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May 27, 2010

"Lewis Hanke's Own Struggle for Justice"

My mother gave me the two typewritten pages below a long time ago, but I just read them for the first time. They're notes for a little speech about my grandfather, who was a professor of Latin American history. The speech was delivered (my mother believes) by a historian named Richard Graham, when Graham and eight of my grandfather's other former graduate students presented him with a book they'd written and dedicated to him.

This happened at the convention of the American History Association in 1974, which was the year my grandfather was AHA president. I don't know exactly what that means, but at least he got to give a speech.

If you've come to this site for a long time, you may understand why Richard Graham's remarks are both very interesting for me and also weird me out. But beyond my personal reaction, I'm especially intrigued that during World War II my grandfather apparently perceived the direct connection between European colonialism in the Americas and Hitlerian fascism. Good for him; I have to imagine that at the time that was a pretty significant thoughtcrime.

P.S. Thank you, Richard Graham. I didn't know my grandfather outside of his grandfather role, and this is information I couldn't have gotten anywhere else.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at May 27, 2010 08:36 AM

Historically speaking, it was six years ago I quoted at my eponymous blog a passage published a year earlier:

Letter to America from Compassionate Canadian Authoress

"The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; and in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You too have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them."

Margaret Atwood, writing in The Nation
issue of April 14, 2003

Lewis Hanke's election as president of the American Historical Society clearly indicated the respect his colleagues felt for him. Richard Graham's remarks show us that Hanke is one of America's great spirits of the past, to whom we need to turn for inspiration. Thank you, Jonathan, for reminding us of him in this context.

Coincidentally, this morning Margaret Atwood was mentioned in the comments section of The Automatic Earth, where the most recent posting is titled "Economics and the Nature of Political Crisis". Robert asserted:

"I was chilled when I read Margaret Atwood's Handmaids Tale years ago. I expect you have read this book. What impressed me most about this book is that I saw clearly, for the first time, what was happening in a certain large country. Eventually, I left that country for greener pastures(? do they exist?)."

I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, so I would only be able to guess what "certain large country" Robert is talking about. One comes to mind right away, however.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 27, 2010 10:10 AM

mistah charley, you are very generous to say that. Thank you.

I certainly remember that Margaret Atwood column, possibly because of you pointing it out. What a horrible time that was. Of course, I suspect we have even worse moments to come.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 27, 2010 10:33 AM

during World War II my grandfather apparently perceived the direct connection between European colonialism in the Americas and Hitlerian fascism. Good for him; I have to imagine that at the time that was a pretty significant thoughtcrime.

It's significant enough thoughtcrime now that it's surely impossible to comprehend what it would have been like then. Good for him.

Posted by: ethan at May 27, 2010 11:49 AM

What a fabulous grandfather! Here I thought they were all old coots (though of course lovable), but apparently just mine were!

Posted by: N E at May 27, 2010 12:53 PM

If you're interested in the colonialism->fascism argument, you should *really* check this book out:

Read the Amazon reviews to get a clue of just how brilliant/horrifying it is.

Posted by: aron at May 27, 2010 01:03 PM

Here's an example of contemporary thoughtcrime. John Grant reports in Counterpunch that the following paragraphs apparently go too far for a newspaper editor that has published numerous other op-eds by him:

"There is no indication Shahzad calculated becoming a citizen to pull off a terrorist act. His decision to kill seems to have come later, a combination of his life coming apart and anger at US drone attacks in northwest Pakistan where he was raised.

Discussion of this case often assumes the interests of the Pakistan Taliban to attack America occurred outside history, that somehow the change in their attitude is not a result of our escalating drone attacks and our pressure on the Pakistani military to assault northwest Pakistan. It’s as if the United States is exempt from history and our actions don’t have consequences.

It’s exactly the same brand of denial that pushed 50 years of military and political intervention and oil exploitation in Saudi Arabia from the minds of Americans as to why 16 Saudis drove planes into our buildings on September 11th."

The idea in these sentences – that a history of US military intervention is a prime motivation of “terrorist” attacks on us here and around the world -- is effectively embargoed from mainstream discussion. Instead, the working assumptions supporting stories must be Fear Of Attack and Support The Troops – and that we are being attacked due to the evil of those attacking us.

Sure, there’s evil in the world and a share of it resides in the hearts of our declared enemies. But a share of evil also lies in our hearts. That’s not the point.

The point is to get at the roots of the conflicts we are involved in so we can begin to ratchet them down, get out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan and focus our resources on neglected needs here in our own country.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 27, 2010 01:42 PM

To be clear - everything in my 1:42 PM post except the first part in italics is quoted from John Grant:

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 27, 2010 01:54 PM

Ethan wrote: "It's significant enough thoughtcrime now that it's surely impossible to comprehend what it would have been like then."

Professor Hanke sounds great, but an assumption about moral progress seems to be buried in that opinion. Though in some ways we have moved forward, especially on race, we have moved backwards in other important ways, notably militarism and social justice. During WWII Hitlerian fascism hadn't yet publicly discredited itself so thoroughly as to make itself incomparable to anything else before or since, and there were actually strong sentiments in some quarters (such as our military) that communism was much worse. So I doubt Professor Hanke's thoughtcrime was bigger then than now.

The real thoughtcrimes now are of a different nature and mostly seem to relate in some way to American exceptionalism or the nobility of the American military.

Posted by: N E at May 27, 2010 02:09 PM

How can there be any thoughtcrime in a society that does not think? Our whole world runs on racist emotionalism with nary a thought to be found. Ah "The Great Melting Pot" where the gold drops to the bottom and the dross rises to the top.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 27, 2010 04:25 PM

Aron: Not a bad thesis in that book. The brutality of colonialism was celebrated as necessary in Europe and America, and its horror actually made it all the more heroic and manly. The same trick probably would have worked for Hitler if he had won, because past brutality is easily justified on the grounds of necessity. Like this:

"The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman. The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him. American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori-—in each case the victor, horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people. The consequences of struggles for territory between civilized nations seem small by comparison. Looked at from the standpoint of the ages, it is of little moment whether Lorraine is part of Germany or of France, whether the Northern Adriatic cities pay homage to Austrian kaiser or Italian king; but it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.

Yet the very causes which render this struggle between savagery and the rough front rank of civilization so vast and elemental in its consequence to the future of the world, also tend to render it in certain ways peculiarly revolting and barbarous. It is primeval warfare, and it is waged as war was waged in the ages of bronze and of iron. All the merciful humanity that even war has gained during the last two thousand years is lost. It is a warfare where no pity is shown to non-combatants, where the weak are harried without ruth, and the vanquished maltreated with merciless ferocity. A sad and evil feature of such warfare is that the whites, the representatives of civilization, speedily sink almost to the level of their barbarous foes, in point of hideous brutality. The armies are neither led by trained officers nor made up of regular troops—they are composed of armed settlers, fierce and wayward men, whose ungovernable passions are unrestrained by discipline, who have many grievous wrongs to redress, and who look on their enemies with a mixture of contempt and loathing, of dread and intense hatred. When the clash comes between these men and their sombre foes, too often there follow deeds of enormous, of incredible, of indescribable horror. It is impossible to dwell without a shudder on the monstrous woe and misery of such a contest."

--Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, volume 4, 1889

Posted by: N E at May 27, 2010 04:26 PM

The PROOF of civilizatipon is that one kills savages. The proof of barbarism IS that one resists civilization.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 27, 2010 06:16 PM

N E - Yup, that's precisely the kind of stuff the book is about. Wouldn't surprise me if that quote is in there, although I can't recall it.

His argument is basically that Hitler's drive for "Lebensraum" in the Polish/Russian East was run-of-the-mill colonial doctrine, but applied to white Christian populations instead of non-white non-Christians.

Another totally awesome book by the same author, which is connected to the same themes, is "A History of Bombing". It tracks how aerial warfare against civilians evolved from early 20th century Africa to Hiroshima. Very original, compelling style of writing there too.

Posted by: aron at May 27, 2010 07:05 PM

Atwood just this month went to Israel to receive a literary prize.

"Everyone in the world hopes that the two sides involved will give up their inflexible positions and sit down at the negotiating table immediately[.]"

She received $500,000.

"Propaganda deals in absolutes: in Yes and No. But the novel is a creature of nuance: of perhaps, of maybe. It concerns itself, not with gods and demons, but with mortal people, with their flawed characters, their unsatisfactory bodies, their sufferings, their limited and often wrong choices; with the dubiousness of their own actions and the unfairness of their fates."

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at May 27, 2010 07:11 PM

Interlibrary loan is the best. Three Lewis Hanke, two Sven Lindqvist. I bet Bartolomeo de las Casas, Lewis Hanke, and Sven Lindqvuist would have all disliked Teddy Roosevelt.

Posted by: N E at May 27, 2010 09:30 PM

The one thing I didn't like about Linqvist's bombing book was the format . He was trying to be nonlinear, or maybe anticipate the Web, but I didn't care for it. IIRC, the paragraphs are in chronological order, but not in narrative order. At the end of each paragraph there's a "go to" instruction on which page the next paragraph can be found. So you end up flipping back and forth through the pages if you read it that way. It's definitely worth reading whatever one thinks of the format.

"The real thoughtcrimes now are of a different nature and mostly seem to relate in some way to American exceptionalism or the nobility of the American military."

I agree with that, though when you get into the details we differ.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 27, 2010 11:40 PM

I bet Bartolomeo de las Casas, Lewis Hanke, and Sven Lindqvuist would have all disliked Teddy Roosevelt.

I was bemused when I found out today that the president of the American Historical Association in 1912, 62 years before my grandfather, was Teddy Roosevelt. That was a busy year for old Teddy.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 28, 2010 12:11 AM

Yes, old Teddy was President of the AHA, and Woodrow Wilson too!

1912 was a nasty election, and for me (of course) the most fascinating part was New York saloon-keeper John Shrank's trip to Milwaukee, where he shot TR because the ghost of William McKinley had appeared to him and, pointing at a picture of TR, had told him to avenge his death.

(I'm not making that up--it's even in wiki-

Alas, Shrank's bullet hit TR's speech before entering his chest, which slowed down the bullet enough to keep it from his heart, and TR didn't even let them take him to the hospital until after he read the speech. He just couldn't stop being a Bull Moose! He later said he didn't take assassinations personally, that it was just an occupational hazard, a view McKinley's ghost apparently didn't share. Shrank didn't have anything against Teddy personally and even said he thought him a great man, but he had his instructions from McKinley's ghost, and besides, he didn't think anybody should be President three times.

Wiki is of course unreliable. It's a little known fact that the shadowy forces who control our government were incensed that the American Historical Association had made Teddy Roosevelt its President, giving him far more power than any one man should have.

Posted by: N E at May 28, 2010 08:51 AM

Donald Johnson

Agreeing with me about some of those details is an even bigger thoughtcrime. It is a little known fact that Cangrande della Scala, the patron of Dante Alleghieri, proposed that Dante include in the Inferno a ring of torment for those unpatriotic troublemakers who made it a habit to prattle on about crimes of the State. Specifically, the ruthless but witty Cangrande thought it would be appropriate to torment all those pesky freethinkers who saw conspiracies everywhere for all eternity by forcing them to ceaselessly explain why they weren't crazy to bands of pundits and other brigands who would forever ridicule and taunt them without listening. And, Cangrande added, perhaps the brigands could also hurl shit at the troublemakers, since Dante himself favored that sort of punishment for people haughty enough to think they could see truths that he did not.

The ever-thoughtful Dante replied to Cangrande's request with a sly smile and the observation that he did not believe hell would be redundant of earthly punishments, and Cangrande could only demur to the wisdom of that observation. And so he let the matter go, though consistent with best practices he also instructed that his request and Dante's reply be classifed as a State Secret and erased from all official records.

Posted by: N E at May 28, 2010 09:42 AM

Donald J -- You're right about how the bombing book is structured, but I kind of liked it. It juxtaposes different historical periods and chapters and helps you make some unexpected leaps of thought. At least for me, it worked that way. But yes, it felt a little contrived at times -- I was expecting there to be a fork where you could pick your path, but it never came.

Posted by: aron at May 28, 2010 10:37 AM