Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Epilogue




When the war ended in 1945, my job was in jeopardy. For nearly four years i had worked as a translator-scriptwriter-broadcaster for the U.S. Office of War Information. Our teamof three took mimeographed releases from OWI headquarters in Washington, sometimes serviceable, sometimes bizarre, most of the time marvellously inappropriate, and fashioned brief anti-Nazi newscasts to be transmitted by European “black stations” set up by the British. To this day i cannot say whether our propaganda ever reached its target- people in Europe would be severely punished if they were caught tuning into these pernicious foreign broadcasts. Now the OWI was gradually being dismantled. But the loss of a job bothered me far less than what i was beginning to learn in great detail about the concentration camps.

Shortly after I reached America in 1938, I had established contact with a German-Jewish weekly called Aufblau (“Reconstruction”). I contributed articles on film, literature, and theatre. Aufblau  was one of the first papers in New York to publish documentation on the camps, on the destruction of Jewish communities. It printed eyewitness accounts by those who had lived through Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and others. Only later, as more facts were disclosed in American and Swiss publications, did I begin to accept the unacceptable. I knew my father had not survived; it took years until my sister in Holland could find me, or, rather, until I could find her. And at night, when sleep evaded me, my brain conjured up Eric Langer, the one true friend of my Frankfurt years, who had joined the German navy in 1935and of whom I had no news for more than ten years. The day after Germany’s surrender I began writing Hilda, his mother, at their old address in Cronberg, near Frankfurt- but invariably the letters came back marked “Addressee moved. No forwarding address.” Again and again I flipped through the tattered pages of my Frankfurt address book, picking out names and places. But my missives went unanswered.

That Ferdi, another companion of my school years, never responded I could have anticipated. Ferdi, erratic, sexually compulsive, politically promiscuous, and altogether reckless, had for years lived in furnished rooms and changed them frequently. And of course no relatives of mine were still living in my hometown. In short, I was cut off. Only by revisiting Frankfurt might I find Eric, or at least discover somebody who knew of him and his mother. But while one part of me urged me to go back, leaving everything in America behind, the other part shouted the opposite: after what had happened in Germany, it was impossible to return. In some way or another, every adult beyond a certain age had collaborated; it seemed, with the barbarians. Only the very young could be trusted, and they could not provide the clues I needed.

One voice told me to leave behind, at least for a while, the first satisfying job I had obtained since the OWI broadcasting unit was disbanded. I had been hired on three days’ notice as an adjunct lecturer in German language and literature at the City College in New York. Against all expectations, I took my work. After a few semesters I had even learned the intricate procedures of academic etiquette, or, rather, I had learned which rules to observe and which to bend. Yet I felt so insecure that I did not dare take other than summer vacations. When I discussed my predicament with a chequered group of German-speaking émigrés who assembled every Saturday evening at the comfortable ramshackle apartment of a Viennese woman known as Countess Valeska- no one knew her real name- I received no advice, but a lot of heat. Several members castigated me for even thinking about setting foot on German soil; others, equally fervent, declared their intention of going home to help build a new strong German democracy.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

How I Became an Anarchist: A. Neselbergs



 A translation of an article published in 1931 detailing events in Latvia before WWII and how Esperanto played a part in the political development of the author, a Latvian revolutionary. The Esperanto original can be found here.


I was born in the year 1909 in Riga, the Capital of Latvia (then a province of Russia). My parents were workers. I passed most of my youth in Riga. In this city I also lived through many difficulties caused by the World War. During the Revolution I saw, the people fraternising with the soldiers and overturned the Tsars power. I will always remember those days when the people ruled themselves. I also remember the arrival of the Whites (Nationalists/Monarchists) their shameful power and butchery of thousands of workers. From these days though still a child I became an opponent of their religious dogma and an atheist. Because of the poor living conditions in the city my parents left for the countryside, settling in the provinces. My father hired himself out as farm labourer and I was employed as a Sheppard.

Working from sun up to sun down, seeing the lifestyle of our master I began to understand the difference between him and me, between exploiter and exploited. From that time I supported all kinds of workers party. Later I moved to the city of Jelgava and actively took part in the Socialist Youth Sports movement (in 1927).

After a short time I began to see that although the leaders in party offices talked about mass demonstrations and revolutionary acts, but during membership meetings took steps to collaborate with the bourgeoisie and state officials. I began to lose faith in them. But after the failure of an anti Fascist uprising, Lithuanian political exiles gathered in Poland, I became linked with them and illegally crossed the Poland-Latvia border to fight Lithuanian Fascists (in 1927).[1]

In 1928 I crossed the Lithuanian border carrying anti-Fascist literature and was arrested. As a result I was condemned to fifteen years in prison. While a prisoner I began learning Esperanto and received my first information about Anarchism via SAT.[2] After 30 months I received an amnesty and returned to Latvia. Now I was regarded as a suspect person. Three times I was arrested, and then released. After my return I was elected to the committee of the Latvian Sport Self Defence Association (Social Democratic) of Jelgava. I took with me the strength of class struggle consciousness and broke up the compromise policy, in response the central committee wanted me expelled. But the membership opposed that measure and the leadership did not succeed.
Later I drifted little by little away from the social democrats. En some old Esperanto newspaper I discovered the address of the Anarchist International Youth organisation. I immediately joined it and subscribed to its information service. Later I subscribed to the Libera Laboristo (Free Worker) the organ of the Ligo of Esperantistaj Senŝtatanoj (League of Esperanto speakers without a state). In August this year I joint SAT and subscribed to there [rest of sentence is missing in original]. Thanks to Esperanto I have relations with comrades in several different countries and Esperanto helped me find the life goal of Anarchy.

Published in the Sennaciulo on the 17th of December 1931.

 Footnotes:
1: In 1926 there was a coup that toppled the elected government and replaced it with the right wing Lithuanian Nationalist Union. Afterwards the regime faced sporadic uprisings and resistance for several years. Referring the Nationalist Union as Fascist today is considered rather controversial, as differences with Mussolini's Italy aside, the charge of Fascism was the justification used by the Soviet Union to conquer and occupy Lithuania in 1940.
2: The Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (World Non-national Association) a world wide assocaiton of Esperanto speakers active in the Labour movement. Still active today. http://satesperanto.org/

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Conclusion


The persecution and attempted extermination of homosexuals represents but one part of the exhaustive crusade the Nazis launched to purge Germany of contragenics of all kinds and to create an Aryan elite that would dominate Europe and, finally, the world. Today, hindsight enables historians more clearly to assess the successes and failures of the Nazi regime’s policies. But the distance of time and professional “objectivity” has by no means resolved the riddle of the Third Reich. The crimes committed, and the crimes planned, were so unspeakably monstrous that the human mind fails to apprehend their full dimensions. What happened is now known; the question of why it happened remains unanswered.

A number of historians have interpreted the Nazis’ war as a crusade, kindled not by greed for territorial and material gains but by a mission: to create an exclusively Aryan utopia. If millions had to be sacrificed for this lofty goal, it did not matter. Other historians consider World War II a replay of World War I. Both interpretations are partly correct. Hitler waged several wars, and Himmler waged several wars; occasionally their aims overlapped. The generals, whose obedience was assured after von Fritsch debacle in 1938, tried to carry out Hitler’s often amateurish orders in a professional way. After 1943, a few recognised his folly and occasionally thwarted his directives. Hitler’s aims were clear: he was as eager to conquer Europe as he was to annihilate the Jews. Toward the end, with one part of his mind registering the fact that final military victory might elude him- although until the last nights in the bunker he would not confront this- he decided at least to win that other war, the one against the Jews.

Himmler, for his part, was overtaxed. First, he had to carry out orders for the elimination of Jews, Poles, antifascists, and other “dangerous” groups. Second, he untiringly pursued his own efforts to strike out against other contragenics such as Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals. From a practical and strategic point of view, this campaign was not worth the huge policing effort it needed to succeed. But, then, few of his goals could be called reasonable or practical. While the Allies held Germany encircled, Himmler still wasted energy and personnel in pressuring the armed forces to more vigorously prosecute sexually deviant soldiers and sailors.

Himmler’s and Eicke’s innovation- the concentration camps- must be understood as the evil icons of our century. The Nazi’s totalitarian apparatus could not tolerate nonconformity of any kind, and all deviants were to be eliminated. The German military machine, however, was engaged in a conventional war of territorial conquest. As the net closed tighter around the naqzis, every able-bodied male was needed- at the front or in the war factories under Albert Speer. These two goals kept colliding: here castigation and slavery, there attempts to run an efficient economic machine. In vain Speer tried to obtain better conditions for his forced-labour battalions: they remained ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-clothed, and unable to fulfil work quotas. Whether Speer knew more about conditions in the camps than he admitted is debatable. Police authorities were continually meddling with the running of camp enterprises. They arrested inmate-labourers for trifling infractions. Throughout their tenure, Hoess and other commandants were caught in a double bind. The continually received contradictory orders- for example, to provide manpower for a new munitions depot, and simultaneously to apply stricter punitive measures against recalcitrant prisoners.  Even notorious commandants such as Franz Stangl of Treblinka or Josef Kramer of Belsen could not increase war related production in the camps while the prisoners who manned them were brutalised or eliminated.

By 1944, less ideologically blinded Nazis began to realise that what Hitler had brought forth was, indeed, a modern version of hell. The fact that some officials beame aware of the need to cover up their crimes can be seen from the frenetic efforts, starting as early as mid 1942, to erase all proof.  Records were burned and witnesses eliminated- which, of course, produced over witnesses. These exertions failed for several reasons. First, crimes of such enormity cannot be kept hidden. Even when Hitler cautiously began the euthanasia program in 1939, involving a limited number of native misfits and cripples, it could not be kept concealed. The villagers soon knew what the black smoke rising from the new “asylums” meant. Although many of the new penal colonies were purposely built amid vast plains and marshes of the East, the mass transports and the mass killings- and the smell of the smoke- could not be kept secret. Second, from early on, the antifascists and some of the better organised Jewish prisoners started copying and hiding important files and records,  sometimes burying them in the grounds or bricking them into the buildings they were constructing. Of course, most buildings did not last, and the hastily scribbled lists mostly disintegrated. But enough telltale evidence escaped oblivion. After 1943, Allied headquarters also knew of these infernos in the East, although the Allies preferred to deemphasise their true nature. And, naturally, not all camp employees could be counted on never to talk out of camp. Quite a few paid for their indiscretions and were arrested for “spreading subversive rumours”- but the damage was done. If the Nazis tried to create “holes of oblivion,” they failed on a vast scale.

 The Nazi penal machinery, as I have indicated, was both illogical and efficient. It sacrificed the practical needs for manpower and material to an ideological rationale that undermined the effort to win the war. The enormity of both the penal bureaucracy and the crimes committed by it and its chiefs compounded that inefficiency in both the short run and the long run, by destroying the war-winning capacity of Germany and by devastating the country’s national image for generations to come.

 The homosexuals, by a series of laws, were treated as subhumans does not seem in retrospect particularly illogical or even unexpected. After all, their classification as heretical deviants boasted a long lineage.  From the viewpoint of Nazi logic, the extermination policy concerning homosexuals had a kind of ideological justification. Himmler’s concept of a National Sexual Budget classified homosexuals as “propagation blanks” and diagnosed them as a health hazard because they spread a so-called homosexual infection. Eicke’s police needed no such ideological rationale: homosexuals were simply regarded with the hatred characteristic of ancient homophobic institutions.

In the course of European history, a vast number of bulls and mandates, pamphlets and tracts lumped together Jews, homosexuals, and other heretics, and linked them to witches, sexual deviants, and traitors. In the thirteenth century, for example, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 forbade Jews from holding public office; they were directed to wear special garments to distinguish them from Christians. Perhaps it was here that the practice of scapegoating by coded badges began, a technique  that, some seven hundred years later, the Nazis would use to identify contragenics. It seems that if the /inquisition called a man a heretic, it meant that he was a practicing homosexual and vice versa. And in England, from the thirteenth century on, as the Jews were driven out, a new code condemned to death arsonists, sorcerers, heretics, those who slept with the wives of their feudal lords, and those who had intercourse with Jews, animals, or their own gender. Again and again, authorities charged their opponents, both real and imagined, with religious (and later political) and sexual malpractices. From the thirteenth century to the twentieth, the hold of these anti-Semitic and homophobic mythologies has never been broken among large parts of the population of Western Europe.

Given this rich tradition of hatred in Western civilisation, a fundamental question arises as to whether certain features of Hitler’s reign of terror were an eruption of evil unique to twentieth-century Germany. Over this issue historians and sociologists have quarrelled violently and inconclusively. For some, Hitler and his followers represent a gang of perverted if not demented paranoiacs; for others, the Third Reich is judged to be the legitimate heir to the militarist-imperialist traditions of Germany. Neither explanation satisfies. Perhaps Richard Rubenstein was closer to the heart of the matter when he suggested that it was wrong to “isolate Nazism and its supreme expression, bureaucratic mass murder and the bureaucratically administered society of total domination, from the mainstream of Western culture.” The Third Reich forever destroyed the myth of inexorable human progress. In less than one hundred years after most Western nations had finally abolished slavery, Hitler and Himmler brought it back. This time the slaves were not a special ethnic group, exploited solely for economic purposes, but rather contragenics of all kinds who were pushed into the forced-labour battalions in the camps and the factories surrounding them. While the Gulag that dots Russia’s northern tundra was not designed to exterminate its inmates, it enslaves them and must be classified as a close relative of Hitler’s bone mills. One is tempted to say that the twentieth century has mistreated minorities in a more brutal fashion than many preceding periods. And it is precisely technological progress that has made possible ever more refined techniques of brutalisation, torture, and obliteration.

Thus the fate of the gays under the Third Reich may serve as a touchstone for all those victims swept away by the hurricane of hatred. To this day, the extent and impact of this catastrophe has not been fully understood. At the end of hostilities, when Allied soldiers first entered the concentration camps, they did not really comprehend what they saw. And despite the overwhelming flood of information about the Nazis’ infernal machine, we still have not understood what it may foreshadow. In many ways, the spectres of the Third Reich still haunt us- not because a few elderly Nazis may be hiding in South America and not because groups of younger neo-Nazis demand attention with recycled swastika ideologies and emblems. The spectres begin to come to life whenever fanatical fundamentalists of any sect- religious or secular- take over a nation and call for a holy war against its most vulnerable and vilified minorities.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Totalitarian Tourism

I went to Bavaria recently, and spent sometime visiting historical sites, including Dachau and the Nuremberg Nazi rally grounds, I ended my tour with a visit to the court room at Nuremberg. This wasn't really planned but I saw the cradle and the grave of Nazism and witnessed the beginning of their infamy, in beautiful 30+degree weather.

Dachau:



















Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Catching up on the Discourse


I work twleve hour shifts alone and often the work load on really covers about three to four hours if organised rationally, and its even less on weekends and nights. Now being alone can be rather exhausting emotionally and physically but I've learned some coping mechanisms. One is to listen to podcasts, mostly history, with a few entertainment programs. I discovered a podcast about Anrachism in the UK by Ian Bone, but that was years out of date. It was interesting to hear about these groups and initiatives but they've all folded years ago.

One podcast I've gotten into recently is is the Discourse Collective. They're a group of radicals (about five or six if I'm counting right) from several different political currents. They cover three topics, theory, mostly reading texts and discussing them. Episode 5 with discussion about Engles the Principles of Communism is a personal favourite. Current Events, self expalanatory really they had an interesting episode on the Dutch Elections going through the political parties and how the Dutch system works. And culture mostly movie reviews so far, but they've moved onto the video game Night in the Woods.

They also have a lot of guests on from various different experiences and tendencies, I've heard anarchists, communists, a DSA organiser an Egoist etc. Despite my ideological disagreements I've found their contributions interesting.

A note on theory, I'm actually not very good when it comes to reading theory, I much prefer the histories and then going into the related theory afterwards. But I've found the theory episodes easier to get into, they're much easier to follow and have helped me get into the original works.



Sunday, 7 May 2017

CHAPTER 5: IN CAMP




BEFORE DESCRIBING WHAT HAPPENED TO those homosexuals who were caught in Himmler’s net and sent to concentration camps, I must confess that it is hard to maintain the necessary disinterest required for proper historical investigation. Several of the difficulties besetting anyone trying to grasp the enormity of the horror of the Third Reich have been outlined in the Introduction, and they do not have to be named again. Still, I must sound a fair and personal warning: to analyse the documents from the camps- official directives, police dossiers, hastily scribbled entrance-and-departure lists, the “Death Books,” often mangled and yellowed by time into illegibility- demands a formidable degree of dispassion.

When i spent time at the International Tracing Service in Arolsen, West Germany, its huge rooms piled to the ceiling with papers rescued from the camps- the records not yet completely catalogued- i often had to stop. Since it is impossible for any single person to review even a fraction of the material, I decided to concentrate mostly on the camp at Buchenwald, near Weimar, in what is today East Germany. Unlike many other camps, its files are comparatively intact, including those on pseudo-medical experiments administered to homosexuals by Carl Vaernet, the Danish hormone specialist. Several years earlier, a team of young German researchers under the direction of Rudiger Lautmann reviewed most of what was available from the thirteen or fourteen institutions that had incarcerated homosexuals. Lautmann and his researchers opened up a territory nobody had surveyed or mapped before. His pioneering study, the first statistical and sociological analysis of what happened to homosexuals in Nazi camps, based not only on the Arolsn documents, but also on the recollections of non-homosexual prisoners, was published in Germany in 1977. Nevertheless, Lautmann is the first to admit that his researchers were unable to obtain complete data. The Nazis never kept orderly books. There were also advantages to be had by compiling misleading statistics. In addition, collateral police blotters in East German and Russian centres were not and, as of this writing, are not accessible.

 All statistics must be regarded with caution. We do not know, for example, how many gays were detained in a specific camp during a specific month. No irrefutable figures are available. The Nazi penal bureaucracy was concerned with no more than a prisoner’s name, age, and reason for detention. Professional or marital status, place of residence, and arresting agency were not always noted. Some camps kept thorough records only during periods of comparative quiet; others lacked competent clerks who knew how to fill out official forms or how to spell a difficult name. And toward the end of the war, the SS burned countless documents.

Homosexuals constituted a very small minority, perhaps one of the smallest; only the categories of “emigrants,” “race defilers,” and “armed forces transfers” contained fewer men. For example, in Natzweiler-Struthof, a camp in Alsace-Lorraine, from 1942 to June 1944, the number of homosexuals varied between 20 and 50. In Mauthausen, from February 1944 to July 1944, the camp’s books list the names of between 50 and 60 gay prisoners. In Buchenwald, from January 1943 to March 1945, the tables show between 60 and slightly more than 150 gay inmates. For Dachau, Luatmann found 150 homosexual inmates for the period March 1938 through September 1938. These are partial statistics, with many months and even years missing. How many homosexuals were actually held in the camps remains uncertain, the various institutions detained at all times several hundred homosexuals. Later this increased to about one thousand. Altogether, somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals perished behind barbed wire fences.

As i combed through the Arolsen files, I realised that just as the various camp registrars were not able to keep track of the prisoners’ names, especially those with names unfamiliar to the German clerks- in Eastern Europe the name Schwarz could be spelled in more than eighty ways- the bookkeepers, too, left out vital information. In Buchenwald, for instance, on a certain day there were noted down not sixty-one homosexuals as listed the previous day, but only fifty-eight. It is not clear whether the missing three died, were remanded to one of the Droa-Mittelbau labour units, or were sent to an altogether different camp. If, on a day soon after, there appear three additional numbers –no names- for the Buchenwald homosexual contingent, it is not possible to say whether these are the same three men omitted from the group of sixty-one listed before, whether they had been shipped to Buchenwald as first offenders, or whether they had been transferred from another institution. The same uncertainties still afflict researchers seeking precise data on the fate of other contragenics, especially Slavs. For many millions of Russian prisoners of war, the Nazis did not bother with detailed lists at all- they were to be eliminated too rapidly to bother recording their names. Nevertheless, maniacally obsessive archivists pressed on with their grisly task. In 1945, shortly before the surrender, while Allied guns could be heard clearly booming close to Buchenwald, some of them kept on scribbling entries for homosexual prisoners- all such numbers now being illegible.

Another essential source of information- the reminiscences of those fortunate enough to survive- runs very thin when it comes to homosexuals. Not many ere that lucky. Most memoirs are the work of former Jewish or antifascist prisoners. Except for Rudolf Hoess, no prominent executive of the Nazi penal system wrote his recollections. When Lautmann publicly invited those still living to come forward to be interviewed, only a small number accepted his offer. Those few who did insisted on anonymity =. Since then, the slightly improved political climate in West Germany has encouraged others to testify- that is, to allow scholars and journalists to question them about a time that most would rather forget. It must be remembered that until 1969, sexual acts between consenting adult males were still considered a crime under West German law. The few former pink-triangle survivors who had re-entered civilian life had usually concocted “cover stories” – for example, some claimed ti have been arrested as anti-Nazi resisters. A few had married; some had children and grandchildren; none wanted the past to re-emerge and threaten their present lives. Over the years, i have been able to interview only a handful of survivors willing to send me written testimonies. I have also drawn extensively on Lautmann’s work. What follows is only a beginning and cannot be considered the definitive chronicle of homosexuals kept behind the barbed-wire fences of the Third Reich.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Japanese who died on the Spanish Front: Miyamoto Masao









An English translation from the Esperanto article on the life and death of the Japanese volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.
Note: I translated Miyamoto Masao's article from Esperanto and in doing so had to cut out his poetic narrative and focus on only the factual parts of the account. The EO original is worth reading if you can, this translation exists for the benefit of English speakers.


The following article was published in Sennaciulo 57/2 of February 1986, as part of a series of articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.


This year the whole progressive world remembers the beginning of the Spanish revolution, in which disappeared and died many fighters from around the world. It is probably little known that among the many Spanish fighters was also one Japanese combatant. The information about him comes from our Japanese comrade Miyamoto Masao.


The 26th November 1936


In the afternoon the steamship Normandy left the quay at New York harbour, heading for Le Havre France. There was no one on the Quay to see off the passengers, 96 volunteers from the USA who rushed to volunteer for the Popular Front to help save Spanish workers, peasants and intellectuals. The weather was calm with a strong wind.


One of the 96 was a young man aged 36 remained standing on the foredeck watching the New York harbour recede on the horizon. Dressed in simple workmen’s clothes that gave away his migrant labourer past he contemplated the shrinking statue of Liberty and the grey sea. Thinking of his youth as an orphan in Hakodate, a port in the north of Japan and his eventual emigration to the United States he remained silent. As an associate of left wing unionists and political groups he supported himself in the kitchens of New York and was a skilled cook.


He went by the name Jack Sirai, but no one knew what his birth name was or that Sirai was his original family name, but it was the name he went by in the States and in Spain.
To the far horizon he gave a final salute, to both American and Japanese comrades he made in New York and in his heart cried !No Pasaran! The only Spanish words he knew before embarking on his journey. This limited knowledge of Spanish was shared by many of the volunteers from around the world making their way to Spain. Through La Havre, across the Pyrenees and through Barcelona and Valencia the volunteers ended their trek on the 6th of January in the city of Albacete, the base of the International Brigade. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade began conducting exercises their and absorbed Jack Sirai and his comrades into it. Although the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was by that time a very large force most of its recruits were totally inexperienced. They did have some veterans of WWI in their ranks including officers. The more well known Robert Merrimen who had been a member of his universities Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Thälman brigades Ludoviko Renn also became brigade officers.


After training Sirai was given the post of unit cook, a decision he was most displeased with. He had come to Spain to kill Fascists not cook meals. Despite the posting he would soon see combat.
The Battalions baptism of fire was the battle of Jarama one the banks of river near Madrid. The battalion did not meet with much success but the fierce fighting meant Sirai spent most of his time as rifleman and not as a cook.


A large formation of German bombers covered the Romanillos heights by carpeted bombing Republican positions. The Republicans would be at an air power disadvantage, one estimate had five planes against 20. The bombing was so severe that stretcher carrying of the wounded was restricted to twilight hours to provide cover for the removal of the wounded.


Sirai’s unit was based near Mosquito hill an important but exposed position in view of the Romanillos heights and several other Fascist positions, and German planes. As such it was deemed an important position to seize but also dangerous in the extreme to do so. On the 8th 9th and 10th of June the Lincoln Brigade fought a series of attacks on the position and moved closer to the summit of the hill, but they despite heavy casualties on both sides the Brigade could not advance further.
In addition the area had dried out under the harsh sun. Even the river Guadarrama had dried and offered only murky run off to drink. Many fighters suffered from a severe lack of water, and thirst was constant. In desperation Sirai and his comrades took to digging holes to find water underground. They eventually discovered some water and found temporary relief from muddy puddles. The issue of thirst was more serious for the Republicans as much of their transportation was done by Mules; they had a severe shortage of transportation trucks. During another dig for ground water Sirai’s position was bombed. He survived as did many of his comrades, the bombing was a prelude to an assault by the Fascist army. Infantry and tanks advanced on their position. Fortunately the commander of the attack expected the bombers to overwhelm the defenders, the surprise resistance including anti tank weapons drove the attack back across the river losing several tanks in the process.
However due to the disruption the battered defenders received no food or water rations that day. At six in the evening a lorry carrying supplies arrived and a man was tasked with delivering supplies to Sirai’s position. However the only route down to the front was open to enemy fire. The man carrying supplies stalled 25 yards away and refused to go any further. The men were outraged and desperate, Sirai volunteered to retrieve the supplies. He was soon struck in the head by an enemy bullet and died.


Later that night his comrades buried his body by an olive tree, he lays next to the grave of Oliver Law a black American volunteer who fought and died in the George Washington battalion.
Jack Sirai, born in Japan died 11th of July 1937. With respect to his homeland, his praise and his courage. Stands not on a high tombstone of an olive tree or earth mound !No Pasaran! The Cry that could not beat the Fascists but still echoes in our hearts, in our dearest memories about the perished ideal, with regret and indignation.


(From death in Spain by Isigaki Ayako, his collaborator in the US and The Civil War in Spain by Hugh Thomas.)
The 4th of December 1985
Miyamoto Masao

Saturday, 22 April 2017

LGBTQAnime

A mutual acquaintance on a forum a go on wandered into an anime convention in the American south to kill some time. Like most bookfairs and conventions this one had a series of talks and panels. One of them was listed as being about LGBT themes and representation in Anime and Manga. And it was being hosted by a group called Southern Cospitality.


The talk was apparently very good and they grabbed the slides from the presentation. Having read the slides I agree its pretty interesting and enlightening. Japan is pretty in/famous for its non hetero characters in media, but a lot of the really popular and well known examples aren't exactly what you'd consider positive. A lot of its pornographic or teasing at pornography and mostly made for straight opposite sex audience to fantasize and indulge in what's essentially a fetish.


The slides go into much more detail about the bad, the good and the inbetween, so I'll just take a step back now.
















Thursday, 13 April 2017

No match for a good blaster at your side kid: Digital Protest and Repression

Believe it or not, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away the word protest in relation to the video games industry had nothing to do with harassing women and stalking liberally inclined nerds. On the contrary there was once a time when game protests were considered a legitimate form of consumer activism and clashed directly with proprietorial rights.

That time was the early noughties and that place was Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). SWG was an online role playing game (RPG) set in the Star Wars universe, between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back. As you can imagine it was incredibly popular, until the company running the game Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) mismanaged its community and eventually killed the goose that laid the golden eggs on a monthly basis. The game was shut down in 2011 though I can tell you first hand it had been dead long before that.

Before I continue I should start making my excuses, SWG had a vibrant community in the game and offline, so news about and in the game was news outside of it. However much of the knowledge and trivia about SWG was hosted on fan sites, which understandably died out when the game withered. Proper video game journalist sites also covered the game in detail, but given that the peak was from 2003-2006 most of the news on the game wasn't carried over when these sites changed servers. So much of what follows will be from my own memory. I was however able to find just enough knowledge still hanging around(mostly in decades old forum threads) to fill in some gaps and prove I'm not making this up.

Moving on, SWG was an game that at first prioritised its player base, by which I mean the entire economy was dependent on its player population, nearly every weapon, armour, food, clothing or hairstyle had to be made by a player and players could teach others the skills they had learnt. And this codependency was crucial because unlike most games you're probably familiar with, SWG did not have a leveling up system. Instead of killing boars to earn Xp to get more health you killed boars to unlike combat skills, you cooked food and created recipes to get cooking experience and unlock more sophisticated dishes, you played music to get better at playing music etc. Every character had the potential to be anything they wanted, it depended on what you focussed your progression on, you could be a dancer whose quick with a pistol, a doctor whose a martial arts master, a chef who builds droids in their spare time and so on. But the activities were tied to other players, healing players gave you healing experience and built bounds with you patients, providing covering fire on a hunt netted you combat experience and the gratitude of close range players etc.

In addition to this Star Wars being Star Wars it attracted an incredibly fanatical fan base. Meaning that Role Playing was a very common and important part of the experience, (this will come up later) so the links and relationships between players were very close and the player base quickly developed a reputation for acting like a real albeit virtual community. Instead of just customers looking for a few hours to unwind. I could list dozens of examples from my own time playing the game, I once got swept up in not one but two factional struggles for control over the towns I lived in to just pick one.

Speaking of struggles, like every community it was vocal about things it liked and features it hated. SWG gained some notoriety for a series of protests over different issues. I'm going to focus on three, because they're the ones I am personally most familiar and were also the ones I was able to find the most corroboration on[1].

Phase One: We Shall Ovarrrrwaaahhh Come!


The first example is arguably the first virtual protest to gain widespread (well for the early internet age) attention. Players of SWG when creating characters choose from several species, human, Trandoshan (the lizard people), Wookies etc. However its not just cosmetic, different species have different abilities, strengths and unique traits. Trandoshans for example can't wear shoes but have a regeneration ability. Wookies being big and hairy were limited to a limited set of clothing and equipment. The problem was that the game devs had overlooked coding more Wookie based equipment into the game after it launched. This meant that the Wookie players were being left behind. In addition to skills the other way to improve your abilities is to use superior equipment, which left them at a disadvantage.

After months of being ignored during updates a group of Wookie players decided to take action. They formed protest lines at Space Ports,- in order to travel from planet to planet in the game you needed to use a Star Port so cities with Space Ports had the highest population density and were the most trafficked areas-  on several planets and servers, and started chanting protests and demands for better equipment. It got noticed both in game and out of it, and the response was very positive. While some of the chants were abusive most were fun. Unfortunately I've not been able to find an image of these protests and can't really remember any of the chants, but SOE did respond on its official forums and Wookie approved equipment did start appearing in subsequent updates.

This episode actually helped SOE's reputation as it helped reinforce the impression that they were a company that cared about their customers and were willing to acknowledge and deal constructively with issues when they cropped up.

Oh and while I didn't find an image of Wookies chanting, I did find images from a later and different protest that shows how that actually worked in the game,


This will come up a bit later, but essentially the Wookie protests were much more numerous, like you couldn't see the screen for all the text boxes popping up
Things would soon take a turn for the worst however.

Phase Two: Moderators Strike Back

The second time SWG started making waves over internal dissent was over the issue of inflation and counterfeit coinage. No really, SWG was paid for on a monthly subscription (about four or five pounds a month I think) so in game goods and services were paid for by a virtual currency called credits. However during the updates which the monthly subscriptions paid for a bug occurred that allowed some players to clone extra money. They of course went on a spending spree but it wasn't long before the development team at SOE realise there was a problem and took action.

They didn't just remove the bug that allowed for cloning credits though, they decided to ban every account that had these cloned credits on them[2]. The problem was that this included a large number of players that had taken these credits in good faith, from trading or accepting gifts. These players were very angry, and so were all there friends.
 
 Now if you don't play online RPG's you may not get what the big deal is, so I'll briefly explain, players of these games do form very firm relationships with the other players, sometimes in the real world but also in the game itself. So by banning someone from the game for no reason SOE was actively damaging these connections. And imagine how incensed you would be if you were rounded up in a dragnet against counterfeiters in the real world because you accepted money from them in good faith, and then were given the same punishment as the ones who did the counterfeiting.

It did not go over well. Again the protesting at the Space Ports was attempted, but this time the response was much more draconian. The moderators of the game used their power to spawn protesting players into space. Yes that is what teleport them into space in the top image refers to[3].
Now doing this meant that the players were stuck there, potentially forever if the moderators didn't teleport them back.

I realise that this is a bit confusing, so try to imagine police rounding up protesters outside an embassy and then restraining them completely they can't move or do anything until the police let them out of the restraints. 

When this didn't work, more people kept protesting outside the space ports the moderation team threatened to shutdown the servers. And apparently they actually did this on at least one server[4]. Player characters are server linked, so if say my character "Rykian Kel" a Twilek Miner was created on Server Basilisk, I couldn't access that character when Server Basilisk is offline. So this action punished thousands of players who had nothing to do with the protests, assuming they even knew about them in the first place.

The protests eventually ran out of steam, but not before generating a lot of negative publicity and mockery. SOE seemed to learn its lesson, for a bout six months.

Oh and one minor tangent, one player did a lot to publicise the protests by role playing as a reporter, they broadcast news of protest at Theed Space Port on server channels, and got noticed by several gaming news sites. In order to shut the player up a mod teleport their character into a hostile area with very dangerous animals. I'm told Cuban dictators Machado and Batista used to throw dissidents to the sharks. However another moderator overrode them, and brought the character back, because they feared bad press. Yes really, this isn't a joke, that actually happened. Unfortunately corroboration is a bit light but I did find a copy of one of their reports[5].

This is Allehe reporting live from a staged protest outside Theed Starport. Just a few moments ago protesting cartoons went suddenly missing -- warped outside our great galaxy. Where have they landed? This we do not know. What we do know is people are angry...and showing their support in banning CREDIT Dupers...also known as cheaters. It appears the Great SOE GODS are favoring the cheaters over the fair and honest gameplayers. I will remain here until there is no news... This is Allehe
Reporting live from Theed Spaceport, Naboo, Intrepid.
Back to you Dan.
This is Allehe reporting live from a staged protest outside Theed Starport. Just a few moments ago protesting cartoons went suddenly missing -- warped outside our great galaxy. Where have they landed? This we do not know. What we do know is people are angry...and showing their support in banning CREDIT Dupers...also known as cheaters. It appears the Great SOE GODS are favoring the cheaters over the fair and honest gameplayers. I will remain here until there is no news... This is Allehe
Reporting live from Theed Spaceport, Naboo, Intrepid.
Back to you Dan.
Phase Three: Its Not Broke But We'll Fix It Anyway

The previous examples and the attention they gained established a precedent. Unlike most other player communities complaints against the way developers were handling the game was done mostly through in game protests. Usually the main way to express displeasure is complaints on the games official forums or an online petition, there was certainly a lot of that on SWG to, but the focus was planning and organising attention grabbing protests. And the development of SWG gave plenty of opportunities for grievances and smaller protests.

The third and as it would turn out final phase of mass protest would occur roundabout the same time I started really playing the game. And revolved around major game overhauls. There were two sets of protests, but the grieveances were the same, as were the tactics used and the response from the developers so for the purposes of this I'm merging the two.

The two overhauls that proved so controversial were Combat Upgrade (CU) and then later New Game Enhancement (NGE). You don't have to know what they were, you just need to know that they changed a lot, and they pissed off a lot of players. And I mean a lot, we're talking tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of players, remember this game was incredibly popular.

CU came first and once again its implementation sparked protests, only these weren't peaceful protests anymore, no that bridge had been burned over the fake credits scandal. Now there was a violent minority who had months of experience and practice and they were angry. This was when the players unleashed a powerful weapon, sabotage.

A server has a finite (though vast) amount of resources, meaning that if the server uses up enough resource the game performance will degrade, and then eventually crash. A lot of players became, very good at finding ways to waste server resources. One tactic in particular was to summon a destroyed vehicle, when a vehicle degrades past a certain point it explodes very noisily. So if enough players were to summon enough degraded vehicles at the same time, well the server goes offline.

The Moderators were just as heavy handed as before. In addition to bans and teleportations they spawned high level stormtroopers in areas where protesters were summoning vehicles to kill their characters and delay them from spawning more vehicles and buy time for more bannings. Several servers were knocked offline for awhile and many others experienced extreme performance issues.

However, the company itself was working hard to stay on message, the President of SOE John Smedley appeared on the forums asking for patience and calm, the response were almost all negative and abusive but overall it seemed to work the protests fizzled out with the diehards leaving and the subscription numbers leveling off again.

Things settled down for a bit, but then less than six months later NGE arrived. NGE made CU look like a bug fix and logo redesign in comparison, it completely restructured the game from the bottom up. I remember the change from CU to NGE very clearly, they were completely different games. And once again we had another round of protests and sabotage and more crackdowns. We also had another attempt by Smedley of all people to play the same trick twice. This time the PR offensive didn't work, and why should it, the company had tried this trick less than six months ago.

Eventually the protests were broken, but this time they were met with a mass exodus of players. And I mean mass, within a month the servers were ghost towns. I stayed on for awhile because my friends did, but that was basically it, you could spend hours not running into another player and we soon drifted off ourselves. The game limped on until 2011, but it died long before that.

Conclusion

So what have we learned? I suppose a better question is why did I write about this? Well truth be told its been rattling around in my head for years now. Its a curious bit of virtual history and I think its interesting how in the space of four and a bit years a community matured from idealistic civil rightsish protests, to Seattle 99. And given how most of the sources on this topic are dead or on the verge of disappearing it was now or never.

I do think it's interesting to note that thousands of people from around the world could unite and tell a company to go fuck itself and that they're relationships and enjoyment is more important than a companies proprietorial rights. Even you don't understand the appeal of video games, their commitment and militancy alone would ensure acknowledgement and study if it happened out in the open air.

Appendix:

Here's an example of another form of protest, that didn't really fit anywhere else but as another example I think its worth including.
































This image is the start of a raid, I've grabbed to give an idea of what raids looked like. When the controversy was at its peak, several groups of players who had decided they'd had enough but wanted to make a statement beyond cancelling their subscriptions started a raid as a form of mass suicide protest. They would line up like the above and as one go into combat and then just take damage until they died. Usually they'd be a video uploaded accompanied with anti SOE messages. No, I'm not entirely sure what they hoped to accomplish by this as death in SWG was just a minor inconvenience. But I assure you the players who did stunts like this were not joking, they took this all very seriously.



Footnotes:

1: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VideoGame/StarWarsGalaxies See entry under "Powder Keg Crowd
2:  https://forums.unknownworlds.com/discussion/78672/star-wars-galaxies-folk-get-banned
3: The full comic is here https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/08/25/this-is-an-allegory
4: http://www.busygamernation.com/2004/08/news_flash_star_wars_galaxies.html
5: http://boingboing.net/2004/08/25/gamespace-protestors.html

Thursday, 6 April 2017

CHAPTER 4: PERESECUTION


WHEN, ON JANUARY 30, 1933, HITLLER was appointed chancellor, triumphant Nazi troopers staged a massive demonstration, marching with torches through the streets of Berlin, singing songs of vengeance. Still, Hitler did not have the majority of voters needed to win an election on March 5. Whether the Nazis really expected a Communist uprising or whether, as often before, they camouflaged their own wrecking methods by ascribing them to their opponents, luck came to their assistance. On February 27 the Reichstag, Germany’s white-columned, neoclassical parliament building, went up in flames. In no time, Hitler, Goring, and Goebbels turned up among the scorched ruins. Hitler proclaimed: “This is a sign of Providence from above. Now nobody will dare stand in our way when we crush the Communist menace with an iron fist.” Immediately afterward, a wave of terror swept throughout Germany. The Nazis had started to settle accounts with their enemies. When the jails proved not to be large enough, Himmler stepped in; within less than a month he embarked on the construction of concentration camps, beginning with Dachau.

Among the first to be jailed were the directors of homosexual rights organisations, which had been proscribed just four days before the burning of the Reichstag. Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research was a prime target, as were Kurt Hiller, its chairman, Felix Halle, a legal adviser, and Max Hodann, a respected sex reformer whose books on women’s rights, sexual minorities, and abortion had annoyed the Nazis for years. Hiller, Hirschfeld’s successor and the most prominent member of the institute, was shipped to Oranienburg, where he was repeatedly tortured. Through sheer luck he was discharged and later published a vivid account of his experience. The offices of several prominent homosexual organisations were raided during these early winter weeks of 1933. Storm troopers plundered the premises of Friedich Radzuweit, editor of Die Freundschaft (“Friendship”), and took his stepson to jail. Communist and Social Democratic papers were forced to stop printing. The Nazi propagandists never tired of conjuring up the smouldering debris, the smoking woodpiles, the devastated ceilings of the Reichstag, to declare that this fire was only a beginning. The Communists, they said, had destroyed the Parliament; now they would unleash a civil war. German citizens could expect the worst. Only the strongest government measures could save the nation. The strongest measures followed soon. On March 24, the so-called Enabling Law was adopted, subtitled the Law to Remove the Stress from People and State. In reality, it did away with the constitution, removed all legal restraints, and gave total control to Hitler and his thugs. It signalled the end of the Weimar Republic and the start of totalitarianism, and it remained on the books until 1945.

The blaze that consumed the Reichstag, the later ransacking of Hirschfeld’s institute, and finally the notorious book-burning of May 10, during which fanatical storm troopers destroyed the works of those who had made German culture great but were now declared to be subhumans, should have been seen as a signal to every non-Nazi that an era had abruptly come to an end, that a new dark age would follow. Shortly thereafter- and nearly a year before the Roehm purge- the Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health was enacted, a barely noticed omen of mass killings to come. Here terms such as “racially inferior offspring,” “deviant psychopath,” “criminally insane person,” and “unneeded consumers” were first introduced. Homosexuals should especially have been on their guard; as early as the fall of 1933, some were sent to Dachau and to Fuhlsbuttel, near Hamburg. Yet most gays hoped they could weather the storm. Many rushed to join the Nazi Party in the belief that they could vanish among the uniformed crowds; others hoped for the best, and although bars, cafes, and dancing places catering to homosexuals were eliminated, they tried to continue their lives as unobtrusively as possible. Gradually, many realised that their existence was threatened, and they lived in constant fear of discovery. Others joined the armed forces, over which the Gestapo was never to gain complete jurisdiction. But not until Roehm and his confederates were executed did most homosexuals believe that a country like Germany could fall back into barbarism. Now, however, there could be no mistaking the murderous intentions of the Nazis. There could be no doubt any longer that the Nazis were as violently opposed to sexual deviants as they were to such racial deviants as Jews and Gypsies.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Bussing Debate of the 21st Century

In the last days of March I kept seeing an orange bus in my twitter feed. Called the Free Speech bus because in America Free Speech is cross between a magic talisman and a catchphrase. The Bus was vandalised, here we see graffiti and windows were also broken. You'd think a "Free Speech" bus would welcome the honest opinions of others, but well, like I said most Americans see it as a catch phrase.

Here's what the bus looks like in pristine condition for comparison.

Now as you can see the bus has images about biology and is clearly arguing against transexuality. That struck me as a little odd at first because this bus is being run by the the American organisation Nation for Marriage (NOM) an anti same sex marriage pressure group. Now it didn't surprise me to learn that people opposed to same sex marriage are also hostile to transsexuals, but I did find it curious that the organisation appears to have shifted gears.

So I did some googling, turns out they haven't, their still trying to sabotage same sex marriage in America but this bus tour is an initiative by the group CitizenGo, of which the leaders of NOM are members. CitizenGo founded in Madrid in 2013, on the surface looks like a Conservative Christian Change.org. It hosts dozens of petitions on various pro Christian angles, but as this bus shows it also does active campaigning and activism around certain issues. There was a similar bus operating in Spain until the Spanish government cut its funding. I don't speak Spanish so I don't know if its resumed its tour, all searches turn up is this impressive photoshop




Anyway, I think the bus has demonstrated an important distinction we need to keep in mind when we talk about speech and action. On the surface it seems clear the vandalism is step beyond driving around and politely (I assume) telling people that transexuals are freaks undeserving of the same standards of civil rights. But like most things it becomes a lot less clear the more you look at it. Both NOM and and CitizenGo support violence against queer people around the globe. Brian Brown the President of NOM and Board member of CitizenGo has endorsed multiple attacks on LGBTQ communities around the globe including Russia infamous Gay propaganda law.

But before I leave you, I will close with one last little nugget that should tell you all you need to know about Brian's mission (i.e. NOM's mission), his new international partners, and the global threat to LGBT people.  You see, it turns out CitizenGo has officially endorsed the ignominious Russian law against gay "propaganda.
 And their petition platform hosts campaigns in favour of conversion therapy.


 If your not familiar, conversion "therapy" is a tool to pressure people, usually teens into conforming to the behaviours and values promoted by the organisation. The reason its not consider proper therapy apart from its methods not standing up to scientific scrutiny, is that the goal is different. The point of therapy is to help the patient better understand themselves and deal with their internal issues and stresses.

Through therapy, you can change self-destructive behaviors[sic] and habits, resolve painful feelings, improve your relationships, and more.
 Whereas conversion "therapy" isn't about the patients well being at all, its about getting them to submit regardless of the effect on it has.

Now advocates of conversion "therapy" argue that this is what they're doing, indeed in the above screencap the authors of this petition make that argument. But the problem here is that its nonsense. The problems they list are caused by social pressures or completely tangential to no hetero relationships. If a teen like Nicole doesn't want her homosexuality its the result of societal and familial pressure. And contrary to propaganda, non hetero sex does not leas to sexually transmitted diseases, un protected sex increases the chances of STI's.

To quote the Human Rights Campaign 

In 2007, a task force of the American Psychological Association undertook a thorough review of the existing research on the efficacy of conversion therapy. Their report noted that there was very little methodologically sound research on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCEs) and that the "results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE." In addition, the task force found that "there are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom." Read the full report.
In short, there is clear evidence that conversion therapy does not work, and some significant evidence that it is also harmful to LGBTQ people.
In contrast, there is ample evidence that societal prejudice causes significant medical, psychological and other harms to LGBTQ people. For example, research on the issue of family acceptance of LGBTQ youth conducted at San Francisco State University found that "compared with LGBTQ young people who were not rejected or were only a little rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity, highly rejected LGBTQ young people were:

Oh and if you'd like an example of what Conversion "therapy" is like, read this account

And that one is one of the tamer accounts I've read.

So really what we have hear, is vandalism of a bus on the one hand, and an attempt to dehumanise trans people and push for further marginalisation, pushed by people ok with tormenting teenagers on the other.

If this were a version of the trolley problem I know which track I'd take. 


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Miami Vice: Or How I Learnt to Stop Judging Things by Their Covers

I watched filmed starring Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte called Under Fire the other day. Its about the Nicaraguan revolt against Somoza in 1979. It was made in 1983 back when the Reagan Administration was doing its best to vilify the Sandinistas and return the brutal right wing dictatorship to power. So I was impressed with how explicitly pro Sandinista the film. Unfortunately it wasn't very good, the action scenes were kinda dull and a couple looked like they were cut from a comedic farce and pasted into this film instead.


But it did remind me of another slice of 80's Americana about the US attacks on Central America, Miami Vice. To date it is the only episode I have ever seen, but that was because of a lack of opportunity to watch others. The episode, which the Miami Vice Wiki informs me was called Stone's War, aired in 1986, I caught it in the mid 2000's on a free view channel and its stuck with me ever since.


The reason the episode struck such a chord with me is simple, despite not having seen the show its fame and popculture footprint gave me a mental image of 80's excess at its very worst. I knew the protagonist drove around in flash cars (in Stone's War he drives a Testarossa) high speed chases in the Miami sunshine, beautiful women in bikini's, and refusal to play by the chiefs rules. The problem here wasn't with any of this in itself, it was that I've seen all before so never really cared to see another example of cool cop single handedly winning the war on drugs.






So unless Stones War was the rare exception I owe the series an apology. Stones War was smart, emotional and earnest. There was fast paced action and gun fights but they were tense and exhilarating and the show took its subject matter incredibly seriously and Crockett (the main character) instead of being the ultimate icon of 80's action hero, was sorta flawed.Though the opening credits much like how I thought the show would be, so I wasn't completely off base.


The wiki has a full synopsis and plenty of trivia, and the plot is kinda convoluted so I won't attempt to recreate it here. I'll just briefly summarise, the CIA, backed by big business is using American mercenaries to aide the Contra's in their civil war in Nicaragua. During which the commit many crimes, including the murder of an American priest while pretending to be Sandinistas. A journalist and an old acquaintance of Crockett have video evidence of the CIAs dirty tricks, and the CIA is now trying to murder the pair of them and recover the footage. Crockett winds up entangled in the scheme and grudgingly tries to help. And in the biggest shock for me watching, despite killing a few bad guys, (including one guy who wears a necklace made of Sandinista ears)he ultimately fails completely, both his acquaintances are killed and the tape is partly wiped and broadcast in an edited manner to make it look like Sandinistas were carrying out war crimes. For an extra kick in the teeth it ends with him staring off into the distance while listening to a radio report blaming the murder of the priest on the Sandinista regime. His failure is total.



Ears.... Sandinista Ears
So yeah a pretty big departure from sunshine and car chases. I was genuinely impressed, the American right is depicted as scum. Halfway through the leader of the mercs calls a meeting of supporters and assembles a group of industrialists, including one from the United Grain Company. And they're all for the plan to send Americans into Nicaragua, the only concern they have is if they'll get a return on investment. And the Mercs, ex-CIA are sadistic killers, who are quite willing to murder American citizens on US soil if they can keep it quiet. Politically speaking its right up my street.


But more importantly it was an entertaining watch, the action scenes were tense and the emotional bits were appropriately emotional. I felt frustrated when that plane full of soldiers took off and escaped from Crockett too. I think that's the main failing of the film Under Fire, it had a lot of knowledge about Somoza and Nicaragua packed into it, even the trivia about the Mussolini statues, but it was a bit of a slog. Nothing really connected it was like watching Nolte stumble from one scene to another. Which was a pity because some of the street fighting scenes were inventive it just didn't gel with anything.

So in conclusion, Stones War is pretty good, and I hope the rest of show lives up to its standards because I plan to catch up with the rest.


Oh and this isn't an April Fools joke by the way, I thought about making a joke post but couldn't think of anything intentionally funny so I thought a post about light entertainment (light entertainment which opens on a massacre of villagers, has a necklace of human ears and has a woman punched so hard her neck snaps) would do instead.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Words Can Cut Deep: Speech and Violence




For the past few months the internet has been a buzz with fights and arguments over the concept of Free Speech. Its been quite varied and heated. Recently Libcom.org was the site of a textual slapfight with another blog, and while I don’t really think the position offered is useful or even consistent it did get me thinking.
The blogs stated there is a difference between speech and acts, the example given was that it is justified and correct correct to fight say the British Union Fascists (BUF) because they represented a paramilitary threat (debatable) rather than just an ideological one. This isn’t a unique distinction liberals who favour maximum speech rights for all do often give a concession to physical defence against unambiguous violence. But the problem is that speech in itself can and often is a form of violence as well.

This happens in a number of ways but one of the most common is the tactic of outing someone. Outing is most commonly associated with queer individuals and Milo Yiannopoulos himself a recent lightning rod for this argument outed a Trans student at a University in Milwaukee, and is believed to have planned on doing the same to undocumented students on the campus of the University of Berkley.

 

"I didn't know if I was going to get attacked or not. I was just like, 'Dear god, I hope nobody recognizes me.'"

"When you have a room full of people that are just laughing at you as if you're some freak of nature, like you have some kind of mental illness—which is how he described me—it's like, I don't even know how to describe it, but it was way too much,"

Now in this particular case the harassment remained verbal, but it could very easily have had a darker ending, in 2015 21 people were murdered for being transgender in the United States.[1]

In March of this year there have been seven recorded murders of Transgender individuals recorded in the United States.[2]

There’s also been an increase in hate crimes recorded with Transgender people being disproportionately targeted.

 
In its 2014 report, the FBI recognized 1,248 victims of hate crimes targeted due to their sexual orientation (18.6 percent of all hate crimes reported) and 109 victims of hate crimes targeted due to their gender identity (1.8 percent of all hate crimes reported). The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported that 2015 saw a 20% increase in the number of hate violence-related homicides of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people - noting that people of color and transgender people are disproportionally targeted. NCAVP reported that 62% of all LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color, and 54% of homicide victims were transgender women of color.”[3]



But this isn’t a situation unique to LGBTQ people, on the contrary it’s a fairly common tactic that can be used against any group and often is.

In El Salvador Roberto D'Aubuisson (pictured) the leader of the extreme right wing ARENA party used to give televised speeches exposing people he claimed to be communist terrorists. In addition to naming them would show photographs of them so they could be recognized. Once outed if they didn’t escape (either abroad or to the underground) they would disappear. Their bodies would usually be found some days later showing signs of torture and mutilation.

“Having established the principle, D'Aubuisson got down to specifics, marshaling charts, photos, videotapes, and computer graphics for an intricately detailed, name-by-name, face-by-face tirade against "El Salvador's terrorist conspiracy."

D'Aubuisson denounced union leaders, priests, academics, peasant organizers, students, professionals, government officials, and Christian Democrats. Among those he named was Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom he told, "You still have time to change your ways." He also attacked Mario Zamora, a leading Christian Democrat and member of the government who—like others identified in the broadcasts—was assassinated in a matter of weeks. “[4]

Now obviously the Salvadoran civil war is an extreme case but it does demonstrate how speech can be used as a systemic tool of terror. And the only thing that makes it extreme is the circumstances, denouncing political enemies both real and imagined in the hopes or knowledge that fellow supporters will take care of the problem for you is very common.

This was how Mcarthyism and the Second Red Scare worked. Once someone was denounced as a suspected Red they were fair game for state harassment and investigations, employers would fire them and they could be publicly harassed and victimised. The once denounced the only way for a victim to save themselves from further attacks was to publicly cooperate with HUAC and denounce others. 

And you don’t have to rely on state backing to pull of this off the Fascists have made use of this for decades.  First they have an annoying habit of describing everyone and everything in opposition to them or they just don’t like as Jewish. Now this tendency is often cited as justification to write them off as loons, but there is method to the madness. By denouncing someone as Jewish, or a Zionist or a Globalist they’re telling their base to ignore what their targets are saying.  And at the same time egging on local Fascists to attack them because they’re not just dissidents they’re actively part of the vast conspiracy against the nation or the white race etc.

For examples I’m spoiled for choice. Indeed so common is this practice that it actually found me. I uploaded a video by Johnathan Meades to youtube about architecture during the Nazi regime. Now I expected some backlash but I was caught by surprise how much vitriol a documentary on urban planning and statues would cause. Most of the negative comments were revolved around Meades being a Jew and a liar, or just a Jew with the implication being that as a Jew he’s lying. One commenter mentioned that Meades mother was Jewish, which she was though she had a deathbed conversion to Anglcanism and Meades himself is an outspoken atheist.

The reaction to this revelation caught me by surprise; it was like a smoking gun to these people. The fact that this man has a connection to Judaism was all the vindication they needed, the holocaust is a lie, because that smug liberal on the screen has a Jewish mother. Like I said is easy to dismiss these people, but unfortunately they are still quite capable of considerable organized violence.

The White Nationalist website Stormfront is suspected of being used as a platform for the occasional violent crime up to and including murder.[5]

In April 2013 Italian users of the site were arrested for publishing a list of names and encouraging violence against the people named.

“The blacklist included: Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia; Riccardo Pacifici, the President of the Jewish Community in Rome; Adel Smith, the President of the Muslim Union of Italy; the Mayor of Padua, Flavio Zanonto; several members of the judiciary; and journalist Gad Lerner, a Jew, and veteran TV talkshow host Maurizio Constanzo. According to media reports, those on the list were targeted because of their support for immigrants. Also listed were then House Speaker Gianfranco Fini and then Minister for International Cooperation and Integration Andrea Riccardi, who have both spoken out about citizenship rights for immigrant children.”[6]

And it’s not just this one website there are others like Red Watch. Red Watch is a catalogue of supposed communists with identifying information. When I was 16 a friend of mine an inoffensive wooly liberal was listed on the site with his photo and then address. Yes someone put a teenager on a database used to target people.

Now nothing had happened to him thankfully at the time and he and his family moved out of the area, (though now that I think about it that could just mean someone attacked the house when other people were living there) though the potential consequences can be serious. In 2006 (the same year my friend told me he was on Red Watch) another person recorded on the site was stabbed.

“What McFadden did not realise at the time was that he was not being punched but stabbed. "I think it went on for a couple of minutes before I managed to get the door closed. I turned round and my daughter was screaming. It was only then, as I put my hand to my face and felt the blood, that I realised what had happened."[7]

Oh and my speculation on my friends danger wasn’t completely unfounded, far right types are active in my area, in 2013 a couple of them attacked the local Mosque with petrol bombs, and the Synagogue has reported severe vandalism on several occasions.[8]

 

Now there is more to this topic but it’s already getting quite long so I’ll wrap up. I can anticipate some of the counter argument, that these are all violent acts and should be opposed, but that’s the rub. Every example I’ve cited was started and required the use of speech. The only way to stop sites like stormfront and redwatch from exposing hundreds to potential assault and murder is to shut them down. The only way to stop a politician inciting attacks on the marginalized or a right wing zealot exposing queer and migrant students to harassment is to remove their platforms for example causing so much disruption that no venue will knowingly host such people. It isn’t sufficient to attack and neutralise the ones who carry out the attacks, more will take their place so long as the infrastructure remains intact. But we can’t take effective action against any of this without infringing on another’s freedoms of speech and expression.  
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