Feeds:
Entradas
Comentarios

Archive for 28 abril 2015

La intervención estadounidense en República Dominicana: 50 años

Medio siglo después, es hora de refutar las ideas convencionales en Washington

Abraham F. Lowenthal

El país 28 de abril de 2015

LowenthalLa intervención militar de Estados Unidos en la República Dominicana que comenzó el 28 de abril de 1965 fue objeto de numerosas condenas en su momento, tanto en América Latina como en Estados Unidos. Su propósito fue evitar “una segunda Cuba”, pero las autoridades norteamericanas, en especial el presidente Lyndon B. Johnson, fueron mucho más allá de los hechos objetivos al especular sobre la posibilidad de que los comunistas se hicieran del poder. El imperativo de evitar esa segunda Cuba distorsionaba su capacidad de reunir información veraz y analizarla.

Con el paso del tiempo, sin embargo, muchos en Washington empezaron a considerar la intervención en la República Dominicana como un éxito. Su argumento era que se habían logrado los cuatro objetivos propuestos: proteger a los ciudadanos estadounidenses y de otros países, detener la violencia, impedir una posible toma comunista del poder y restaurar los procesos constitucionales para bien del pueblo dominicano. Para dichos analistas, el episodio fue una demostración de poder de Estados Unidos que proporcionó enseñanzas prácticas sobre el uso eficaz de la fuerza. Esta opinión acerca de la operación dominicana pasó a ser una conclusión a la que Washington arribo sin el suficiente análisis.

Exactamente 50 años después de la invasión, ha llegado el momento de refutar esa idea tan prevaleciente.

Los costes de la intervención de 1965

Los costes de la intervención de 1965 no se han calculado debidamente. Los costes humanos y materiales fueron importantes, pero fueron los costes intangibles los que fueron especialmente elevados. La intervención en la República Dominicana redujo las probabilidades de éxito de las reformas pacíficas que muchos funcionarios estadounidenses deseaban ver en América Latina. Algunos conservadores latinoamericanos –sobre todo en Centroamérica– llegaron a la conclusión de que Estados Unidos no iba a permitir que triunfaran los movimientos reformistas. Muchos de los latinoamericanos comprometidos con el cambio democrático se convencieron de que Estados Unidos iba a oponerse incluso a esas reformas, y que por consiguiente valdría la pena unir fuerzas con la extrema izquierda.

La intervención dominicana tuvo también graves consecuencias dentro de Estados Unidos. La escandalosa falta de transparencia del gobierno de Johnson agravó la desconfianza entre la administración y muchos líderes de opinión, contribuyendo a la crisis de credibilidad que acabó inspirando la reacción estadounidense ante Vietnam.

Donde más serios fueron los costes intangibles fue en la República Dominicana. La intervención intensificó la fragmentación política y la dependencia de Estados Unidos, e hizo más difícil el desarrollo de instituciones políticas efectivas. Irónicamente, una de las principales contribuciones resultó de la reforma inmigratoria de ese año en EEUU, cuya consecuencia fue un aumento de la inmigración dominicana, con el consiguiente flujo de remesas, experiencias e ideas.

La relativa facilidad para terminar la intervención

En el caso de la República Dominicana, varios aspectos singulares ayudan a explicar la facilidad con la que Estados Unidos pudo terminar la ocupación. Dos reconocidos líderes políticos –Juan Bosch y Joaquín Balaguer—contribuyeron a resolver la crisis mediante la convocatoria de nuevas elecciones. La excepcional prudencia mostrada por el presidente provisional, Héctor García-Godoy, y el embajador estadounidense, Ellsworth Bunker, permitieron la rápida partida de las fuerzas norteamericanas. Si después Estados Unidos hubiera enviado sus tropas a Haití –que no tenía instituciones ni grupos políticos sólidos, ni figuras políticas de peso–, habría sido más difícil partir, como sucedería posteriormente en Irak y Afganistán.

La experiencia dominicana indica con claridad que Estados Unidos necesita diseñar métodos alternativos para perseguir sus objetivos, sobre todo ayudando a fomentar el desarrollo político, social y económico de los países y territorios más cercanos geográficamente, con los cuales el país está tan estrechamente relacionado.

La enorme diferencia entre las relaciones de Estados Unidos con sus vecinos más próximos y el resto de sus relaciones internacionales ha sido evidente desde hace mucho tiempo, pero ha adquirido especial importancia durante los últimos 50 años. Las nociones históricas de soberanía significan cada vez menos, aunque se sigan proclamando a voces.

Los problemas derivados de la creciente interacción de Estados Unidos y sus vecinos –tráfico de personas, drogas y armas, inmigración, medio ambiente, salud pública, turismo médico y prestaciones sociales y de sanidad transferibles, catástrofes naturales, política policial y vigilancia de fronteras– son retos especialmente complejos para las dos partes. Estas difíciles cuestiones, internacionales e internas al mismo tiempo, se complican aún más en los países con muy escasa capacidad estatal –Guatemala, Honduras y Haití en particular–, con quienes se hace aún más necesario mantener una estrecha cooperación por el bien de los pueblos de ambos lados, una necesidad que crece año tras año.

Cincuenta años después de la intervención de 1965 en la República Dominicana, producto de la obsesión de Washington con Fidel Castro, no solo ha llegado el momento de tener una relación de mutuo respeto con Cuba sino también de desafiar otras mentalidades enquistadas y encontrar respuestas más creativas a la persistente interdependencia entre los países de la Cuenca del Caribe y Estados Unidos.

Abraham F. Lowenthal, catedrático emérito en la Universidad de Southern California e investigador titular no residente de la Brookings Institution, fue fundador y director del Programa Latinoamericano del Woodrow Wilson Center y del Diálogo Interamericano.

Traducción de María Luisa Rodríguez Tapia

Anuncios

Read Full Post »

It’s The Apocalypse, Stupid: Understanding Christian Opposition to Obamacare, Civil Rights, New Deal and More

Daniel Silliman

Religión Dispatches  December 2, 2014

rapture
Title: American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism
Author: Matthew Avery Sutton
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Release Date: December 15, 2014  
    

American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism Book CoverAmerican evangelicals have been waiting for the world to end for a long time. But that’s not to say they’ve just been sitting around. Apocalypticism has inspired evangelistic crusades, moral reform movements, and generations of political activism.

In his latest book, Matthew Avery Sutton, a professor of history at Washington State University, traces this history of American evangelical apocalypticism from the end of the 19th century to the present day. In the process, he proposes a revised understanding of American evangelicalism, focused on the urgent expectations of the end of human history. If you want to understand modern evangelicalism, Sutton says, you have to understand their End Times theology.

Daniel Silliman spoke with Sutton at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, in Heidelberg, Germany.

Why write about evangelical Christian apocalypticism?

The question that initially sparked this research was why were fundamentalists and their evangelical heirs skeptical of the state? Why were and are they critical of the federal government? I started thinking about this in the context of the health care debates over the last decade. Why were so many Christians so reluctant to support national health care? I could see why they were critical of the Democratic party on gay rights. I could see why they were critical on abortion. What I didn’t understand is why, as a conservative Bible believing Christian, you would be opposed expanding health care.

This book is a very long, 480-page answer to that question.

My argument in a nutshell is that the apocalyptic theology that developed in the 1880s and 1890s led radical evangelicals to the conclusion that all nations are going to concede their power in the End Times to a totalitarian political leader who is going to be the Antichrist. If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving towards that event, you’re going to be very suspicious and skeptical of anything that seems to undermine individual rights and individual liberties, and anything that is going to give more power to the state.

How significant is apocalypticism in the history of American evangelicalism?

The idea that Jesus is coming back soon was a fairly radical and unconventional idea in the 19th century, but by the 21st century it’s the air American Christians breathe. The most recent polls said something like 58 percent of white evangelicals believe Jesus is going to return by 2050. They simply take for granted that there is going to be a Rapture and Jesus is going to come back.

I took those statistics and others like them and moved backwards in time. What I found in my research was that apocalypticism was central to fundamentalists and evangelicals. What made them most distinct, what set them apart from liberal Protestants is not what we’ve traditionally thought. It’s not questions of the virgin birth or how you read the Bible or questions of the nature of the incarnation or the literal resurrection of Jesus or Jesus’s miracles. All those matter, all of those things do set them apart, but they don’t affect how they live their daily lives. The one thing that affects how they live their daily lives is that they believe we are moving towards the End Times, the rise of the Antichrist, towards a great tribulation and a horrific human holocaust.

In their minds, the imminent Second Coming would not be as important as getting people saved. Salvation, converting sinners, would be the most important thing driving them. But in terms of how they’re shaping and organizing their own lives, I think apocalypticism has been the driving force for much of the last century. It has fueled the movement and shaped it in fundamental ways.

If you haven’t been in the archives it’s really unbelievable to read these articles, these sermons and these letters, to realize how much apocalypticism saturated the minds of fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 20th century. The looming rise of the Antichrist was just the forefront of their thinking.

And they say that. Over and over again. They’re very clear.

This is significant because to believe the world is rapidly moving to its end effects how you vote, how you’re going to structure your education, how you understand the economy, how you’re going to treat global events, how you’re going to look at organizations like the United Nations.

Apocalypticism is central to understanding how fundamentalists and then evangelicals acted.

Can you give a broad outline of this theology?

It’s a relatively complicated theology that fundamentalists and then evangelicals drew from a lot of different influences, a lot of different impulses. The key to unlocking their theology is to see some fairly obscure passages from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and Jesus’s sermon in Matthew 24 through their eyes.

But their conlusions, broken down to their simplest form are these: We’re living in the church age and we’re moving towards the Rapture. Jesus will Rapture all true believers out of this world, they’ll just disappear, they’ll go up to heaven with Jesus, and then with the loss of Christian influence in the world, Satan will have free rein to take power through a political leader, called the Antichrist, who is then going to rule over the world for seven years. This period is called the Tribulation. Antichrist rule will lead to a series of wars, which will then culminate with Jesus coming with an army of saints and fighting the battle of Armageddon, in the literal land of Palestine. Jesus will defeat the Antichrist, vanquish evil and then establish a new kingdom.

There’s been a long debate in Christian history about the timing of Jesus’s Second Coming. Would he come to initiate the start of a new millennium, a 1,000 years of peace and prosperity, or would he come at its conclusion? Fundamentalists and most evangelicals believed that Jesus is going to come back before the millennium. From there they determined that there will be signs or indications that tell us we’re approaching the Second Coming. They believe the Bible had laid out these signs, the sequence of events that would happen, as they understood it, as we get closer and closer and closer to the Second Coming of Christ.

The rough picture is that we’re moving towards the End Times. Instead of the idea that Christians are building the kingdom of God on earth, the earth is on a quick, slippery slope descending to hell.

What is the practical effect of this expectation?

Traditionally, people have believed that this expectation that Jesus is coming back would lead to indifference, that people would focus on the next world, they would invest very little in this world. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. This is a central argument in the book.

D.L. Moody is often used to illustrate the idea of indifference. He famously said that the world is a sinking ship and God has given him a lifeboat and told him to save as many as he could. That’s the idea, that there’s not anything you can do but save those who are sinking. At the same time, Moody turned around and established what were later known at the Moody Church and the Moody Bible Institute, which were extremely active in reform movements during the progressive era. They were focused on issues of crime in Chicago, sanitation, temperance, and in all kinds of moral reform efforts.

It’s clear from Moody to Billy Sunday to Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell, that to believe that Jesus is coming at any moment does not make you less active or less involved in your culture. They say over and over and over again that this is not the case. We just haven’t heard them. Every generation of evangelicals and fundamentalists says it. Their apocalyptic theology makes them more active not less.

There is a biblical argument for this that they use. It’s the parable of the talents. In this story a ruler invests in his servants, giving each of them a number of talents, or money. He then goes away to another kingdom. When he comes back he wants to know what they’ve done with their talents. Some had buried their talents, afraid of losing it. Some had lost the money, wasting their talents. But some had invested wisely and made more money. So the returning ruler rewarded those who had invested wisely and maximized their talents and used them for greater good. For fundamentalists and evangelicals, the point here is that God has given them talents. He’s gone away, he’s coming back, he’s coming back soon, and he’s going to ask what you’ve done with your talents. Jesus ended the parable by instructing the disciples to “occupy” until I come. And that’s what fundamentalists and evangelicals have done.

That means that, far more than many other Christians, they believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible.

What I’m arguing is that in fact the conviction that Jesus is coming back very very soon creates a sense of urgency, or anxiety or excitement that means there is no time to spare, because the clock is ticking and they’re almost out of time.

The standard narrative of white evangelical history is a great withdrawal from culture in the 1920s and then a reengagement in the 1950s, leading to the religious right in 1980s. Do you want to revise that?

Yes. That’s one of the historiographical arguments I’m making in the book. The traditional argument is that fundamentalists were active and engaged in American society until the Scopes trial, the anti-evolution trial, in 1925. They were humiliated and defeated in the Scopes trial, they withdrew and focused on building their churches, their institutions, but they weren’t engaged in mainstream culture until the rise of Billy Graham who helped turn them around. Then it’s a few quick steps to the rise of the religious right.

That’s incorrect. They never gave up. They never withdrew or disengaged from culture. In the 1930s, for example, most of these fundamentalists were very critical of the New Deal. For Americans who were actively looking for signs of the coming Antichrist in the context of the 1930s, in the context of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, Roosevelt had all the markings of someone setting the stage for the end times. He was concolidating power. Government was growing.

I found a letter from one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s operatives. He had gone out to survey the country and look for areas of strength and weakness before the 1936 election and what he told FDR is that the greatest threat was not from the economic reactionaries, that was his term, but from the religious reactionaries. He said the “so-called evangelical churches are strongly against you.” It was shortly after that that FDR issued a letter to all the churches of the nation, asking for their support, and asking what he could do to better meet their needs.

Fundamentalists were involved in politics, they were involved in social reform. A few of them were talking about abortion and same-sex relations in the 1930s. They were very much active and involved with what was going on around them. There’s just no evidence to show that they retreated.

I’m trying to decenter the Scopes trial as not that substantial of a moment in the history of evangelicalism.

What about African-American evangelicals? How were they apocalyptic?

This was one of my favorite parts of doing this book. I wanted to take seriously how African-American evangelicals compared and contrasted with white evangelicals. They started from the same theological premises, but came to very different political and social conclusions.

They had that sense of fever and anxiety and hope for Jesus’s Second Coming, but for them, the signs of the times and the method of occupying until he comes were very, very different.

There were a number of important and substantial issues that were not on white evangelicals’ radar screens, but for black evangelicals, they were absolutely central to what it meant to be living in an apocalyptic age. For them a sign of the End Times was not the supposed lawlessness of Martin Luther King, Jr., a claim made by some white evangelicals. No, for African Americans a sign of the coming tribulation was lynching. They didn’t see the Antichrist coming out of the New Deal, they saw the Antichrist as an extension of state governments that were racist and had Jim Crowed them for generations. They too had a very strong sense that Jesus was coming back, but he was coming back for different reasons, he was going to right different wrongs, and he was going to bring a different kind of peace and a different kind of justice. A different kind of millennium.

While African Americans were having their own theological discussions among themselves, they were also aware of developments in the white evangelical community, but they were not engaging directly with white theologians. For them it was a different kind of discussion. For them, thinking through apocalyptic theology was happening in the context of a long black liberation tradition, so they put a lot of emphasis, for instance, on a verse in Psalms that talks about a great leader coming out of Abyssinia or Ethiopia. There was a sense in which Jesus’s return was the coming of a black liberator.

White fundamentalists and evangelicals were very clear that they didn’t want anything to do with African Americans for most of the twentieth century. They didn’t see African Americans as able to contribute to their movement. The racial assumptions were built into who evangelicals and fundamentalists were as people, just like the vast majority of white Americans right alongside them. They were no different.

But what apocalypticism did was give white evangelicals a framework and a rationale for fighting the Civil Rights movement, for example. In the last days, they insisted, there will be lawlessness. So they saw the Civil Rights movement as an example of people who break the law. Whiteness influenced these evangelical theologians, and when we compare them with African American theologians we can see how their sensitivities influenced the way they read, understood, and applied the Bible.

How does apocalypticism shape someone like Billy Graham and, by extension, modern evangelicalism?

Billy Graham gets a pass from a lot of scholars who pay very little attenion to his apocalypticism. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s been a core of his ministry. In 1949, when Graham had his first major revival in Los Angeles, the famous one that put him on the map, the revival began just days after Harry Truman announced that the Soviets had tested an atomic bomb. So Graham used this to say, the end is near, the time is close. You have to get saved today because Jesus is coming back.

He would say getting people saved is the engine driving him, but the reason there’s an urgency to getting people saved is that Jesus may be coming back before we wake up in the morning. And he would say that at every revival campaign. That was his message.

He wrote about it more than just about any other topic. He published books on apocalypticism in the 1960s and the 80s and the 90s and 2010. In 2010, writing as a 91-year-old, he believed this message was one of the most important things he could leave behind on this earth. In this book he says the signs are now clearer than ever. He’s written a lot of books, but five on apocalypticism? I don’t know that he’s covered any other topic in five books.

At the same time, I want to be very clear: postwar evangelicalism grew far more diverse than interwar fundamentalism. After the war, the movement got bigger, broader, more inclusive and less tied to apocalypticism. What happens is essentially evangelicalism divides, and you have these more respectable people like Graham and Carl F. H. Henry and Harold John Ockenga, and others on one track preaching a respectable, moderate apocalypticism. Then you have populist apocalyptics who become incredibly popular, like Hal Lindsey in the 1970s, Tim LaHaye in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Then, you have growing numbers of self-proclaimed evangelicals completely rejecting the apocalypticism that had for so long given their movement its distinctive identity. The story of postwar evangelicals is this tension between the more respectable, more careful, more savvy, leaders and those who preached a radical populist apocalypticism that harkened back to the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.

And yet the apocalyptic never leaves. It’s still there, that’s where the polls come back. It’s now assumed by hundreds of millions of Americans that the rapture is a real thing and that Jesus is coming back.

It’s a genius theology, because it allows people to look at very diverse, very troubling, very dark contemporary events and put them in a context; to say, “I know why this is happening, and it’s going to turn out OK. We are going to be OK.” It gives them peace, comfort and hope in a world that often offers none of those things.

Read Full Post »

Whatever Happened to the Environmental Movement?

HNN April 22, 2015

Today, April 22, marks forty-five years since the first Earth Day. On this day in 1970, millions of people of all ages, politics, and regions of the country participated in thousands of locally planned events. Teach-ins, rallies, protests, and gatherings and discussions of many kinds expressed the nationwide concern about unchecked pollution and environmental destruction.

Earth Day inaugurated a decade of environmental action. Responding to this popular outcry, the federal government created the Environmental Protection Agency, protected endangered species, cleaned up the air and water (mostly), banned or restricted toxic chemicals, tightened regulation of nuclear power plants, and established the Superfund to clean up toxic waste sites.

Earth Day 2015 is unlikely to be anything like that first Earth Day. Environmental organizations have far more members than in 1970 (the Sierra Club, for example, has almost 40 times more members) but are weaker than ever. Congress has passed no major environmental legislation in 25 years. The environmental movement has never been bigger – or less effective at the national level.

Many factors explain environmentalism’s relative impotence now. Yet, since most Americans agree that something needs to be done about problems like global warming, extinction, and other environmental issues, perhaps the most important factor has been the disappearance of charismatic, effective leaders. In the 1960s and 1970s, prominent authors and activists fired up a movement that challenged and changed the nation. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring spread the word about the dangerous chemicals humans were putting into the natural world (and into us). David Brower led the Sierra Club to national prominence and political influence. Edward Abbey’s books like his bestselling Desert Solitaire railed against destruction of American wilderness. Ever since the days of John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club) and Theodore Roosevelt (the “greenest” president in the nation’s history) over a century ago, popular figures like these had fought commercial interests to a standstill.

Interestingly, these figures all had one common element in their backgrounds, one which helps explain their success as environmental leaders, but one which historians have not noticed. They all grew up in a Presbyterian church. Presbyterians a century ago were a more fervent breed than their mild middle-class descendants today. They were righteously indignant against the greed of private interests who would corrupt politics and injury the common good for private profit. An intense moral urgency drove them to stop those who selfishly destroyed natural places or hurt the weak and poor. They felt impelled to preach righteousness to an erring nation.

For 50 years beginning in 1889, a series of leaders and government officials, all raised Presbyterian, made conservation and environmentalism a powerful national force. They established forest reserves, later called National Forests, and added new national parks. In this half century, only in the administrations of Methodist William McKinley and Unitarian William Howard Taft did the cause of conservation lose priority.

The most determined was Roosevelt, creator of dozens of parks, national forests, national monuments, and wildlife sanctuaries. When people called him “a preacher of righteousness,” he merely joked that after all he had “such a bully pulpit.” His friend Muir, too, preached, offering the God of the mountains to anxious urban America.

By the 1960s, Presbyterians rarely filled national office, but like Old Testament prophets called the nation to righteousness and helped birth the environmental movement. Carson’s father and uncle were Presbyterian ministers. Her landmark Silent Spring of 1962 drew its power from its scientific arguments as well as its moral indictment of heedless corrupting corporate greed. Brower called his standard talk the “Sermon” and treated environmentalism as a religion. He successfully led fights against dams in the Grand Canyon and for the protection of works of the Creator from a rapacious mankind. Abbey, whose mother played organ in her small-town Presbyterian church, also decried the destruction of wilderness Edens for profit.

But in the changing Presbyterian church the fires of righteous moralism cooled. Their pulpits ceased to supply role models and train the preachers of righteousness who gave environmentalism urgency and fervor. Rightwing Protestants, filled with disdain for social justice and government regulation and fired with a righteous self-confidence, took their place. They rallied their congregations and sent them off to the “culture wars.” Both environmentalism and liberalism have been on the defensive ever since.

If nothing else, Earth Day 2015 should remind us that people are ready and eager to fight for a greener, healthier, more just world. Once, churches like the Presbyterians raised up inspiring, effective leaders who in the secular world could lead mighty crusades. Yet as they declined, no similar institution took its place, and the environmental movement wanders in the wilderness without prophets to lead it to the Promised Land.

Mark Stoll, Associate Professor of History and Director of Environmental Studies at Texas Tech University, is the author of “Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism.”

Read Full Post »

Capturing History as it Really Happened in October 1962 

Sheldon M. Stern

HNN April 20, 2015

President Kennedy meets in the Oval Office with General Curtis LeMay – Wikipedia

Historians are obviously familiar with research based on old or new primary sources as well as with work that synthesizes both primary and secondary sources. Historical investigation based on audio recordings, however, is clearly distinct from these more traditional categories of historical investigation because, as Max Holland and I wrote in 2005—

the historian shoulders an even larger burden in this new genre. He or she is obviously selecting, deciphering, and making judgments about a primary source, much like the editor of a documentary collection. But, in the process of transcribing a tape recording, the historian is also creating a facsimile—while still endeavoring to produce a reliable, “original” source. In essence, the historian/editor unavoidably becomes the author of a “new” source because even a transcript alleged to be “verbatim” is irreducibly subjective at some level. As a result, the historian’s responsibility in this genre is a very unusual one, and requires the most careful scholarship imaginable. No other task of discovery and/or interpretation in the historical canon is quite comparable.

As the audio recordings from the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon presidencies have gradually been made public, historians have been drawn to this extraordinary challenge. As Columbia University’s Alan Brinkley concluded, “No collection of manuscripts, no after-the-fact oral history, no contemporary account by a journalist will ever have the immediacy or the revelatory power of these conversations.”

My own work, which includes the three books cited above on the JFK Cuban missile crisis tapes, has underscored the unique value of these recordings, for example, by demonstrating—conclusively and incontrovertibly—that Robert Kennedy’s Thirteen Days should no longer be taken seriously as a historically reliable account of the October 1962 White House ExComm meetings.

Last month the History News Network ran my short piece about a fascinating and surprising exchange between President Kennedy and Republican House Minority Leader Charles Halleck at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. In fact, there are many such dramatic and revelatory exchanges on the ExComm tapes and editor Rick Shenkman has agreed to my suggestion to periodically offer HNN readers additional historical snapshots of some of the most striking moments on these unique recordings.

The Context

On Sunday, October 14, 1962, U-2 photos revealed solid evidence of Soviet ballistic missile sites in Cuba. National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundybrought the photos to the White House early on October 16. President Kennedy, his face and voice taut with anger at Soviet duplicity, reeled off the names of key members of the National Security Council and told Bundy to organize a meeting later that morning. He then summoned his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to the White House. “Oh shit! Shit!, Shit! Those sons a’ bitches Russians,” RFK exclaimed after seeing the U-2 pictures. The Kennedys had tried over forty back channel contacts with an official at the Soviet embassy in an effort to deter Khrushchev. Their efforts, as a result of calculated Soviet deception, had come to nothing.

The Soviets and Cubans, of course, were aware of the Kennedy administration’s own deceptions, namely the secret war in Cuba, which included sabotaging the Cuban economy and plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. Nikita Khrushchev claimed that the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba were defensive—to protect Castro’s revolution against another American attack. Khrushchev also anticipated that Kennedy would accept the deployment in Cuba as a reasonable counterweight to American missiles in Turkey and Italy. But, the Soviet leader grossly underestimated the intensity of American fears of a communist military outpost in the Western Hemisphere.

October 16, 1962

As the president’s advisers entered the Cabinet Room, the human implications of the situation was made poignantly plain when they found JFK talking with his nearly five-year-old daughter, Caroline. She quickly scurried from the room and the meeting began. The fifteen men gathering that morning were stunned that the Soviets had taken such a gamble just ninety miles from the Florida coast and infuriated that the administration had been deceived by top Kremlin officials. President Kennedy assumed that if the U.S. took military action against Cuba, the U.S.S.R. would move against West Berlin. The U.S. would be forced to respond; the Soviets would react in turn—and so on—escalating towards the unthinkable. A reckless or careless move could set in motion an irreversible and catastrophic chain of events.

Nonetheless, the tone of the discussions was nearly always calm and businesslike—making it difficult for the listener to grasp that the stakes were potentially nothing less than human survival. The meetings were also remarkably egalitarian, and participants spoke freely with no regard for rank. Indeed, there were repeated disagreements with the president—sometimes bordering on rudeness and disrespect. There were also moments of laughter, clearly an emotional necessity in coping with what became nearly two weeks of unrelenting, around-the-clock anxiety and uncertainty.

The overriding question was clear at the outset: what exactly were the Soviets doing in Cuba? JFK and most of his advisers had little or no experience in photo analysis, and the strange objects in the U-2 pictures could easily be mistaken for trucks or farm equipment. Arthur Lundahl, director of the National Photographic Interpretation Center, and missile expert Sydney Graybeal were on hand to explain the evidence. The president pored over the photos using a large magnifying glass and participants later recalled that he appeared nervous and exasperated.

Deputy CIA director General Marshall Carter began by identifying fourteen canvas-covered missile trailers, sixty-seven feet in length and nine feet in width, photographed on October 14 at an MRBM site in San Cristobal. Lundahl pointed to small rectangular shapes and whispered to the president, “These are the launchers here.” President Kennedy then asked how far advanced the construction had been when the photos were taken. Lundahl admitted that his analysts had never seen this kind of installation before. “Not even in the Soviet Union?” Kennedy pressed. “No sir,” Lundahl replied.

The CIA had kept careful tabs on Soviet missile bases, but Lundahl reminded the president that surveillance had been suspended after a U-2 was shot down in 1960. “How do you know this is a medium-range ballistic missile?” Kennedy asked. “The length, sir,” Lundahl responded patiently. “The length of the missile?” Kennedy replied, examining the photo, “Which part?” Graybeal handed the president photos of missiles from the U.S.S.R.’s annual May Day parade. JFK then asked grimly if the missiles in Cuba were ready to be fired; not yet, Graybeal declared. The bases, however, were being assembled more rapidly than similar sites previously observed in the U.S.S.R., and no one could be sure when the missiles would be ready to launch their deadly payloads at military sites or cities in the U.S.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara pressed Graybeal further—were Soviet nuclear warheads also in Cuba? “Sir, we’ve looked very hard,” Graybeal replied. “We can find nothing that would spell ‘nuclear warhead.’ ” He added, however, that the warheads could be mounted on the missiles in just a few hours. General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also stressed that the sites could rapidly become operational. McNamara insisted that the Soviets would never risk a military confrontation over missiles that did not have nuclear warheads: “There must be some storage site there. It should be one of our important objectives to find that storage site … but it seems extremely unlikely that they are now ready to fire, or maybe ready to fire within a matter of hours, or even a day or two.” The missile bases apparently did not have to be attacked—at least not immediately. One decision quickly commanded a consensus: the president should authorize further U-2 flights to locate any other missile bases and the elusive warheads and storage sites.

General Taylor, however, deepened the uncertainties facing the president by acknowledging that it was impossible to be certain exactly when the missiles sites would become operational and, in any event, air strikes would not destroy “a hundred percent” of the missiles. Secretary of State Dean Rusk agreed, and cautioned that if the Russians “shoot those missiles,” before, during, or after air strikes, “we’re in a general nuclear war.” McNamara agreed that air strikes had to be carried out before the missiles became operational: “if they become operational before the air strike, I do not believe we can state we can knock them out before they can be launched, and ifthey’re launched, there is almost certain to be chaos in part of the East Coast or the area in a radius of six hundred to one thousand miles from Cuba.” Less than an hour into their first meeting, the president and his advisers were confronting the possibility that millions of Americans might be only hours away from a nuclear attack.

One key question remained—what was the Soviet motive for a nuclear presence in Cuba? “There must be some major reason for the Russians to set this up,” JFK speculated. “Must be that they’re not satisfied with their ICBMs.” Taylor agreed that Soviet short-range missiles in Cuba supplemented “their rather defective ICBM system.” But, no one in the room raised the possibility that Khrushchev might be trying to protect Cuba from the Kennedy administration’s covert war against Castro’s government.

– Dr. Stern is the author of numerous articles and “Averting ‘the Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (2003), “The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005), and “The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths vs. Reality (2012), all in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series. He was Historian at the Kennedy Library from 1977 to 2000. 

Read Full Post »

The United States Isn’t the Only Country Still Trying to Figure Out the Vietnam War 

HNN  April 20, 2015

Forty years ago this month, the savage war in Vietnam ended dramatically with North Vietnamese tanks crashing through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. As Americans continue to struggle over the legacies of the Vietnam War, it may surprise many of us that our former enemy who won that war is confronting a crisis over its meaning.

Ever since the end of the war, Hanoi leaders have sought to capitalize on their military victory to legitimize their rule. Every year the event is celebrated with great fanfare, as “the day when South Vietnam was liberated and the country reunified.” The victory on that day, Vietnamese are told again and again, epitomized the 4,000-year history of Vietnamese struggle for independence. Its greatness validated the eternal mandate of the Communist Party to rule the country.

Yet public opinion inside Vietnam about the meaning of the war has quietly shifted in the last two decades as Vietnamese gained the freedom to travel abroad, as scholars gained access to previously classified documents, and as the internet broke the government’s monopoly on access to information. The internet has been the government’s chief adversary more than anything else. Most Vietnamese were born after the war, and without the internet they would not have been able to know what really happened during the war and in its aftermath.

No opinion survey on the topic is permitted, but one gets a sense of the public mood by following online discussions and by initiating informal conversations with ordinary Vietnamese. Much to the government’s chagrin, Vietnamese now view the war as a proxy war and civil war rather than one for national liberation and unification.

In fact, Mr. Le Duan, the leader of the Communist Party who is now acknowledged by historians as the primary architect of the war effort within North Vietnam’s leadership, said in closed meetings that the ultimate goal of the war was to establish communism all over Vietnam. As recently declassified documents show, Mr. Duan repeatedly insisted that the war was fought not only in Vietnam’s interests but also for the Soviet bloc.

Mr. Duan was no Soviet lackey. Recent studies by historians Lien-Hang Nguyen and Pierre Asselin show that he rejected the advice of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who supported peaceful coexistence between the two Vietnams. In fact, Mr. Duan ordered the arrests of many high-ranking Party members and hundreds of their supporters who opposed his risky military campaign known as the Tet Offensive. They spent years in prison, being accused of spying for the Soviets. This was the civil war in North Vietnam that was only recently revealed.

In this civil war, the enemies of Mr Duan and other fanatical leaders in Hanoi included not only their comrades but also North Vietnamese landlords, industrialists, merchants, intellectuals, and even ordinary peasants. At least 15,000 landlords were executed during a land reform in the mid-1950s. Shops and factories as well as private newspapers were nationalized soon afterwards. Thousands of writers, professionals, and business owners who criticized those policies were sent to labor camps.

By the early 1960s, the free farmers of North Vietnam were no longer free. They were coerced into joining collective farms which paid them barely enough to survive. They fought back with those “weapons of the weak” which are so astutely analyzed by the political scientists James Scott and Benedict Kerkvliet: footdragging, petty thefts of public property, and destruction of crops and livestock.

Radical communist policies were not implemented because Hanoi needed to mobilize resources for war. After the war ended in 1975, the same policies were forced upon South Vietnamese as well. Truckloads of “books that spread decadent capitalist culture” were seized and burned on the streets. Big businesses and factories were nationalized immediately, followed by smaller ones. The free farmers of South Vietnam, like their northern compatriots earlier, were forced to join collective farms.

It wasn’t just former South Vietnamese officials, but also many intellectuals, religious leaders, and entrepreneurs ended up in “re-education camps” or “new economic zones” as well. The civil war in this sense did not cease in 1975, but much later, in the late 1980s, when the Party abandoned collectivization, legalized private enterprises, loosened the ideological yoke on writers, and lifted restrictions on international travel for ordinary people.

The greater freedom and comfort Vietnamese enjoy today came not from the end of the war, but from the end of the communist revolution in the late 1980s. The market reforms that the Party launched since then have been popular, but have ironically invited greater scrutiny into its past fanaticism. Numerous eyewitness accounts of the land reform, re-education camps, and famished life in collective farms are now readily available online for those who want to learn more about that past. This gives birth to the popular joke that “the longest and bloodiest path to capitalism is through socialism.”

In fact, Vietnam’s “market economy with socialist orientations” is making the Vietnamese road to capitalism longer and more brutal. Market reforms have significantly lifted living standards, yet at the same time have fueled increasing discontent. The Party has refused to return ownership of land to farmers, enabling officials at all levels to grab land to enrich themselves. State corporations monopolize the rice export trade and make millions of dollars every year while farmers are forced to accept low prices for their crops.

Except for a few honest leaders, the Party has morphed into a family-run racket. Children of officials, or the “red princes and princesses,” are now routinely appointed to key positions early on to succeed their parents when they retire. This perverse outcome naturally causes the war that brought the country under the Party’s control to be seen in a new light. As the popular poet and once-People’s Army soldier Nguyen Duy wrote, “whichever side won in war, it is the people who lost.”

Nguyen Duy spoke for numerous other North Vietnamese intellectuals from military leaders such as the late General Tran Do and Colonel Pham Que Duong, to scientists and scholars such as Nguyen Thanh Giang and Nguyen Hue Chi, to prominent writers such as Nguyen Ngoc and Nguyen Quang Lap, to young lawyers and doctors such as Nguyen Van Dai and Pham Hong Son.

General Do, the most “Bolshevik” among the dissidents, joined the communist party in his teens and was the commissar of North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam during the later years of the war. In the 1990s, he gave up hope on communism and called for reassessing the communists’ contributions to the country, pointing to Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, which had achieved independence and economic prosperity without being led by a communist party. For his criticisms, Mr. Do was expelled from the Party. At his funeral, the government even ordered thugs to harass the hundreds who came to pay their respects.

In a recent two-volume book about postwar Vietnam, journalist Huy Duc admitted that in hindsight it was the South that liberated the North, not vice versa. North Vietnamese lived in abject poverty caused mostly by their leaders’ fanatical policies, yet many were led to believe that their socialist system was superior and that their Southern compatriots’ lives were much worse under imperialism. What they saw with their own eyes in the South after 1975 liberated their minds from the web of lies told by their leaders.

Mr. Duc grew up in North Vietnam during the war and once served as a captain in the People’s Army of Vietnam. He had access to top Party leaders and their advisers, and maintained a balanced perspective throughout his book. Mr. Duc’s book, which was published in the U.S. and sold on Amazon last year, created an immediate sensation inside Vietnam. It spurred lively online debates for months afterward, and has received widespread acclaims from Vietnam experts.

Mr. Duc was close to the late Vo Van Kiet, who was Vietnam’s Prime Minister in the 1990s. During the war Mr. Kiet was one of the top leaders of communist forces in the South. His wife and two children were killed during a bombing raid, yet he was honest enough to have once admitted that the anniversary of the communist victory in April 1975 brought not only joy to millions of Vietnamese but also sorrow to millions of other Vietnamese.

Forty years after the end of the war, prominent Vietnamese from diverse backgrounds now feel that it was a costly mistake. Of course, the Party would never admit that. A military parade is being planned in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the communist victory. We’ll have to see whether the show of guns can substitute for the loss of mandate. As the symbolism of that victory has shifted, how long the regime will still be around to celebrate future anniversaries is another interesting question to ponder.

A native of Vietnam and an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, Tuong Vu has authored many books and articles about the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Vietnamese revolution. He can be reached at thvu@uoregon.edu.

Read Full Post »

El general y los yanquis

Rafael Rojas

El país  19 de abril de 2015

Raúl Castro, visto por Sciammarella.

Raúl Castro, visto por Sciammarella.

Como su hermano mayor, Raúl Castro fue hijo de un terrateniente gallego, propietario de tierras en la zona norte de la provincia de Oriente, en la isla de Cuba. Las propiedades de los Castro estaban ubicadas en Mayarí, muy cerca de sitios con fuerte presencia de compañías norteamericanas productoras y comercializadoras de azúcar como la Cuban American Sugar Company, la United Fruit Company y la Nipe Bay Company, que adquirió grandes extensiones de tierra entre la costa y los pueblos de Puerto Padre, Banes y Birán. Hijos de un hacendado peninsular y educados por los jesuitas, los hermanos Castro crecieron y se formaron en un ambiente familiar y escolar, marcado por la mala memoria de la intervención de Estados Unidos en la última guerra de independencia de los cubanos contra España, en 1898, y por el rechazo al poder económico y militar de Washington en la isla.

En un pasaje de su poco conocido Diario de guerra, Raúl Castro narra la visita del corresponsal de The New York Times, Herbert L. Matthews, a la Sierra Maestra a principios de 1957 con fingida frialdad. Cuenta Castro que al llegar Matthews con René Rodríguez, Javier Pazos y Vilma Espín —su futura esposa, que sirvió de traductora en la charla—, intentó “recordar su rudimentario inglés escolar” y le espetó al periodista un “¿How are you?”. Y anota a continuación: “No entendí lo que me contestó y seguidamente llegó Fidel, quien después de saludarlo, se sentó con él en la chabola y empezó la entrevista periodística, que seguramente se constituirá en un palo”. Los norteamericanos ya representaban para aquel joven guerrillero de 26 años, un poder mundial, tan amenazante como útil.

Toda la historiografía sobre la Revolución Cubana, oficial o crítica del relato hegemónico construido por el gobierno de la isla en el último medio siglo, coincide en que desde los tiempos de la Sierra Maestra Raúl Castro se distinguió por una gran capacidad de organización. Su tropa de un centenar de hombres fue la primera en separarse de la comandancia que dirigía su hermano y en constituir el llamado Segundo Frente Frank País en el nordeste de la provincia. El disciplinado contingente del menor de los Castro operó, justamente, en Mayarí y otras zonas cercanas a su lugar de nacimiento, donde se encontraban las propiedades de la United Fruit Company y las minas de níquel de Moa y Nicaro. Según Carlos Franqui, a dos meses de instalarse en el área, Raúl Castro había causado más de 100 bajas al ejército y había ocupado decenas de armas, parque, granadas y vehículos motorizados.

Fue por esos meses que Raúl Castro ordenó tomar como rehenes a 10 norteamericanos y dos canadienses en la zona de Moa y luego a seis empleados de la United Fruit Company, con el fin de canjearlos, al parecer, por un compromiso firme por parte de Estados Unidos de respetar el embargo de armas al régimen de Fulgencio Batista, decretado por el gobierno de Dwight Eisenhower en abril de 1958. Unos ataques aéreos contra los rebeldes de las montañas en junio, que fueron reportados por el corresponsal del Chicago Tribune, Jules Dubois, dieron a entender a los jefes revolucionarios que Estados Unidos seguía armando a Batista. Por aquellos días Fidel Castro hizo una conocida declaración, en carta a Celia Sánchez: “me he jurado que los americanos van a pagar bien caro lo que están haciendo. Cuando esta guerra se acabe empezará para mí una guerra más larga y grande: la guerra que voy a echar contra ellos. Me doy cuenta que ese va a ser mi destino verdadero”.

Curiosamente, la captura de los rehenes norteamericanos por Raúl Castro no respondió a una orden de su hermano mayor. El 7 de julio, Fidel le reprocha: “Sobre la situación actual de los ciudadanos norteamericanos que se dijo en poder de tus fuerzas, no he recibido información directa alguna”. Castro se quejaba de que todas las noticias que le llegaban sobre el incidente procedían de la prensa internacional y temía que la situación fuera aprovechada por el gobierno de Batista para presentar a los rebeldes como enemigos de Estados Unidos, partidarios del terrorismo, además de trasmitir “la falsa sensación de una completa anarquía en nuestro Ejército”. En la misma nota, Fidel decía algo más asombroso: “Viéndome en igual situación que tú, sin medio rápido de comunicación, autoricé el aterrizaje en este territorio de un helicóptero norteamericano, para establecer contacto contigo por medio de un oficial nuestro, que será transportado a ésa por el mismo”.

Durante las semanas que los norteamericanos y canadienses permanecieron en poder de la tropa de Raúl, ambos Castros conversaron con diplomáticos y militares norteamericanos y hasta utilizaron helicópteros del ejército de Estados Unidos para comunicarse entre ellos. Un testimonio del rebelde Manuel Fajardo Sotomayor, miembro de la tropa de Raúl, recogido por Carlos Franqui en Diario de la Revolución Cubana (1976), informa que un oficial retirado norteamericano, que había combatido en la Segunda Guerra Mundial y cumplía funciones de vicecónsul, subió a la comandancia de Raúl y bebió ron Bacardí con los revolucionarios. Cuando el oficial preguntó a los rebeldes cuál era su ideología, estos dijeron que era la misma de Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, el primer líder de la independencia contra España en el siglo XIX. Y agregaba Fajardo: “Me preguntó también si Rusia me mandaba dos barcos de armas que qué hacía. Le dije incondicionalmente le cogía armas a Rusia y a él si me las mandaba”.

Desde los años de la Sierra Maestra, Fidel y Raúl Castro han conversado con militares, empresarios, diplomáticos, políticos y, sobre todo, periodistas norteamericanos. No hay otra opinión pública que Fidel Castro haya cortejado más que la norteamericana, desde los tiempos en que era estrella del show de Ed Sullivan en la CBS. En la foto de contraportada de la primera edición en español de la biografía de Castro, escrita por el corresponsal del New York Times Tad Szulc, aparece un Raúl Castro, vestido de civil, inclinando la cabeza para tratar de entender lo que el periodista dice a su hermano mayor a mediados de los años 80, en La Habana. El papel de Raúl Castro en esas conversaciones, sobre todo en las relacionadas con asuntos de seguridad regional y hemisférica, no ha sido tan secundario como generalmente se piensa.

Nunca, ni siquiera en los momentos de mayor tensión entre ambos países, como ilustran William M. LeoGrande y Peter Kornbluh en su libro Back Channel to Cuba (2014), Fidel y Raúl han dejado de hablar con sus enemigos históricos. Durante y después de la Guerra Fría conversaron directamente o a través de los soviéticos, los mexicanos, los españoles, los canadienses, los europeos o el Vaticano. En los años posteriores a la caída del Muro de Berlín y la desintegración de la URSS, ese diálogo se volvió más fluido como consecuencia de la negociación migratoria que siguió a la crisis de los balseros en 1994. Migración, narcotráfico, base naval de Guantánamo, ejércitos, marinas, medio ambiente, epidemias, huracanes, meteorología han sido algunos de los temas predominantes en esas charlas.

Ahora, por primera vez desde 1960, las conversaciones volverán a su cauce diplomático y se extenderán a otros temas de interés común, como las inversiones y los créditos, y a asuntos discordantes como los derechos humanos y la democracia. Pero esta vez, a diferencia del pasado, las conversaciones serán conducidas por Raúl, no por Fidel, y la personalidad y el temperamento del hermano menor podrían decidir no sólo la constancia sino el rendimiento de la nueva normalidad diplomática entre ambos países. No hay que esperar una mejoría sensible de los derechos humanos o una transición a la democracia en Cuba, en los próximos años, pero sí un mayor avance a la economía de mercado y una reforma política que, a pesar de los límites que le impone un sistema de partido único, creará mejores condiciones para que los dos gobiernos, la sociedad civil, la oposición y el exilio construyan formas plurales de dirimir sus diferencias.

Rafael Rojas es historiador cubano radicado en México. Su último libro es Historia mínima de la Revolución Cubana.

Read Full Post »

Spectators and re-enactors gathered at Appomattox Court House to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender. CreditTravis Dove for The New York Times

ON April 9, 1865 — Palm Sunday — Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee negotiated their famous “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of surrender. In the ensuing celebration, a relieved Grant told his men, “The war is over.”

But Grant soon discovered he was wrong. Not only did fighting continue in pockets for weeks, but in other ways the United States extended the war for more than five years after Appomattox. Using its war powers to create freedom and civil rights in the South, the federal government fought against a white Southern insurgency that relied on murder and intimidation to undo the gains of the war.

And yet the “Appomattox myth” persisted, and continues today. By severing the war’s conflict from the Reconstruction that followed, it drains meaning from the Civil War and turns it into a family feud, a fight that ended with regional reconciliation. It also fosters a national amnesia about what wars are and how they end, a lacuna that has undermined American postwar efforts ever since.

Appomattox, like the Civil War more broadly, retains its hold on the American imagination. More than 330,000 people visited the site in 2013. In Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” as in many other popular portrayals, the meeting between Lee and Grant suggests that, in the words of one United States general at the surrender, “We are all Americans.”

Although those words were allegedly spoken by Ely Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca Indian, and although hundreds of thousands of African-Americans fought for the nation, the “we” in the Appomattox myth all too often is limited to white Americans. In fanciful stories of Grant’s returning a ceremonial sword to Lee, or of the United States Army’s saluting its defeated foes at the laying-down-of-arms ceremony, white Americans fashioned a story of prodigal sons returning for a happy family portrait.

civil-war-sumter75-popupGrant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war’s end far too soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general’s plea for “peace” and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony to plan the Army’s occupation of the South.

To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750 towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.

And yet as late as 1869, President Grant’s attorney general argued that some rebel states remained in the “grasp of war.” When white Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant extended military rule there until 1871.

Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents, terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that 50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the first quarter-century after emancipation. “It is a fatal mistake, nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace,” a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. “We are in the very vortex of war.”

Against this insurgency, even President Andrew Johnson, an opponent of Reconstruction, continued the state of war for a year after Appomattox. When Johnson tried to end the war in the summer of 1866, Congress seized control of his war powers; from 1867 to 1870, generals in the South regulated state officials and oversaw voter registration, ensuring that freedmen could claim the franchise they had lobbied for. With the guidance of military overseers, new biracial governments transformed the Constitution itself, passing the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

The military occupation created pockets of stability and moments of order. Excluded from politics before the war, black men won more than 1,500 offices during Reconstruction. By 1880, 20 percent of black families owned farms.

But the occupation that helped support these gains could not be sustained. Anxious politicians reduced the Army’s size even as they assigned it more tasks. After Grant used the military to put down the Ku Klux Klan in the Carolinas in 1871, Congress and the public lost the will to pay the human and financial costs of Reconstruction.

Once white Southern Democrats overthrew Reconstruction between the 1870s and 1890s, they utilized the Appomattox myth to erase the connection between the popular, neatly concluded Civil War and the continuing battles of Reconstruction. By the 20th century, history textbooks and popular films like “The Birth of a Nation” made the Civil War an honorable conflict among white Americans, and Reconstruction a corrupt racial tyranny of black over white (a judgment since overturned by historians like W. E. B. DuBois and Eric Foner).

Beyond the problem of historical accuracy, separating the war and the military from Reconstruction contributes to an enduring American amnesia about the Army’s role in remaking postwar societies. Many of the nation’s wars have followed the trajectory established at Appomattox: Cheers at the end of fighting are replaced by bafflement at the enduring conflict as the military struggles to fill the defeated government’s role, even as the American public moves on. After defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War, the Army undertook bloody campaigns to suppress rebellions and exert control over the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. After World War II, a state of war endured into the 1950s in the occupation of Japan and Germany. And in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States military’s work had barely begun when the fighting stopped — and the work continues, in the hands of American-backed locals, today.

While it is tempting to blame the George W. Bush administration for these recent wars without end, the problem lies deep within Americans’ understanding of what wars are. We wish that wars, like sports, had carefully organized rules that would steer them to a satisfying end. But wars are often political efforts to remake international or domestic orders. They create problems of governance that battles alone cannot resolve.

Years after the 1865 surrender, the novelist and veteran Albion Tourgée said that the South “surrendered at Appomattox, and the North has been surrendering ever since.” In so many wars since, the United States won the battlefield fighting but lost ground afterward.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can learn, as Grant did, the dangers of celebrating too soon. Although a nation has a right to decide what conflicts are worth fighting, it does not have the right to forget its history, and in the process to repeat it.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »