to send in signed copies of the petition, so my wife and I circulated it in foreign countries and ultimately turned over 13,000 signatures of scientists to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld of the United Nations.

(…)

Kriesler: Do you feel that scientists have a special moral responsibility to make known these insights and mobilize public opinion?

Pauling: Yes. I think that scientists have a special responsibility. All human beings, all citizens, have a responsibility for doing their part in the democratic process. But almost every issue has some scientific aspect to it, and this one of nuclear war, or war in general, is of course very much a matter of science. Scientists understand the problem somewhat better than their fellow citizens. I think that scientists who are able to do it, who are in the position to do it, and who have the ability to do it, should help their fellow citizens to understand what the issues are and how they look at it, and should go beyond that and express their own opinions for the benefit of their fellow citizens.

(…)

Kriesler: What about the problem of science in the Soviet Union, and the problem of science and peace movements in the Soviet Union? One can compare, for example, your career here and your harassment by the government here with the situation of Sakharov, for example, or with the suppression recently of a burgeoning peace movement there.

Pauling: I was harassed, of course, in a less blatant way when my passport was refused at the time that the Royal Society of London had arranged a conference of scientists, a two day symposium, on the biochemistry of DNA, and on my ideas. I would be the first speaker. And the second speaker was my associate Professor Cory, and then there were talks from people from many countries for the next two days. I wasn’t there because my passport was withheld from me on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the United States. A statement was made that my anticommunist statements hadn’t been strong enough. So, I didn’t get to go and to see the X-ray photographs taken by Russell and Franklin, which I would have seen if I had gone to London on that occasion [1]. And others. I was prevented from attending various scientific congresses. And, of course, I was threatened by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate with a year in jail for contempt of Senate, when I was being harassed by the Internal Security Subcommittee.

[1] Footnote: Russell and Franklin’s X-rays would have shown Dr. Pauling that his research on the structure of DNA was based on a false hypothesis. By not attending the conference, Dr. Pauling was denied an opportunity to correct his ideas, leaving the field open to James Watson and Francis Crick, who received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery.

June 17, 1911 (a Saturday)

The Republican and Ultra Conservative Roots of the Los Angeles Times

Harrison Gray Otis Statue, MacArthur Park, Los Angeles

To Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), Democrats weren’t the opposition but “hags, harlots and pollutants.” Members of organized labor were “skunks, pinheads, gas-pipe ruffians, rowdies, anarchists and deadbeats.” Elections weren’t routine political events in a democracy but apocalyptic choices between the forces of good and evil. He saw his growing list of enemies as more ink for his poison pen, resulting in more readers of his newspaper.

Otis’ first bully pulpit, the Santa Barbara Press, was a financial failure. In 1882, he bought a one-quarter interest in the new Los Angeles Daily Times. In 1883, Otis and entrepreneur H. H. Boyce became co-owners of the Times, now grown to eight pages, and formed the Times Mirror Company. Otis set about transforming the newspaper. As John Weaver writes in Los Angeles: The Enormous Village: “He dropped ‘Daily’ from the Times masthead, ordered up livelier headlines, doubled the telegraphic news coverage, made room for letters to the editor and added a column, ‘Political Points’ which collected editorial barbs aimed at Democrats by other Republican journals.”

“When you worked for the Times in those days,” Louis Sherwin later remembered, “you were not reporting for a newspaper; you were embattled for a Cause.” Otis took pride in his growing reputation as the most aggressive and unyielding foe of organized labor in America. He founded the Merchants and Manufacturers (M&M) Association—a league of local businesses created to keep the unions out. He rallied the M&M membership with his cry: “We say to capital: Here you can invest in safety! Don’t hover between the lines or I will count you as the enemy! Decide!”

As George E. Mowry writes in The California Progressives: “It is possible that no man in all the United States hated organized labor more, and it is certain that few did more to obstruct its advance.” For years, the Page 1 banner of the Times included the phrase, “True Industrial Freedom,” while editorials and news stories reflected Otis’ uncompromising opposition to the union shop. As John Weaver notes, labor leaders called Los Angeles “Otistown” because it was “the country’s most impregnable open shop fortress.” The burgeoning circulation of William Randolph Hearst’s pro-union Los Angeles Examiner reflected the growing anti-Otis constituency and explained in part how Los Angeles could simultaneously be the national headquarters for arch-conservative capitalism and a crucible for socialist politics.

In 1907, the American Federation of Labor levied a penny-a-month assessment on its membership to create a war chest dedicated exclusively to fighting Otis. On the national level, prominent citizens were declaring that Otis was an enemy of democracy and progress. No voice was louder or drew more applause than that of Theodore Roosevelt, when he wrote on 17 June 1911 in The California Outlook magazine:

[Otis is] a consistent enemy of every movement of social and economic betterment – just as he has shown himself the consistent enemy of men in California who have dared resolutely to stand against corruption and in favor of honesty… The attitude of General Otis in his paper affords a curious instance of the anarchy of soul which comes to a man who, in conscienceless fashion, deifies property at the expense of human rights… It may be quite true that the Los Angeles Times has again and again shown itself to be as much an enemy of good citizenship, of honest and decent government, and of every effective effort to secure fair play for working men and women, as any anarchist sheet could show itself to be.

June 15, 1215 (Julian calendar/old style: a Monday)

A scan of The Magna Carta.

On this date, following a revolt by the English nobility against his rule, King John put his royal seal on the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter.” (Contrary to popular belief, the Magna Carta was not signed by King John; he was illiterate.) His uncontrollable barons had had enough of his high taxation and arbitrary decisions. The document, essentially a peace treaty between John and his barons, guaranteed that the King would respect feudal rights and privileges, uphold the freedom of the church, and maintain the nation’s laws. The Magna Carta contained no new rights or privileges, but only put in writing old laws. The barons needed John to make explicit what was already implicit.

The origin of the barons’ rebellion came about from the moment when John came to the throne in 1199. John had inherited the crown from his brother Richard I, or to be correct, seized it from the legitimate heir, his nephew, Prince Arthur. The French King Philip II supported Arthur’s claim, not only to the throne of England, but to French lands in Normandy and Anjou, which had been held by Richard. King Philip summoned John to appear before him and when John refused, confiscated his French lands and allocated some of them to Arthur and some to himself. John responded by sending an army to defend his lands in Normandy, thus bringing about a minor but costly war.

In order to defray the cost, John instituted a series of taxes, including Forest Law, a set of regulations regarding woodlands, which were difficult to obey in their entirety, easily broken, and raised a great deal of money in fines. John also started an Income Tax, which raised him enough to pay for his wars and more besides. Naturally, the barons were unhappy at this state of affairs and a group of them joined together in rebellion. They captured London, forcing John to leave the city, and then rounded on him at Runnymede, where, at the point of a sword, he sealed The Magna Carta.

As might be expected, the text of the Magna Carta bears many traces of haste, and is clearly the product of much bargaining and many hands. Most of its clauses deal with specific, and often long-standing, grievances rather than with general principles of law. Some of the grievances are self-explanatory: others can be understood only in the context of the feudal society in which they arose. The precise meaning of a few clauses is still a matter of debate.

Although more a reactionary than a progressive document in its day, the Magna Carta was seen as a cornerstone in the development of democratic England by later generations. Thus, it can also be considered the first British constitution, setting down the relationship between citizens and state. The document was remarkable in that it implied there were laws the king was bound to observe, thus precluding any future claim to absolutism by the English monarchy. Of greatest interest to later generations was clause 39, which stated that “no free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed] or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” This clause has been celebrated as an early guarantee of trial by jury and of habeas corpus and inspired England’s Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679).

The complete text can be read here.

June 15, 1989 (a Thursday)

‘Execution’ by Beijing artist Yue Minjun

On this date, a Chinese court in Shanghai accused three men of starting a riot in Shanghai and sentenced them to death, the first execution orders since Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing on June 3-4, crushing a 7-week-old reform movement. Television said the three men sentenced to death were charged with setting a train on fire and beating security officials who tried to extinguish the blaze.

The train incident occurred June 6 when six protesters were killed as they stood at a barricade on the tracks near the Shanghai train station and a train from Beijing did not stop in time. People in a large crowd set fire to the train and fought with firefighters and police who came to put it out, injuring 21. The three condemned men “frenziedly smashed the railway carriages and set fire to police motorcycles and the carriages” during the attack, the official New China News Agency reported. “They also prevented firefighters from extinguishing the fire and beat them cruelly.” They were given three days to appeal.

An article in the New York Times on 22 June 1989 reported, in part:

The Chinese authorities staged a public execution today of three young men who were accused of taking part in a violent political protest in Shanghai…

The three young men in Shanghai were presumably executed in the Chinese way, with a bullet fired in the back of the head at close range…

The three men in Shanghai – Xu Guoming, an employee of a Shanghai brewery; Bian Hanwu, who is unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a worker at a radio factory – were sentenced to death last Thursday but had appealed.

They were accused of helping to set fire to a train on June 6 and then attacking firefighters who arrived to put out the fire. No one was killed, but some firefighters were beaten up and nine rail cars were burned, forcing the closing of the rail line for two days.

The Government has not mentioned the circumstances in which the crowd attacked the train. The crowd had gathered to block the rail line, in protest of the killings of hundreds of students and workers in Beijing two days earlier by the army. A train rammed its way through the human blockade, killing six people who lay on the track, and only then did the outraged crowd attack the train and set it afire.

It is not known what evidence existed against the three men, who appeared to be in their 20′s or perhaps early 30′s, or even exactly what role each was accused of having played in the incident. Nor have the authorities indicated how they caught the three, who were apparently arrested several days later rather than on the scene…

Soon after, people in Beijing, Shandong, Sichuan, Hebei, and Hubei were sentenced to death. Throughout the country, there were tens of thousands of detentions and arrests. Approximately one thousand people were executed, and many others were investigated and harassed. These people were additional victims of the June 4 Massacre.

References:

  • Jiang Qisheng (江棋生).  An Independent Report on the Situation of the June 4 Massacre Victims (1989年六四镇压受害者状况民间报告).   Released online by Human Rights in China (HRIC), 3 June 2010 and accessed at http://www.hrichina.org/content/406 on 20 June 2012.