Friday, 8 July 2005
[Col. Writ. 1/27/05]
Mention the word 'Holocaust', and images flood the mind; the shadowed visage of Nazis, marching in lockstep, steel swastikas glinting in twilight; dull-eyed, emaciated bodies, their stomachs sunken into their spines, dumped unceremoniously into open pits, discarded like garbage, stacked as if mere cardboard; the frenzied speeches of Germany's undisputed Leader -- der Fuehrer -- German Chancellor, or Reichskanzler, Adolph Hitler, urging his minions on to more and greater evils, in the name of an ideal of white supremacy.
For millions of people, the brutalities of World War II marked a turning point. It sparked a human rights movement that has tried to transform the world, so that the vicious brutalities of the early 1940s, would never be repeated. For millions of Jewish survivors of the carnage in Europe, the words 'Never Again' captured the feeling that never again could the world permit such actions against people. Their experience in the hellholes of Europe, in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belson, and Treblinka death camps strengthened the global struggle against anti-Semitism and racism.
In international law, the Geneva Conventions, which were originally written in 1864, were amended and expanded in 1949, largely as a direct result of the experiences of the war, to protect civilians from the powers of a State, and to specifically outlaw torture. The 1949 conventions specifically protected civilians, and prisoners, and excluded war as a government pretext to violate such human rights.
And yet, as this is written, a man who described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint", and who has advised the nation's executive ways to 'get around' the conventions, is poised to take the highest office in the law -- attorney general.
Sixty years ago, Auschwitz and its sisters were shut down, as the then-Soviet Union and the United States were rolling up the Nazis, and crushing their formidable war machine.
Now, the U. S. runs torture chambers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. They ship out those they want to sub-torturers in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, or elsewhere.
Today, concentration camps are filled in Africa's Sudan, where a rabid nationalist, Islamic government supports the *janjawid*, a group of state-supported terrorists, who methodically burn out villages in Darfur, poison the wells, and repeatedly rape the women, all to secure the territory because of its oil reserves, for the central government.
'Never Again?' Perhaps, when it comes to Africans, 'never' doesn't quite mean, 'never'.
Torture is compared to college pranks by right-wing fascists in America, and indeed, so did the former Pennsylvania prison guard, Specialist Chuck Graner, who, while on duty at Abu Ghraib's torture center, likened stacking naked men in pyramids to college girls doing half-time gymnastics!
When the Nazis were performing their atrocities in the German heartland, citizens easily looked the other way, conditioned as they were by the rants of the radical monk, Luther, and the dark forebodings of the German thinker, Nietzsche, leavened by the mass propaganda of Nazi wordmeister, Goebbels, the saw the Jews as untermenschen, or in the words of a Nazi edict, 'life unworthy of life.'
Today, American nationalism, fueled by the fear of 9-11, has allowed torture to be practiced in its name, and has exalted men who see the infliction of physical and psychological pain and torment, as something 'quaint.' It has looked at the hells of Sudan, and blinked, turning away, for Black life, in America as in Africa, remains 'life unworthy of life.'
'Never Again?' Yes, again -- and again-- and again-- and again.
Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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Sunday July 3, 2005
History, the saying goes, is written by the winners, and winners, in sport as elsewhere, like to think of history as inevitable. We were always going to win, people say, because we had unshakeable self-belief or such a great team spirit. Events take on a predestined feel after they have happened; we only remember the hunches that turned out right.
America, the global superpower of the past century, has found it hard to avoid a belief in historical inevitability. Strands of American culture have been hijacked by the 'how could it have been otherwise?' school of thought. Take cricket and baseball. Nothing could be less American than cricket. And nothing more American than baseball. Wrong on both counts. Americans, in fact, could have ended up staying in striped caps and cricket whites. And baseball, far from being an all-American baby, may have been spawned by French monks and nuns.
No alien anachronism, cricket was once America's favourite team sport. It rivalled baseball for most of the 19th century with as many stories in the sports pages of the New York Times until 1880. Indeed, the first international cricket match was between Canada and the United States in 1844. By 1850 cricket clubs flourished in 22 states. And in 1858, when the architects of New York's new Central Park had to name the area allocated for ball games, they came up with 'the Cricket Ground' - much to the despair of baseball's early supporters.
What went wrong for cricket in America? Climate cannot have been an issue as summer there is perfect for cricket, especially on the East Coast. Nor was North American multiculturalism a real problem. Elsewhere cricket quickly reached beyond its Englishness - Irish Australians, for example, never saw it as an Anglo-Saxon pastime.
The most common argument is that cricket was too long and slow. 'Americans do not care to dawdle - what they do, they want to do in a hurry,' argued Henry Chadwick, the Englishman who helped define baseball's early days. 'Thus the reason for American antipathy to cricket can be readily understood.' But that was in 1850, when antipathy to cricket was still being invented in the American imagination. Baseball, in fact, got a lucky bounce in the form of the Civil War. The pitch could be rougher and less equipment was needed, so bored soldiers found it easier to set up a baseball game than a cricket match. Baseball, for the first time, started to draw ahead.
Enter the spindoctors. Baseball's most successful evangelist was AG Spalding, who happened to be a manufacturer of sporting goods. He marketed baseball as America's game, invented by Americans not effete Brits. It was an honest, rugged game, not a class-ridden elitist diversion. Spalding would not be the last entrepreneur to realise that there is a big market for class conspiracy theories. Inventing baseball's democratic heritage made him a rich man.
When his 1888 'All Star' baseball world tour returned home, they were welcomed back with a vast celebration banquet. The president of the league repeatedly announced that his sport's origins were distinctly American, unconnected with inferior English ball games. The guests began to chant: 'No rounders! No rounders!'
Spalding, wanting his populist take on baseball to be seen as revealed truth, persuaded a friendly senator to authorise him to form an investigative commission on the origins of the game. The commission announced that baseball was invented in 1839 by Civil War hero Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, upstate New York. A nice story, but sadly untrue. Doubleday spent the summer of 1839 as an army officer cadet at West Point, nowhere near Cooperstown.
But no one cared. America had arrived, and baseball - backed by a burgeoning sense of patriotism - had arrived with it. Cricket was guilty by association. It retreated into pockets of East-Coast anglophilia, arcane strongholds of the old world order on the wrong side of history.
One remarkable possibility is that the real origins of baseball may be European and ecclesiastical. According to David Block's new book Baseball Before We Knew It, the game may be traced to a continental ball game called la soule. A French manuscript from 1344 depicts monks and nuns engaged in a game that looks very like co-ed rounders. Block concludes that the field is clear for the French to claim 'parental rights over America's national game'.
I doubt they will rush to do so. But to saddle the French with inventing the game of tobacco chewing and spitting, while simultaneously debunking the myths that killed off cricket in America - what a delicious historical discovery.
· Ed Smith is the author of Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball (Abacus)
ABOVE ALL LAWS
If there has been any constant in the last several millennia (besides change), it has been the raging appetite of empires to remake the world in their various images. All of them, the Roman, the Ottoman, the British, and even the newest one, the American Empire, have cut through that which existed before they formed, and sought to impose their interests on those unlucky enough to be their subject states. If history teaches us anything, it is that empires are inherently unstable, if only because they inspire enemies rather than allies, and people seek to live free of their influences.
They have also sought to become the sole source of Law.
In the horrific aftermath of the 2nd World War, many nations gathered together to try to erect a new set of rules and institutions that would head off another world war, because the last two such wars left the world drenched in blood and sickened by death. They sought to erect a world criminal court that could try armies and leaders that engaged in acts deemed violative of the 'law of nations' (international law), and protected human rights. If there has been one implacable foe to that idea it has been the United States. For over half a century the U.S. chose to ignore the push for such an institution in Europe, and in many parts of the so-called ?developing world.'
Why, one wonders, would the U.S., the 'land of the free and the home of the brave', dare oppose something like this? The Americans feared a non-U.S. tribunal would hold its soldiers under violations of war crimes laws, and for over 50 years, the U.S. opposed it. When former U.S. president Bill Clinton did sign a treaty in support of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it sought to have veto power over any of its prosecutions (the UN Security Council rejected that notion). Although signed by Clinton on 31 December, 2000, the Bush Administration some two years later announced it would "unsign" the global pact. In the words of Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, "There is a risk that the ICC could attempt to assert jurisdiction over U.S. service members, as well as civilians, involved in counter-terrorist and other military operations--something we cannot allow."
When Belgian activists and attorneys filed an action against U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks and other U.S. leaders, Rumsfeld went ballistic, threatening to pull U.S. money from a planned construction of a new NATO headquarters in Brussels. That U.S. threat may cost some $115 million or so.
By the beginning of 2003 over 80 nations had voted for and ratified the ICC treaty. The world's biggest enemy?
The United States.
The ICC, and the Rome Treaty which was a precursor of the ICC pact, have been in the gun sights of U.S. military and political leaders for decades.
Nations may submit to international treaties, but for an Empire, such an option is utterly unthinkable.
Rome knew no master, save Rome; Byzantium bowed only to its own emperors; The Ottomans submitted to Ottoman caliphs; ... Empires find it difficult, if not impossible, to recognize any source of power external to itself.
Now is the time of Pax Americana; the age of the American Empire. And, as the Bush Administration began its reign, it pushed to abolish virtually every treaty it was a part of.
Yet, who needs immunity from war crimes, but one who intends to commit them? Is the U.S. seeking clemency before its next My Lai massacre? Its foreign Wounded Knee?
We are watching an atrocity in embryo. Massacres are being hatched, in the name of 'democracy,' 'freedom', and 'human rights.'
If we don?t act to oppose this obscene growth, this imperial fever, all Americans may come to rue the day it burst forth.
© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
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