Can Cindy Sheehan End the War?

You can tell in five-minutes channel surfing how Cindy Sheehan frightens the pro-war crowd. One bereaved mom from Vacaville, camped outside Bush’s home in Crawford, reproaching the vacationing President for sending her son to a pointless death in Iraq has got the hellhounds of the right barking in venomous unison.

Christopher Hitchens attacked Cindy Sheehan, of course. Called her a LaRouchie! Why? No reason given. He obviously reckons “LaRouchie” is one of those let-her-deny-it slurs, like “anti-Semite”. Let’s suppose Hitchens was writing in similarly nasty terms about Hitchens. He’d probably remember that in 1999 Edward Jay Epstein publicly recalled a dinner in the Royalton Hotel in New York where Epstein said Hitchens had doubted the Holocaust was quite what it’s cracked up to be. In Epstein’s memory Hitchens belittled the idea that six million Jews died, said the number was much less.

So, under Hitchens’ rules of polemical engagement, was does that make Hitchens? A holocaust denier, a guy who has Faurisson and David Irving’s books under his pillow. A Jew hater, or ­ if you believe his sudden discovery (privately denied by his own brother on at least one occasion) at a mature age that his mother was Jewish ­ a Jewish self-hater. Of course Hitchens revels in Cindy Sheehan’s denial that she said in an email that her son died in a war for Israel. Hitchens writes that this denial makes her “a shifty fantasist”. What would Hitchens, who’s an on-the-record admirer (“a great historian”) of the work of Nazi chronicler David Irving say about Hitchens’ shifty denial of Epstein’s recollection? What fun he would have with the witnesses the panic-stricken Hitchens, well aware that “holocaust denier” is not part of the resume of a Vanity Fair columnist, hastily mustered for his defense, a woman and a man present at that famous dinner in the Royalton. One his close friend, Anna Wintour, the present editor of Vogue and the other, Brian McNally, a longtime friend and business associate.

What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel. She lost a son? Hitchens (who should perhaps be careful on the topic of sending children off to die) says that’s of scant account, and no reason why we should take her seriously. Then he brays about the horrors let loose in Iraq if the troops come home, with no mention of how the invasion he worked for has already unleashed them.

From Hitchens to Bill O’Reilly, who has a voice as soft as soap in a shower stall when it comes to whispering lewdly down the phone to a female employee about loofah-uses, but who howls about Sheehan’s low character in her refusal to pay federal taxes that might put more money the Pentagon’s way.

Listening to O’Reilly and even mainstream pundits, you’d think tax-resistance was a fresh and terrible arrival on the shores of American protest, instead of a form of resistance as old as the Republic.

But the notion that tax-resistance somehow marginalizes Sheehan as an “extremist” does highlight an important point. The aim of any serious anti-war protest is to force a government to quit fighting, pull the troops out, come home right now.

But Sheehan is castigated in the press, by mainstream liberals as well as mad-dog rightists, for not leaving any wriggle-room on this central point. She says, Bring the troops home right now.

How many people echo that straightforward demand? Millions of ordinary Americans ­ around 34 per cent ­ certainly do, if we are to believe the numbers in polls that also give Bush an approval rating of only 34 per cent for his conduct of the war.

But to be effective the opinion of ordinary people has to be harnessed into a powerful political movement that offers energetic leadership.

Here the picture is dismayingly cloudy., has used Sheehan’s siege of Bush as springboard to mount supportive anti-war vigils. But what exactly is MoveOn calling for, in terms of ending the war?

Go to the website of the Win Without War coalition, of which MoveOn is a member along with groups ranging from the Sierra Club, to National Organization of women to the Methodists, Unitarians and Quakers and youll find a mush-mouth statement about “a gradual, phased decrease in numbers rather than augmenting the size of the force”, plus other familiar boilerplate about how the UN Security Council “should authorize and encourage the creation of an international stabilization force to assist the Iraqi authorities with security and training of Iraqi forces.”

This leisurely agenda doesn’t add up to anti-war leadership. After all, Gen. George Casey, the US commander in Iraq, talks bluntly about “some fairly substantial reductions” to start next spring.

It’s no secret why MoveOn and Win Without War are so timid. Square in their field of vision is the Democratic Party whose high-profile congressional leaders such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are calling for more troops to be shipped out to Iraq. Push comes to shove, most of the Win Without War coalition members won’t get more than half a beat out of step with the Democrats.

Serious resistance, of the sort Sheehan calls for, has to throw the threat of popular sanction over both Democrats as well as Republicans. What leadership is available for this task? The obvious candidate is the United for Peace and Justice coalition, which mounted the huge anti-war protests of 2003 and which has been conducting peace actions ever since.

But as it organizes its upcoming September 24-26 rallies in Washington DC UFPJ seems to be turning its back on the rich opportunities for mainstream organizing offered by Sheehan and the nerveless platform of Win Without War, preferring to dilute the Out of Iraq message with cumbersome left agendas written by ultras from the casting couch of the Life of Brian.

Anyone can go on a vigil. It only costs the price of a candle and a solemn expression. The price of entry into serious antiwar organizing at the crucial moment is steeper. It requires political nerve. A substantial coalition has to lead the way, pointed to by Sheehan, with the slogan Bring Them Home Now.

What truly frightens governments is mutiny or the threat of mutiny. It was soldiers shooting their officers and sailors pushing planes off air craft carriers that prompted the Pentagon to run up the white flag in Vietnam. Along that same spectrum is draft resistance, and the refusal to go to war. Already that’s had an effect. The Pentagon says the reserve system is in ruins.

Gold Star moms like Cindy Sheehan could be leading sit-ins at military recruitment offices across the country and in the home district congressional offices of Democrats and Republicans. How about Cindy Sheehan moving Camp Casey from Crawford to Hillary Clinton’s offices in Washington or New York. Only this time the demand would not be for a meeting but for a reversal of HRC’s pro war position which has her putting up a bill to increase US forces overall by 90,000. One of the greatest achievements of the antiwar movement in Viertnam era was to make it untenable for a Democrat, LBJ, to run again for the presidency, or for Hubert Humphrey to run and win on a prowar platform. Question, would the MoveOn operation take the slightest interest in any vigils outside HRC’s offices, or those of any other prominent Democrat? Of course not.

Cindy Sheehan frightens the right and stirs them to venom, and she frightens the Democrats too, because she’s so clear. Contrast the timeline of Sheehan as against that of even a relatively decent Democrat like Russ Feingold. Feingold calls for a start to withdrawal from Iraq maybe sixteen months from now. How many dead troops and new Gold Star moms can you fit into that calendar. A thousand or more? Sheehan’s Out Now call should be the bright-line test for any antiwar spokesperson.
New Deal Photography

My remarks in my Indian series about the failures of New Deal photography elicited a couple of interesting letters:

Dear Mr. Cockburn:

Thanks for your article, Why Indian Farmers Kill Themselves; Why Lange’s Photographs are Phony.

No doubt the role of FSA photographers was to create images which would in turn be used to sell Roosevelt’s New Deal. As you rightly point out, most of the images portray people as victims rather than agents of change. Staughton Lynd (author of We Are All Leaders) and others have pointed out how New Deal legislation was used to quiet down the unruly masses.

Remember John L. Lewis’ promise of industrial peace in return for passage of the Wagner Act?

However, it’s questionable whether Lange or Walker Evans had much to say when it came to selecting specific images.

As I understand it, exposed film was shipped to Washington for processing and editorial decisions. The head of the project, Roy Stryker was known for taking a hole punch to negatives he didn’t like.

Also please don’t lump all of the 1930’s documentarians together. Check out the work of the Film and Photo
League or Paul Strand’s film, Native Land, which subverted popular commercial news reel forms and
encouraged militant labor activism. Leo Hurwitz also worked on the film which was narrated by Paul Robeson.


Greg Boozell

And from Aidan Wilde:

Dear Alex,

You write: “The American documentarists of the 30s opted for cartoon stereotypes, preferring the easier and less seditious task of presenting migrants as inert victims. You can see from her contact sheet that Dorothea Lange chose the most beaten-down image of the famous migrant mother. It was Lange, so the contact sheets show, who herded children around the woman (actually 100 per cent Cherokee) to make it look as though she was burdened with a vast brood and who passed over more animated images of the same woman.”

Hey! This seems a bit harsh, bro. Whether or not it would have helped the cause of the migrant workers at the time to have chosen more cheerful photographs from her contact sheets, I don’t know. Could she have just been mistaken about what would be most effective as propaganda?

Dorothea Lange went to Ireland in the 50s and took a lot of photos in Ennis, where my father is from. My dad’s brother was the town photographer: he worked for the Clare Champion. He helped Lange a lot while she was there, both with her equipment and with finding subjects for her. Lange definitely posed her shots, and didn’t always want to take them as the subjects would have preferred. For example, she would try to stop people from changing into their Sunday best for her, as most people wished to. But she wasn’t strong-arming them. She took a picture of my grand-aunt, which appeared in Life magazine at the time, very much within the limits of what my aunt preferred (behind the counter of her shop on Market Street). And Lange stayed in touch with my aunt by letter for many years afterward. Seems well-meant enough to give her the benefit of the doubt. A lot of these photographs were collected into a book by Gerry Mullins about 10 years ago. They’re fantastic, and I’m sure you (Alex) would find them interesting. She recorded important stuff, like the coop, sporting events, the market day, etc.


Aidan Wylde

My remarks about the appalling consequences of British rule in India drew a couple of letters of rebuke. For some reason, people shy away from the obvious purpose of empires which is to conquer territory and then plunder it.

Here’s an extract from a polite letter, ambling to the defense of the Raj and replete with all the usual claptrap, conclusively rebutted by Palme Dutt, about Malthusian pressure. By the end of it you’ll see that the British somehow established empire and the rule of plunder and rapine in India . By accident and because they were worried about France!

On India itself, it is unwise to blame the British for everything; Malthusian logic did indeed play a large part in the 19th century. The thing is, the real troubles inflicted by “the British” in the 18th century were mostly the result of British INaction, while individual British took advantage of their opportunities for individual gain and the costs to the British were externalised to yet other British. They were practising local Indian methods on a large scale – “loot” is in fact an Indian word. These things stopped with Macaulay’s reforms.

However, as you point out, many Indian handicrafts were destroyed and people were driven into agriculture and penury. But this is misleading. The same thing I described above applied; what counted was the Malthusian limit of how much food resources were in place. They were not being displaced for cash crops, except opium. So the end of handicrafts was not in fact responsible for famine, just for moving the advantage away from townsfolk. (I’m not trying to justify but to explain.) You’ll get more sense from a reading of then current understanding, in Nassau Senior’s work on wages. Maintaining handicrafts wouldn’t have affected the level of suffering, only who did the suffering. Any harm that was done – apart from promoting population growth with less war – was actually done by cash crops like opium and tea, and by dislocation causing failure of distribution (but things like irrigation, roads and railways also offset this, perhaps even overcame it).

And, of course, the British were caught themselves at least as much as the Earls of Atholl. British rule and conquest in India was in large part strategically defensive, heading off the French. Indian revisionist history frequently omits this, neglecting that the British were in fact the least worst on offer. It was actually the French who initiated an aggressive policy in India!

I hope you find this of interest.

Yours sincerely,

P.M. Lawrence

My remarks on the great Indian rebellion of 1857 (cockburn06102005.html) also met with rebuke:

Dear Mr. Cockburn,

I found it odd to read your recent article in which you discuss the Rebellion of 1857-59. It presents a picture that Indian military historians of the period have been trying to dispell–one of great masses of Indians being defeated by the scratch (and ficticiously all-white) forces of the Raj. In fact, they argue that the Rebellion never put very large forces in the field, was badly led and badly coordinated, and never sparked all that much of a mass uprising among the people, who were, as peopled usually are in such situations, sitting on the fence and waiting to see which side to hop down on. If “millions” had forcefully risen up, the British would have lost. The fact is the rebels stumbled, while the British (scared shitless as you rightly point out) responded with manic energy, disgusting brutality, and grabbed the initiative, thus forestalling what would have been, if it spread far and deep, an untenable situation for the colonial power. Worse from your perspective, the Rebellion could never have been put down at a price the British could pay without the help of Company troops that stayed loyal to the British. Your tale may stir the heart of the Indian nationalist and those who pine for Che, but it doesn’t look all that much like history.

Overall, though, I think Counterpunch is excellent.

Yours very truly,

James Levy, Ph.D.
Hofstra University

To which I replied:

Dear Dr Levy,

Of course the peasant uprisings were not always well led and the British had at least one leader with powers of initiative. But I find your note glib, in that you offer a paper tiger or two and then triumphantly shoot them. Who on earth talks of “all-white forces” of the Raj?A nd who does not know that the Risings were put down by “loyal” Company troops. I spent a lot of my childhood reading Henty, who honored such “sepoys’ as did all such Imperial fiction. I’m not too impressed with most of the Indian military historians I read, many of whom ­ sometimes perhaps with tenure track considerations to the fore ­ still deferentially refer to the 57 risings as “mutiny”. Your general position reminds me of Foster’s History of Ireland which sidles up to the matter of the Famine of 1845-7 by mumbling that there wasn’t really a Famine, as opposed to lots of little or not so little famines stretching back through the 19th century; also of E.P. Thompson’s phrase, when he talks of rescuing eighteenth and nineteenth century struggles in England by working people from “the vast condescension of history”.

Your intended jab with the use of Che’s name gives the whole game away. I suppose that’s meant to evoke a chortle, of the sort requested each day of its readers by the editors of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Take as a whole, Guevara’s career stands up rather well, I would have thought, whether in Cuba or in the African intervention.



Dr Levy replied:

Dear Mr. Cockburn,

As an American living in America I find that my students and many Profs imagine “Indians” and “British” the way they imagine “cowboys” and “Indians”, so pointing out the overlaps wasn’t meant in a condescending way, just as a matter of record. I think Fidel’s military support of the Angolan government was entirely justified and a huge blow to the racist South African regime that has hardly be acknowledged here (I’m no ally of the WSJ’s Op-Ed on that score), but I do find Che’s agrarian escapade in Bolivia a bit of a joke. You can attribute this to New York snobbery and a Menshevik turn of mind. More to the point, I distrust quasi-mythical pasts, whether they be a fraudulent Raj, Manifest Destiny, The Promised Land, or the noble sons of toil.

Paul Levy

And I answered

Dr L, it seems to me that these days the quasi myths on active service are mostly those buttressing imperial self esteem. best Alex C

But of course I should have added that Menshevism ,exiled from the Soviet Union, finally flowered in the US in the form of the Neo-Cons, whose menshevik / Trotskyist antecedents were once excavated very will by Don Will of Chapman U.

But I do hang my head at one undoubted error.

Mr. Cockburn has otherwise excellent reporting skills but he has been misled by his toddyman. It’s very possible that the toddyman does not know the alcoholic content of his product, but it is impossible in his setting to produce 12% alcohol in 12 hours. Also, there are no known yeasts that can create 24% alcohol in 24 hours, as most yeast are alcohol intolerant above 18%. Some Japanese sake strains can tolerate 20%. 24% alcohol content can only be achieved by “fortifying” with ethanol (such as in Port) or through distillation.

Commonly, given the ambient temperatures, Indian palm toddy takes about 4 days to ferment to approximately 15% alcohol – which is in the range of a tablewine. The use of indigenous organisms and the hot climate do ensure to create a very short “shelf life”.

I realize this is really a small thing in the grand scheme of it all. Keep up the good work.

Michael Ramsey
Teaching Lab Manager
Department of Viticulture and Enology
1023 Wickson Hall
University of Cailfornia, Davis

How could I have written such nonsense about the toddy fermentation rates, given that I ferment apple juice into hard cider every year and even now have a five gallon carboy ­ I hope the first of several ­ popping away despite a mostly lousy apple crop this year owing to the big June rains here in northern California. I put it down to errors in translation from Malayalam, the language of Kerala and a journalist too busy making notes to think what he was writing.

Coca Cola Defeated in Plachimada

And to end on a bright note. Back in April here I wrote about the battle of the people of Plachimada against the Coca Cola bottling plant that destroyed their water supplies. This saga has ended in victory. (At least for now. As David Brower said, When we win, it’s a reprieve. When they win, it’s forever.) Here’s a report from The Hindu, sent me by Sainath, this last Friday:

The Kerala State Pollution Control Board on Friday ordered stoppage of production at the Palachimada unit of the Coca-Cola Company in Palakkad district for failure to comply with pollution control norms.The Board observed that the presence of cadmium in its sludge was 400 to 600 times above the permissible limit. The company offered no explanation regarding the source of cadmium.

The company, it said, had also failed to fulfil satisfactorily the directive of the Monitoring Committee deputed by the Supreme Court to distribute water to the local population. It also did not carry out the directive, given by the Board and the Committee, to set up modern facilities for purifying the liquid effluents from the plant. The unit had been asked to set up treatment facilities that used reverse osmosis or similar process.The company had been served show-cause notice by the Board on July 1. It was asked to explain why the renewal of consent to operate sought by the company should not be refused.

The Board said that the closure notice was sent to Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited on Friday, as explanations furnished by the company were not satisfactory. The order comes within days of the company resuming production on the strength of a High Court judgment in April lifting the conditional ban on its operation imposed by the Government.”The local administrative authority, Perumatty grama panchayat, had earlier refused licence to the company. However, on appeal, the Government allowed it to operate subject to conditions. The company then challenged the Government order successfully before the High Court. The Board noted that the application submitted to it by the company for renewing consent to operate was defective. The changes in raw materials, production process, products, waste generation and waste quality were not stated in the application. Cadmium was found in the range of 200 to 300 milligram a kg of the sludge from the effluent treatment plant. The observed concentration was much above the tolerance/permissible limit for hazardous wastes. This categorically established that cadmium bearing raw material or materials were used in the production process or effluent treatment. The company had informed the monitoring committee that the groundwater used by it was not contaminated. “Therefore, the source of cadmium is some other raw material used by you; but your application does not contain the particulars of the source of cadmium and is, therefore, incomplete,” said the Board.

“The chairman of the Board said in his order that its studies had shown that the groundwater in the vicinity was contaminated on account of the existence of cadmium in the effluent as well as the sludge. The company had capacity to store the effluent from only one day’s production. Its discharge without proper treatment would pollute the groundwater.He said that the poisoning caused from the hazardous waste containing cadmium to the well water of the nearby residents and the cadmium detected in the sludge generated by the company established the direct nexuses between the company and its poisoning capacity.He rejected the contention of the company that the Member Secretary of the Board was prejudiced against the firm. No material had been furnished by the company to substantiate the alleged prejudice.Referring to the order, Health Minister K. K. Ramachandran remarked in an official release that no factory would be allowed to function in a manner affecting the health of the people.The Chairman said that the order was without prejudice to the liability of the company to supply drinking water to the affected population of the area, as ordered by the Board earlier.”

This is good news, of course, though–as Sainath points out to me –with some amusing hypocrisy. The same government had earlier supported Coca Cola to the hilt. Now that polls are less than a year away, they’re worried. So the Pollution control board has swung the other way!


















Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.