by HEATHER GRAY
September 25, 2017
In 1968, I left the United States for Australia where I was married to my Australian fiancé and where I began a whole new adventure in life and I admit I was so glad to leave the United States at that time. I thought surely there’s got to be something better than the stress and violence we witnessed in the United States in the 1960s decade. But I learned otherwise. What I learned was that wherever you are in the world, one way or the other, some people will be treated unjustly, including oppression of women, I might add, and that there is always a need to work both “against” oppression and “for” justice.
Think for a moment, however, about the violence in the United States in the 1960s and corresponding US interventions in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world during this period. To name but a few incidents: there was the on-going Vietnam War since 1955 leading to violence in Laos and Cambodia as well; the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in April 1961; the assassination of President John Kennedy in November 22, 1963; the 1964 violence in Panama, when the US insisted on having control of the Panama Canal and 6 miles surrounding it, leading to violence and the death of 22 Panamanians and 4 US soldiers; the US inspired overturning of the Sukarno government in Indonesia in 1967; the riots against the Chinese in Malaysia in 1969 with the US CIA and other secret service entities implicated. Invariably there was huge loss of life and injustice with all of these incidents and US interventions combined.
In 1967 there was also the Arab-Israeli War:
“The 1967 Arab-Israeli War marked the failure of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations’ efforts to prevent renewed Arab-Israeli conflict following the 1956 Suez War. Unwilling to return to what National Security Advisor Walter Rostow called the “tenuous chewing gum and string arrangements” established after Suez, the Johnson administration sought Israel’s withdrawal from the territories it had occupied in exchange for peace settlements with its Arab neighbors. This formula has remained the basis of all U.S. Middle East peacemaking efforts into the present…between June 5 and June 10, Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.” (Office of the Historian)
In 1967, I participated in the “Anti-Vietnam War March Against the Pentagon” in Washington DC. Four of us Atlantans drove up to Washington in my red Volkswagen. Atlanta activist Rick Brown drove the car while I sat in the back playing my guitar along with another Atlanta activist Jim Skillman who was already a Vietnam veteran. I was impressed with the Washington DC organizers of the event who arranged housing for all of us thousands of folks coming in from throughout the country for the event. I must say that marching against the war on the Washington DC streets with thousands of others was exhilarating.
I left the United States in August 1968. It was the year that Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, and I was involved with SNCC in helping to organize the funeral that I also attended; Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on June 6, 1968; then there were demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the Democratic Convention on August 28, 1968:
(On August 28, 1968) at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters battle police in the streets, while the Democratic Party falls apart over an internal disagreement concerning its stance on Vietnam. Over the course of 24 hours, the predominant American line of thought on the Cold War with the Soviet Union was shattered. (History.com)
The interesting thing is that once in Australia and settled ultimately in Wollongong, Australia (just south of Sydney), I began marching against the Vietnam War with Wollongong activists many of whom were not only Australians, but also other Americans and those from Britain, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Italy and the Netherlands. I also began assisting migrant women in need, as well as being engaged with the Australian National University on research of laborers, who were mostly migrants, at the huge Wollongong steel mill – “Australian Iron and Steel”.
So it was true that being away from the states I but joined yet another group of impressive activists in Australia. Suffice it to say, as mentioned previously, I learned in my 20s that you could never get away from the impacts of international state violence and the need to take a stand for justice and compassion.
Visiting and learning about Saigon in 1973
When I first wrote about my experience in Vietnam, it was in 2007 when George Bush wanted to escalate the war in Iraq. At the time I thought I would share something about my experience in Vietnam to place war somewhat in the context of daily life. With the Ken Burns series about the Vietnam War now being shown on PBS, I thought I would revisit and share my experiences in Saigon.
The image of war can be so deceptive. This likely is true whether in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia, Vietnam or wherever the conflict might be. I used to naively think that life would be close to suspended for those living in war torn countries. But even in war, I ultimately learned, people will attempt to take care of their youngest children and other vulnerable members of their family, engage in commerce, and explore every conceivable way to survive. There really is no other choice! That’s what I learned in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1973, close to end of the Vietnam War travesty.
There was probably nothing in the city of Saigon in 1973 comparable to the dreadful violence that plagued Baghdad and now other areas in the Middle East, both in terms of the violence from civil strife or by the invasive U.S military against the people. But even and especially in these war torn countries, people need to figure out a way to feed and take care of their own.
Saigon was somewhat of a safe haven with war raging around it in the rural areas. The Viet Cong seemingly had no interest, even if they had the weapons to do so, in destroying Saigon in retaliation against the US for the devastating bombing of Hanoi. There could have been the justification, however, for the destruction of Saigon as it was one of the US bases of operations and, with its beautiful French boulevards and other French architecture, in retaliation for the hundreds of years of French interference and colonialism.
It was impossible in 1973 to go into the Vietnamese hinterlands except on planes, as Saigon’s “Highway One” was too dangerous and the planes were booked solid. So I stayed in Saigon for a week where there was, of course, a curfew. There’s nothing like sitting in a restaurant while listening to bombs dropping from just outside the city. The bombs always seemed to drop at night and seemed close, which I guess they were.
In spite of all this, however, I found much in Saigon I didn’t expect. There were parts of the city where there were, thankfully, no apparent signs of war. Yet in most areas of downtown Saigon, sandbags lined the streets and the armed Vietnamese military were at virtually every intersection. Yet, life went on.The Vietnamese are resilient. They have, after all, been resisting occupation and foreign invaders for centuries, from the Chinese to the French, the Japanese and the Americans. But almost everyone I met in Saigon, whether they were Vietnamese or not, was trying to circumvent the war and the violence surrounding them which is something I think most of us would attempt.
In the early 1970’s I lived in Singapore with my husband – an Australian diplomat – and our young son. We were in an apartment building that was rather a mecca for international journalists who were traveling back and forth to Vietnam, Cambodia or elsewhere to report on the war. New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and his wife Janice were in that mix, as well as U.S. News and World Report journalist Jim Wallace and his wife Haya Wallace who lived two floors above us.
While we were in Singapore, Schanberg was spending most of his time in Cambodia and reporting on the tragedy unfolding in that beleaguered country that, unfortunately, bordered Vietnam. The illegal bombing of Cambodia by the Nixon administration had begun in April of 1970 and the consequences of it all were devastating. It’s thought to have been a major catalyst of political instability leading to the downfall of the Prince Norodom Sihanouk government and the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. For his reporting on Cambodia and his subsequent book, “The Killing Fields,” Schanberg won the Pulitzer Prize. In it he depicted the tragic violence of the Khmer Rouge and the estimated killing of 2 million Cambodians. Janice Schanberg was understandably worried about her husband as he ventured back and forth to Cambodia. The Schanberg’s were the last couple I dined with before leaving Singapore in December 1973.
Haya Wallace’s parties were legendary. She was an antique collector and her apartment was filled to the brim with Southeast Asian collectibles. I recall sitting in her apartment in a small cozy area designated for social gatherings, while all around there were sculptures from Papua New Guinea, lamps from Indonesia, pottery from Malaysia, contemporary Singaporean paintings, and Chinese crafts of every sort, including a huge beautifully crafted Chinese wedding bed in the middle of her living room.
When the opportunity arose to visit Saigon in January 1973, I jumped at the chance. Haya was going with her husband and other journalists to Saigon and she asked me to join her. She was to seek antiques in Saigon. So here we were, in the major city of a war torn country and traipsing around it’s remarkable antique stores and there were a lot of them. It was rather surreal experience to say the least. This also included joining journalists for meals in exquisite Vietnamese and French restaurants. It was rather hard to believe that in the middle of war, here I was eating some of the best food on the planet.
The influence of France in Vietnam apparently began with Jesuit priests in the 1600’s and ultimately the French occupation of Vietnam under Napoleon III in 1853. It lasted until 1954, in the midst of Vietnamese resistance. (When is there not resistance to occupation? It’s time the Americans learned this!) In this exquisite Asian city, the legacy of French occupation was apparent. There were all kinds of French restaurants, and shopkeepers selling loaves of French bread and everything else French. I drank wine on the veranda of one of the hotels – the Hotel Majestic – frequented earlier in the 1930s by British writer Somerset Maugham. Vietnamese or French were the languages. As I unfortunately do not speak the beautiful song-like Vietnamese language, I spoke with most cab drivers in French. English was virtually a non-entity.
My residence in Saigon that week was in an elite area. It was, in fact, across the street from the Presidential Palace of Nguyen Van Thieu who was the provisional president at the time. My hosts were Americans – the head of the New York Bank in Saigon and his wife. From the balcony outside my room I looked across to the palace. Sandbags, along with armed military sentries, surrounded it. My movie camera was shaped somewhat like a gun. On the balcony, I recall crouching down to film the palace, but decided against this. Getting killed for taking a photo of a palace was not the wisest plan. Later in the week, however, a Vietnamese soldier at an intersection did point his rifle at me until I convinced him that what I had was a camera and not a gun.
My hostess spent a lot of her time with the wives of Vietnamese political leaders and diplomats. Once during the week she invited me to a luncheon with these women. I declined the offer. This might have been a mistake as it could have been interesting to hear what they had to say. But my time was limited and in the diplomatic corps I knew the last thing the wives can do is discuss anything of substance. I knew this, as I was essentially associated with the diplomatic corps myself as, being married to an Australian diplomat, I had also gone through diplomatic training in Australia. Further, the wives of political leaders were unlikely to say anything meaningful, as it would be too dangerous for them to do so. So, much to the disdain of my hostess, I ventured instead into the streets of Saigon. She also didn’t like my interest in talking with her servants which I did, as well, at every opportunity.
I visited with a Burmese friend who was teaching at the University of Saigon. I knew him from Singapore where he had worked as a scientist for a United Nations agency headed by young Americans who, he told me, had no appreciation for him and his qualifications (two PhD’s from US universities). He was anxious to leave and come to Saigon even in the midst of war. He took me to Saigon’s flourishing open farmer’s markets, and to the university. The markets were huge, bustling and vibrant with food and all kinds of wares and crafts-there is absolutely nothing as exciting as an Asian market and the markets in Saigon were no exception.
I spent time with American GI’s who showed me their “Shoe Shine Boys Project.” It was created in response to the predominance of street children whose families couldn’t afford to care for them because of the war. Many of the boys were shining shoes to earn money for the family and most could not return home except to take their hard earned money. The GI’s leased homes in back alleys for these youth, where they had a bed, were fed warm meals and offered classroom instruction. The GIs took me to some of those homes. It was rather interesting that while the U.S. military was creating havoc and tragedy in Vietnam, some GI’s were attempting to alleviate what they could of this pain. I don’t know where the funding came from for this project or whether the US army was also involved to better control the shoe shine boys who were sometimes implicated in spying and/or working for the Viet Cong. Clearly everyone wanted to manipulate the youth. Nevertheless, the soldiers I talked with were proud of this project and rightly so. It’s also my understanding that actor Richard Hughes played the leading role in creating the “Shoe Shine Boys Project”:
In 1968, as a conscientious objector, he (Richard Hughes) refused the Vietnam draft, only to borrow $1,500 and travel on his own to Saigon, where he helped found the Dispatch News Service — later it distributed Seymour Hersh’s exclusive on the My Lai massacre — and opened a shelter for street children called the Shoeshine Boys Project. (NY Times)
Saigon was a massive bustling city. Small cars and bicycles were everywhere. Once, while in a taxi and seeking a shop to buy a Vietnamese guitar, the driver and I managed to get into a traffic jam at a huge intersection. Even today I can’t quite understand how we managed get out of it! We did find the small shop and I purchased the guitar. It was off the beaten track. It reminded me of small commercial areas in Atlanta, Georgia suburbs with a street lined with small businesses along with cars, and in the Vietnam scenario, with cars but also countless bicycles rushing past. There were no soldiers or sandbags in sight. Just small business owners and their customers.
I visited three orphanages in Saigon. The children in the first two were relatively well cared for and the institutions were clean, even in spite of what were probably relatively limited resources. They were administered by Vietnamese and not religious based. Then I visited the third orphanage administered by a French Catholic priest. I was utterly appalled. The children were filthy and groveling and crawling on dirty floors. Some of them were strapped in chairs outside. One child, the mixture of a Vietnamese and Black American, was blind and screaming. My colleague told me this Catholic priest was notorious throughout Saigon. His attitude was that it didn’t matter what happened here on earth because the rewards were to be found in heaven. This was, apparently, the priest’s justification for the abysmal treatment of these children. Not that all Christian orphanages are likely to be problematic or abusive, of course, but I’ve wondered since how often Christians apply this rationale.
As a sequel to all this, in 1993, we in Atlanta were fortunate to host the Vietnamese Minister of Agriculture. The American Rice Institute had brought him to the United States. After visiting number of large corporate rice farms the Minister asked to visit a “real farm” in America. In response, the American Rice Institute called the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund so that the Minister could visit a small farm. I joined the delegation and we took him to visit Willie Adams, a Black farmer in east Georgia who raised chickens. The minister was clearly thrilled to finally spend some time with a “real farmer.”
While on the road, the Vietnam Minister asked about the fate of US Vietnam War veterans. I told him many struggled economically and psychologically, many were homeless, some were on death row, many were haunted by the experience, many joined organizations to resist war, many were seemingly not effected, on and on. In very much an Asian “sense of place” and one in which the ancestors are honored, he told me “we know many young Americans died on our soil and their souls are with us now. We will always pray for them.”
I had visited Saigon in January of 1973. By March 1973, due to the Paris Peace Agreement, the US military began to withdraw from Vietnam. The total number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed varies from 900,000 to 4 million. The total number of Americans killed is approximately 58,000. This does not include thousands of injuries, destabilization and death in the surrounding countries such as Cambodia, plus environmental degradation in Vietnam. What insanity is this?
(This is an edited version of the article that first appeared on Counterpunch in 2007.)
The 1969 Riots Against the Chinese in Malaysia
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
As PBS is now airing the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War, Americans are yet again being informed and reminded about that dreadful and violent Cold War conflict. Yet, Americans are largely not informed of US interference and violence in other parts of southeast Asia around the same time. This was also part of the horrifying Cold War (communism vs. capitalism) mentality associated with excessive violence and western manipulation and control. But this interference of sovereign peoples and countries can also be coupled with the legacy of the 1493 Papal “Doctrine of Discovery” mentality that even today has essentially given a justification for imperialism – for “Christians” of European descent to take lands and control people almost anywhere in the world.
The Doctrine of Discovery was promulgated by European monarchies in order to legitimize the colonization of lands outside of Europe. Between the mid-fifteenth century and the mid-twentieth century, this idea allowed European entities to seize lands inhabited by indigenous peoples under the guise of discovery. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas declared that only non-Christian lands could be colonized under the Discovery Doctrine.
In 1792, U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson declared that the Doctrine of the Discovery would extend from Europe to the infant U.S. government. The Doctrine and its legacy continue to influence American imperialism and treatment of indigenous peoples. (Wikipedia)The Cold War combined with the “Doctrine of Discovery” mentality is a deadly mixture. With these two excuses as a cover, invariably, the desire to control other countries more often also has to do with the desire for natural resources (oil, tin, bauxite, copper, etc.). There is almost always the need to “follow the money!” to find out what’s really happening in war and orchestrated coups.
It’s also as if, in the contemporary sense, the “doctrine” is translated into allowing interference and control of governments the “Christian” US does not care for as these targeted countries might undermine US power or capitalist money making ventures. While the US fought a Revolutionary War (1775-1783) to claim independence from British colonial rule, the US in turn does not seem to want to afford many other countries the same right of sovereignty to determine their own government and economic system.
During and prior to the Vietnam War these “other” countries where the US interfered and/or helped overturn the governments include: Malaysia (desire for tin, etc.) that I refer to below; Indonesia (desire for oil); the Philippines (desire for maintaining US bases and economic control throughout most of the 20th century and on). Then there was the Korean War (1950-1953), as well, which was a definitive product of the Cold War as both the Soviet Union and the United States coalitions claimed all of Korea.
Two other countries the US interfered with during the Vietnam War period and overturned their governments were Chile and Australia.
There was the 1973 US “Cold War” inspired coup in Chile resulting in the assassination of Salvador Allende and the installation of the US friendly Augusto Pinochet coupled with the US desire, for one, of more control over the Chilean copper industry.
This was followed by the CIA invoked ousting of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (of the Labor Party) in 1975. President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and others in the Nixon administration, were furious that Whitlam was opposed to the Vietnam War and that he established an embassy in Hanoi. They were furious that he had questions about the “Pine Gap” US base in the Australian desert and the US refused to inform him about the base and its activities – and he was the Australian Prime Minister, no less. They were furious that Whitlam wanted the Australian secret service out of Chile in the 1970s!
During the Vietnam War, Cambodia and Laos were also destabilized and violently impacted.
About the Malaysian Coup
In 2007, I wrote an article about the May 13, 1969 riots against the Chinese in Malaysia that was posted on Counterpunch and I heard later that my article was widely circulated in
Singapore. I understood why. The official explanation of the 1969 riots was rarely believed by anyone, with the assumption being, in the official telling of it all, that the riots were spontaneous due to the hostilities from the previous election. Nothing could be further from the truth, as reported by Dr. Kua Kia Soong in his 2007 book “May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969″ based on declassified documents and referred to below. The riots were, according to Kua, planned in advance.
“The book challenges the Malaysian government’s official position on the cause of the 13 May Incident. At the time, the government stated the cause was opposition parties’ creating tensions after the 1969 elections. In contrast, Kua stated that the “ascendant state capitalist class” in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party in power, had intentionally started the riot as a coup d’etat to topple the Tunku, traditional Malay Rulers. (Wikipedia)
Another excuse to overturn the Malaysian government appears to be, as well, the threat of the spread of communism by the Chinese. It was in many ways another Cold War violent assault. As Dr. Kua notes regarding his research on the truth of the riots:
“I got it from the public records office in London as the (British’s) 30-year secrecy rule was over. That is what the Malaysian government should do, declassify, especially special branch documents (on the May 13 incident).
“Unfortunately we don’t have that rule which means the government can keep their secrets forever.”
According to Kua, his extensive research led him to discover that May 13 was orchestrated, and not a spontaneous eruption of violence as the official narrative states. (Malaysia Today – 2016)
Arriving in Singapore
It was in 1971 that I arrived in Singapore along with my one-year old son and Australian husband who was a junior Australian diplomat. We had taken the maiden voyage of Qantas’ first 747 Jumbo Jet from Darwin, Australia. In Singapore, we were soon witness to the legacy of European colonialism in the Asian context; Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew’s total grip on the city-state; and the power struggles between the Southeast Asian religious, ethnic and political groups. Violence against the Chinese in neighboring Malaysia in 1969 had preceded our arrival.
In 1971, I had been out the United States for a few years after marrying and living in Australia. Once landing in Singapore and being rushed to a hotel, I awoke that first Asian morning to a song by American country singer Ray Stevens blaring from the clock radio. Stevens (whose real name was Ray Ragsdale) had been a classmate who had preceded me by a number of years at Druid Hills High School in Atlanta, Georgia. It seemed altogether ironic that my first encounter in Singapore would be with a former classmate from Georgia.
I soon learned, however, that Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, while wanting western money and trade, was not enamored with western “youth”- it’s overall culture or singers. Western bands coming to Singapore had to perform with hair nets (Lee did not like males wearing long hair) and once they had performed they were required to go immediately to their hotel rooms, as Lee did not want them mingling with Singaporeans. There were signs in government places, such as the post office, that displayed the appropriate hair length and any male with hair that hung over his collar would be served last or would have to go to the end of the line. Young Singaporean couples were not allowed to kiss or hold hands in public.
One of the Lee’s rules that made absolute sense to me was that no one was allowed to have standing water around their residence. In this tropical zone, this was one of the ways malaria infected mosquitoes were controlled. Impromptu visits by authorities were made on occasion to ensure you had not violated the ruling and you were fined appropriately if you had! I was always a nervous wreck that there might be standing water somewhere! The benefit of all this was that our apartment was open to the outside at all times, except during monsoons. I never saw a mosquito.
Another interesting facet about Lee is that while he was Prime Minister of Singapore (1959-1990) he never moved from his modest house and neighborhood as, in the Chinese folklore, for one, it brought him good luck. But, importantly, the house incorporated for Lee the Chinese “sense of place”. Also, having been born and living in the British colony of Singapore, Lee spoke English as his first language. In the 1950s he wisely chose to finally learn Mandarin – the standard Chinese language.
Singapore is located at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula and historically the fate of Singapore and Malaysia has been closely related. Primarily ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians populate both Singapore and Malaysia. The Chinese represent the majority of Singaporeans.
In addition to the ongoing violence of the Vietnam War, it seemed as if all of Southeast Asia was a caldron in 1971.
Some of the Historical Context
* Malaysia had been occupied by European powers since 1511 (first Portugal, then the Dutch, then Britain) and Singapore had been occupied since the 1600’s by the same three European powers.
* After WWII the anti-colonial movement resulted in Malaysia winning its independence from Britain in 1957 and by 1959 Singapore was independent as well. By 1963 a Malaysian Federation was created of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.
* After independence, a struggle for power increased between the groups, particularly between the ethnic Malays who were largely Muslim, and the Chinese who were mostly Buddhists.
* Much to Lee Kwan Yew’s disappointment, by 1965 Singapore was essentially asked to leave the Malaysian Federation. Apparently, Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, otherwise known as the Tunku (Prince), and other Malay leaders were not thrilled with Lee Kwan Yew’s political activities on mainland Malaysia.
* Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung had launched the Cultural Revolution throughout China in 1966 and he declared it completed in 1969.
* In Indonesia in 1965-66, thousands of Indonesian Chinese were among those specially targeted in the riots to overthrow President Sukarno who had strengthened his ties with Chinese communists and had admitted communists into his government. The CIA tried, unsuccessfully, to hide its involvement in this “Year of Living Dangerously.” I had an Indonesian Chinese friend in Singapore who was married to an Australian. Her “physician” father in Indonesia changed his name so it didn’t sound so Chinese.
* At the time, Singapore was a haven for many Hong Kong Chinese who were concerned about the end of the British 99 year lease of Hong Kong that began in 1898. In 1997, with the end of the lease, Hong Kong would come under the authority of China. Many Hong Kong Chinese held both Singaporean and Hong Kong passports, with residences in both cities.
* The legacy of WWII was still a reality in 1971. While some in Southeast Asia welcomed the Japanese occupation during WWII as a way of ending western occupation, the ruthlessness of the Japanese occupiers definitely dampened this enthusiasm. However, the Japanese defeat of the British controlled Singapore in but 6 days radically altered the Asian view of European invincibility. Lee Kwan Yew admitted that while he was appalled at the Japanese cruelty, still he was impressed with Japanese efficiency and the systems they put in place.
But in 1971, however, we were told that the Japanese who had occupied Singapore and their descendants were not allowed into the Singapore.
* In 1971, Ferdinand Marcos was President of the Philippines with close ties to the Nixon Administration. That year “a group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Front
(PRF) claimed responsibility for two bombings at the headquarters of U.S. oil companies in Manila, Philippines. The bombs killed one and caused extensive damage. A note at the site of the bombings claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of the group and said, “this is the anger of the Filipino people against American imperialism.” (MIPT Terrorism: Knowledge Base). But to partly understand this it’s also important to harken back to, for one, the 1950’s and the CIA operative Edward Lansdale (notwithstanding, also, the excessively violent Philippine/American War from 1899-1902).
As the Filipinos sought some kind of control over their government after WWII, the CIA, of course, became involved and Lansdale was most important in orchestrating the removal of Philippine president Elpidio Quirino, who wanted more independence from the US. Lansdale was outwardly in the US Air Force, but was, in fact, working for the CIA and, in 1953, helped to oust Quirino to install the more US friendly Ramon Magsaysay as president. Lansdale was famous for destabilizing communities to sway them politically, as he did in this instance. He studied the culture, he knew what was persuasive through use of psywar operations. It was also largely a ploy against the Filipino resistance movement known as the Hukbalahap, considered to have communist leanings.
* In 1971 when we arrived in Singapore, the Vietnam War was raging, the anti-communist sentiment was strong and the domino theory predominated in western government thought and policies.
Impact of Colonialism and Concerns of Chinese Influence
Britain’s occupation in Southeast Asia incorporated its usual arrogance of white supremacy, which played out socially and economically. The British are, of course, excellent at dividing and ruling their colonies. In fact, the hierarchical British seem proficient at increasing the gaps in social divisions that were already at play or creating them for their own benefit to decrease the potential power of the existing indigenous population. In Singapore, while I was there, the British, for example, had clubs of which only the British could be members. A Jim Crow or apartheid like mentality? Absolutely!
During its occupation, the British encouraged migration from India and China to the Malaysian peninsula and the subsequent independent nations were forced to adjust to it all. Regarding Malaysia, this was probably a British tactic to dilute the indigenous Malaysian power. Also, as mentioned, the lucrative Malaysian tin mining, for one, was a major incentive for the British in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In Singapore and Malaysia, the ethnic Malays were at the lower end of the scale and were generally considered the laborers and farmers in the rural areas; Indians were the drivers and guards; and the Chinese were the middle/upper class entrepreneurs in the urban areas. All of this is stereotypical and, of course, was not always played out in reality but was usually the scheme in the social and economic strata and the gaps in income and social/economic power were profound. From the religious hierarchy, then, it was the Malay Muslims and the Indian Hindus at the lower rank, and the Chinese Buddhists at the higher end, with the occupying British Christians at the top of it all.
But after WWII and the western concern about communist China, the Chinese population throughout Southeast Asia became suspect by Britain, the U.S. and Australia. It was thought by some that the Southeast Asian Chinese would side with China regardless of their links with western capitalism. This was not the beginning of negative attitudes about the Chinese, however, as the Southeast Asian complexities and power struggles have long been a reality. Also, many Southeast Asian countries have always worried about the long-arm of a powerful China.
In this period and up to the present, there was speculation that China was supporting and fostering Southeast Asian Chinese in the creation of communist groups throughout the region to challenge western influence. To counter this, in the Cold War period (and up to the present I might add), there was significant secret service activity throughout the region by the CIA, British MI5 and ASIS from Australia.
Since independence from Britain in the 1950s, however, the jockeying for power has never been simply about ethnic rivalry. It has always included the questions of who will control and benefit from the natural resources in Southeast Asia. Again, it is again called “follow the money!”
As mentioned, control of tin mining in Malaysia was of British interest. Finally, in Malaysia, the tin mining was exhausted in the late 1980s due to an “exhaustion of tin and a fall in tin prices…” The last copper mine ceased operation in 1999. Yet, at the time “(as) much as 70 per cent of the industry remained under foreign control. This was a legacy of the British colonial era; many British firms, which had arrived in the 19th century to exploit Malaysian mineral resources, had not departed yet.” (Malaysian Minerals)
American desire for resources? On a clear day from my apartment in Singapore I could see the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In our apartment building, in fact, there were Americans who were gone for months at a time into the neighboring Indonesia on oil exploration activities for the Texas based Huffco and Mobile Oil, apparently at the invitation of the Indonesian government. I was never sure about this, however, as they always seemed so secretive. Occasionally, these American oil fellows would illegally sneak out of Indonesia Dutch antiques, such as the famous Dutch oil lamps, the traffic of which the Indonesian President Suharto was wisely trying to control. Yes, these oil fellows were thieves. In fact, I was even asked once if I wanted something and said, emphatically, “no way!” Mind you, I adored those beautiful oil lamps but knowing the Indonesian countryside was being pillaged, or raped we could say, of its valuable, albeit colonial, heritage, the situation seemed intolerable.
Learning about the 1969 Riots in Malaysia
On May 13, 1969, riots against the Chinese began in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was considered the worst racial riot in Malaysian history. Many Malaysian Chinese fled to Singapore for protection. We were told the Malaysian rivers ran red with Chinese blood. One of my European friends, married to a Chinese, described how she and others hid in a hospital for protection and how the Malay Chinese were running everywhere from the hordes of attacking Malays. My husband ultimately moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the mid-1970’s and his secretary, of Chinese descent, described how she came home during the riots to find her husband’s head in her refrigerator.
Some police figures are that 196 people died in the riot, many more were wounded. There were numerous cases of arson and approximately 6,000 Kuala Lumpur residents (of which 90% were Chinese) became homeless. Some have said the actual tragedy far exceeded the official figures.
It has been suggested that the following is the official position: that the riots resulted from the tallies of the 1969 elections in which the largely Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party and the Gerakan Party made significant gains in opposition to the Malay controlled United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Members of the winning party marched through Kuala Lumpur through some largely Malay areas. It is said the demonstrators carried brooms that symbolized “sweeping” the Malays out of Kuala Lumpur. The official policy was that the Malays resented all of this and the riots ensued and basically that the Chinese had themselves to blame. It is the classic “blaming the victim” explanation.
In his book, Dr. Kua Kia Soong, however, reported from recently released British files and reports from foreign correspondents, that there were suspicious activities prior to and during the riots that suggest the riots were not spontaneous but rather planned in advance.
Dr. Kua shares many examples, but for one he reports a foreign correspondent’s notes that on May 13 “In the side streets off Jalan Hale, I could see bands of Malay youths armed with parangs and sharpened bamboo spears assembled in full view of troops posted at road junctions. Meanwhile, at Batu Road, a number of foreign correspondents saw members of the Royal Malay Regiment firing into Chinese shophouses for no apparent reason.”
Other examples include observations that there were unfair curfew policies that discriminated against the Chinese.
Dr. Kua revealed that “the National Cultural Policy (announced in 1971) burst in the 80s, was already thought of one week after (the May 13 incident)” (“Unveiling the May 13 riots” by Beh Lih Yi).
Dr. Kua suggests there was, in fact, a “coup d’etat” backed by the army and police to, as mentioned, place the “ascendant capitalist class” in power – or those elements in the Malaysian Alliance that were more favorable to the western economies.
This is what ultimately happened. The Tunku soon lost power after the riots and Tun Abdul Razak, more aligned with the west, became Prime Minister not long after. Dr. Kua had said those orchestrating the coup wanted to oust the old aristocracy and replace it with one that would aspire toward a new western favored economic agenda and that was precisely what happened. I even met some American Peace Corps members who worked in Malaysia in the 19070s and who told me that one their missions was to discourage the young Malaysians (whether of Malay, Chinese or Indian descent) to no longer listen to or seek advice from their elders, as has always been the tradition, and rather look to new trends in culture and economic issues. I admit I was appalled at this attempt to completely undermine ancient traditions and culture basically without reflection or respect.
It was difficult for Dr. Kua to publish his book and as its thesis was contrary to the official explanation for the riot, many Malaysian politicians had asked that it be banned. It’s unlikely his book will radically alter the history of Malaysia, but at least finally there are documents that reveal some alternative to the official explanation.
The 1969 riots have continued to plague the relations between the various Malaysian ethnic groups. For one, there was the controversial “Malaysianization” (National Cultural Policy) policies of Malaysia created in the 1970’s, as Dr. Kua states, but one week after the coup, that were thought primarily to be about the perceived need to replace the Chinese control of the banking, business and academic institutions with ethnic Malays. In all fairness, some of this redistribution was likely needed but its always a question as to who has sold out and where is the allegiance. Yet, to this day, the cultural, religious conflicts as well as power struggles continue between the many ethnic groups and there is still unease about the potential of violence. The Cold War then helped to intensify these hostilities that were often used as a tool for control of money and resources.
Much more needs to be written about western government involvement in the May 13, 1969 Malaysian sordid affair. Unfortunately, there are always innocent victims from the machinations of greed and power mongering and never enough accountability.
“Part III: Jorge Lawton and 1973 Chilean Coup”
Note: Below is one of the best accounts I’ve found about the events in Chile leading to the death of President Salvador Allende by one of the world’s greatest writers, no less – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was written not long after the Chilean coup in 1973 entitled “Why Allende Had to Die”.
But first, here is some information about Marquez.
García Márquez started as a journalist, and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but is best known for his novels, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). His works have achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success, most notably for popularizing a literary style labeled as magic realism, which uses magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations. Some of his works are set in a fictional village called Macondo (the town mainly inspired by his birthplace Aracataca), and most of them explore the theme of solitude.
Marquez was a “committed Leftist” throughout his life, adhering to socialist beliefs.On the legacy of murdered Chilean statesman Salvador Allende, Marquez said “Allende’s life proved that democracy and socialism were not only compatible but that the fulfillment of the former depended on the achievement of the latter”.In 1991, Marquez published Changing the History of Africa an admiring study of Cuban activities in the Angolan Civil War and the larger South African Border War. Marquez maintained a close but “nuanced” friendship with Fidel Castro, praising the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, but criticizing aspects of governance and working to “soften (the) roughest edges” of the country.García Márquez’s political and ideological views were shaped by his grandfather’s stories.In an interview, García Márquez told his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, “my grandfather the Colonel was a Liberal. My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government.”This influenced his political views and his literary technique so that “in the same way that his writing career initially took shape in conscious opposition to the Colombian literary status quo, García Márquez’s socialist and anti-imperialist views are in principled opposition to the global status quo dominated by the United States.” (Wikipedia)
Castro and Marquez?
Fidel Castro, remembered since his death Nov. 25, 2016 as a revolutionary, dictator, and 20th century icon, was also Gabriel García Márquez’s editor.
Not his main editor, to be sure-el comandante reviewed the Nobel Prize winner’s texts as a friend, said García Márquez during a 1996 interview….
“He’s such a good reader, that before publishing a book I bring him the original manuscripts,” said García Márquez at the time. (Quartz)
Why Allende Had to Die
The Classic piece on the 1973 Chilean coup.
The New Statesman
April 3, 2013
(originally published in March 1974)
Forty years have passed since the Chilean president Salvador Allende died in La Moneda Palace in Santiago, attempting to defend himself with an AK-47 he had been given by Fidel Castro. Here, in a piece from the New Statesman published in March 1974, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez explores Allende’s record in Chile, his rivals’ dealings with the United States and the rise of his successor – the army general Augusto Pinochet.
It was towards the end of 1969 that three generals from the Pentagon dined with five Chilean military officers in a house in the suburbs of Washington. The host was Lieutenant Colonel Gerardo López Angulo, assistant air attaché of the Chilean Military Mission to the United States, and the Chilean guests were his colleagues from the other branches of service. The dinner was in honour of the new director of the Chilean Air Force Academy, General Carlos Toro Mazote, who had arrived the day before on a study mission. The eight officers dined on fruit salad, roast veal and peas and drank the warm-hearted wines of their distant homeland to the south, where birds glittered on the beaches while Washington wallowed in snow, and they talked mostly in English about the only thing that seemed to interest Chileans in those days: the approaching presidential elections of the following September. Over dessert, one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if the candidate of the left, someone like Salvador Allende, were elected. General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.”
One of the guests was General Ernesto Baeza, now director of national security in Chile, the one who led the attack on the presidential palace during the coup last September and gave the order to burn it. Two of his subordinates in those earlier days were to become famous in the same operation: General Augusto Pinochet, president of the military junta, and General Javier Palacios. Also at the table was Air Force Brigadier General Sergio Figueroa Gutiérrez, now minister of public works and the intimate friend of another member of the military junta, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, who ordered the rocket bombing of the presidential palace. The last guest was Admiral Arturo Troncoso, now naval governor of Valparaíso, who carried out the bloody purge of progressive naval officers and was one of those who launched the military uprising of September 11.
That dinner proved to be a historic meeting between the Pentagon and high-ranking officers of the Chilean military services. On other successive meetings, in Washington and Santiago, a contingency plan was agreed upon, according to which those Chilean military men who were bound most closely, heart and soul, to US interests would seize power in the event of Allende’s Popular Unity coalition victory in the elections.
The plan was conceived cold-bloodedly, as a simple military operation, and was not a consequence of pressure brought to bear by International Telephone and Telegraph. It was spawned by much deeper reasons of world politics. On the North American side, the organisation set in motion was the Defence Intelligence Agency of the Pentagon but the one in actual charge was the naval intelligence agency, under the higher political direction of the CIA, and the National Security Council. It was quite the normal thing to put the navy and not the army in charge of the project, for the Chilean coup was to coincide with Operation Unitas, which was the name given to the joint manoeuvres of American and Chilean naval units in the Pacific. Those manoeuvres were held at the end of each September, the same month as the elections, and the appearance on land and in the skies of Chile of all manner of war equipment and men well trained in the arts and sciences of death was natural.
During that period, Henry Kissinger had said in private to a group of Chileans: “I am not interested in, nor do I know anything about, the southern portion of the world from the Pyrenees on down.” By that time, the contingency plan had been completed to its smallest details and it is impossible to suppose that Kissinger or President Nixon himself was not aware of it.
Chile is a narrow country, some 2,660 miles long and an average of 119 wide, and with ten million exuberant inhabitants, almost three million of whom live in the metropolitan area of Santiago, the capital. The country’s greatness is derived not from the number of virtues it possesses but, rather, from its many singularities. The only thing it produces with any absolute seriousness is copper ore but that ore is the best in the world and its volume of production is surpassed only by that of the United States and the Soviet Union. It also produces wine as good as the European varieties but not much of it is exported. Its per capita income of $650 ranks among the highest in Latin America but, traditionally, almost half the gross national product has been accounted for by fewer than 300,000 people.
In 1932, Chile became the first socialist republic in the Americas and, with the enthusiastic support of the workers, the government attempted the nationalisation of copper and coal. The experiment lasted only for 13 days. Chile has an earth tremor on average once every two days and a devastating earthquake every presidential term. The least apocalyptic of geologists think of Chile not as a country of the mainland but as a cornice of the Andes in a misty sea and believe that the whole of its national territory is condemned to disappear in some future cataclysm.
Chileans are very much like their country in a certain way. They are the most pleasant people on the continent, they like being alive and they know how to live in the best way possible and even a little more; but they have a dangerous tendency toward scepticism and intellectual speculation. A Chilean once told me on a Monday, “No Chilean believes tomorrow is Tuesday,” and he didn’t believe it, either. Still, even with that deep-seated incredulity – or thanks to it, perhaps – the Chileans have attained a degree of natural civilisation, a political maturity and a level of culture, that sets them apart from the rest of the region. Of the three Nobel Prizes in Literature that Latin America has won, two have gone to Chileans, one of whom, Pablo Neruda, was the greatest poet of this century.
Kissinger may have known this when he said that he knew nothing about the southern part of the world. In any case, US intelligence agencies knew a great deal more. In 1965, without Chile’s permission, the nation became the staging centre and a recruiting locale for a fantastic social and political espionage operation: Project Camelot. This was to have been a secret investigation that would have precise questionnaires put to people of all social levels, all professions and trades, even in the furthest reaches of a number of Latin American nations, in order to establish in a scientific way the degree of political development and the social tendencies of various social groups. The questionnaire destined for the military contained the same question that the Chilean officers would hear again at the dinner in Washington: what will their position be if communism comes to power? It was a wild query.
Chile had long been a favoured area for research by North American social scientists. The age and strength of its popular movement, the tenacity and intelligence of its leaders and the economic and social conditions themselves afforded a glimpse of the country’s destiny. One didn’t require the findings of a Project Camelot to venture the belief that Chile was a prime candidate to be the second socialist republic in Latin America after Cuba. The aim of the United States, therefore, was not simply to prevent the government of Allende from coming to power in order to protect American investments. The larger aim was to repeat the most fruitful operation that imperialism has ever helped bring off in Latin America: Brazil.
On 4 September 1970, as had been foreseen, the socialist and Freemason physician Allende was elected president of the republic. The contingency plan was not put into effect, however. The most widespread explanation is also the most ludicrous: someone made a mistake in the Pentagon and requested 200 visas for a purported navy chorus, which, in reality, was to be made up of specialists in government overthrow; however, there were several admirals among them who couldn’t sing a single note. That gaffe, it is to be supposed, determined the postponement of the adventure. The truth is that the project had been evaluated in depth: other American agencies, particularly the CIA, and the American ambassador to Chile felt that the contingency plan was too strictly a military operation and did not take current political and social conditions in Chile into account.
Indeed, the Popular Unity victory did not bring on the social panic US intelligence had expected. On the contrary, the new government’s independence in international affairs and its decisiveness in economic matters immediately created an atmosphere of social celebration.
During the first year, 47 industrial firms were nationalised, along with most of the banking system. Agrarian reform saw the expropriation and incorporation into communal property of six million acres of land formerly held by the large landowners. The inflationary process was slowed, full employment was attained and wages received a cash rise of 30 per cent.
All copper nationalised
The previous government, headed by the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, had begun steps towards nationalising copper, though he called it “Chileanisation”. All the plan did was to buy up 51 per cent of US-held mining properties and for the mine of El Teniente alone it paid a sum greater than the total book value of that facility.
Popular Unity, with a single legal act supported in Congress by all of the nation’s popular parties, recovered for the nation all copper deposits worked by the subsidiaries of the American companies Anaconda and Kennecott. Without indemnification: the government having calculated that the two companies had made a profit in excess of $800m over 15 years.
The petite bourgeoisie and the middle class, the two great social forces that might have supported a military coup at that moment, were beginning to enjoy unforeseen advantages and not at the expense of the proletariat, as had always been the case, but, rather, at the expense of the financial oligarchy and foreign capital. The armed forces, as a social group, have the same origins and ambitions as the middle class, so they had no motive, not even an alibi, to back the tiny group of coup-minded officers. Aware of that reality, the Christian Democrats not only did not support the barracks plot at that time but resolutely opposed it, for they knew it was unpopular among their own rank and file.
Their objective was something else again: to use any means possible to impair the good health of the government so as to win two-thirds of the seats in Congress in the March 1973 elections. With such a majority, they could vote for the constitutional removal of the president of the republic.
The Christian Democrats make up a huge organisation cutting across class lines, with an authentic popular base among the mod-ern industrial proletariat, the small and middle-sized rural landowners and the petite bourgeoisie and middle class of the cities. Popular Unity, while also inter-class in its make-up, was the expression of workers of the less-favoured proletariat – the agricultural proletariat – and the lower middle class of the cities.
The Christian Democrats, allied with the extreme right-wing National Party, controlled the Congress and the courts; Popular Unity controlled the executive. The polarisation of these two parties was to be, in effect, the polarisation of the country. Curiously, the Catholic Frei, who doesn’t believe in Marxism, was the one who took the best advantage of the class struggle, the one who stimulated it and brought it to a head, with an aim to unhinge the government and plunge the country into the abyss of demoralisation and economic disaster.
The economic blockade by the United States, because of expropriation without indemnification, did the rest. All kinds of goods are manufactured in Chile, from automobiles to toothpaste, but this industrial base has a false identity: in the 160 most important firms, 60 per cent of the capital was foreign and 80 per cent of the basic materials came from abroad. In addition, the country needed $300m a year in order to import consumer goods and another $450m to pay the interest on its foreign debt.
But Chile’s urgent needs were extraordinary and went much deeper. The jolly ladies of the bourgeoisie, under the pretext of protesting rationing, galloping inflation and the demands made by the poor, took to the streets, beating their empty pots and pans. It wasn’t by chance, quite the contrary; it was very significant that that street spectacle of silver foxes and flowered hats took place on the same afternoon that Fidel Castro was ending a 30-day visit that had brought an earthquake of social mobilisation of government supporters.
Seed of destruction
President Allende understood then – and he said so – that the people held the government but they did not hold the power. The phrase was more bitter than it seemed and also more alarming, for inside himself Allende carried a legalist germ that held the seed of his own destruction: a man who fought to the death in defence of legality, he would have been capable of walking out of La Moneda Palace with his head held high if the Congress had removed him from office within the bounds of the constitution.
The Italian journalist and politician Rossana Rossanda, who visited Allende during that period, found him aged, tense and full of gloomy premonitions as he talked to her from the yellow cretonne couch where, seven months later, his riddled body was to lie, the face crushed in by a rifle butt. Then, on the eve of the March 1973 elections, in which his destiny was at stake, he would have been content with 36 per cent of the vote for Popular Unity. And yet, in spite of runaway inflation, stern rationing and the pot-and-pan concert of the merry wives of the upper-class districts, he received 44 per cent. It was such a spectacular and decisive victory that when Allende was alone in his office with his friend and confidant, the journalist Augusto Olivares, he closed the door and danced a cueca all by himself.
For the Christian Democrats, it was proof that the process of social justice set in motion by the Popular Unity coalition could not be turned back by legal means but they lacked the vision to measure the consequences of the actions they then undertook. For the United States, the election was a much more serious warning and went beyond the simple interests of expropriated firms. It was an inadmissible precedent for peaceful progress and social change for the peoples of the world, particularly those in France and Italy, where present conditions make an attempt at an experiment along the lines of Chile possible. All forces of internal and external reaction came together to form a compact bloc.
CIA financed final blow
The truck owners’ strike was the final blow. Because of the wild geography of the country, the Chilean economy is at the mercy of its transport. To paralyse trucking is to paralyse the country. It was easy for the opposition to co-ordinate the strike, for the truckers’ guild was one of the groups most affected by the scarcity of replacement parts and, in addition, it found itself threatened by the government’s small pilot programme for providing adequate state trucking services in the extreme south of the nation. The stoppage lasted until the very end without a single moment of relief because it was financed with cash from outside. “The CIA flooded the country with dollars to support the strike by the bosses and . . . foreign capital found its way down into the formation of a black market,” Pablo Neruda wrote to a friend in Europe. One week before the coup, oil, milk and bread had run out.
During the last days of Popular Unity, with the economy unhinged and the country on the verge of civil war, the manoeuvring of the government and the opposition centred on the hope of changing the balance of power in the armed forces in favour of one or the other. The final move was hallucinatory in its perfection: 48 hours before the coup, the opposition managed to disqualify all high-ranking officers supporting Allende and to promote in their places, one by one, in a series of inconceivable gambits, all of the officers who had been present at the dinner in Washington.
At that moment, however, the political chess game had got out of the control of its players. Dragged along by an irreversible dialectic, they themselves ended up as pawns in a much larger game of chess, one much more complex and politically more important than any mere scheme hatched in conjunction by imperialism and the reaction against the government of the people. It was a terrifying class confrontation that was slipping out of the hands of the very people who had provoked it, a cruel and fierce scramble by counterpoised interests, and the final outcome had to be a social cataclysm without precedent in the history of the Americas.
A military coup under those conditions would not be bloodless. Allende knew it. The Chilean armed forces, contrary to what we have been led to believe, have intervened in politics every time that their class interests have seemed threatened and they have done so with an inordinately repressive ferocity. The two constitutions that the country has had in the past 100 years were imposed by force of arms and the recent military coup has been the sixth uprising in a period of 50 years.
The bloodlust of the Chilean army is part of its birthright, coming from that terrible school of hand-to-hand combat against the Araucanian Indians, a struggle that lasted 300 years. One of its forerunners boasted in 1620 of having killed more than 2,000 people with his own hands in a single action. Joaquín Edwards Bello relates in his chronicles that during an epidemic of exanthematic typhus the army dragged sick people out of their houses and killed them in a poison bath in order to put an end to the plague. During a seven-month civil war in 1891, 10,000 died in a series of gory encounters. The Peruvians assert that during the occupation of Lima in the war of the Pacific, Chilean soldiers sacked the library of Don Ricardo Palma, taking the books not for reading but for wiping their backsides.
History of brutality
Popular movements have been suppressed with the same brutality. After the Valparaíso earthquake of 1906, naval forces wiped out the longshoremen’s organisation of 8,000 workers. In Iquique, at the beginning of the century, demonstrating strikers tried to take refuge from the troops and were machine-gunned: within ten minutes, there were 2,000 dead. On 2 April 1957, the army broke up a civil disturbance in the commercial area of Santiago and the number of victims was never established because the government sneaked the bodies away. During a strike at the El Salvador mine during the government of Eduardo Frei, a military patrol opened fire on a demonstration to break it up and killed six people, among them some children and a pregnant woman. The post commander was an obscure 52-year-old general, the father of five children, a geography teacher and the author of several books on military subjects: Augusto Pinochet.
The myth of the legalism and the gentleness of that brutal army was invented by the Chilean bourgeoisie in their own interest. Popular Unity kept it alive with the hope of changing the class make-up of the higher cadres in its favour. But Allende felt more secure among the Carabineros, an armed force that was popular and peasant in its origins and that was under the direct command of the president of the republic. Indeed, the junta had to go six places down the seniority list of the force before it found a senior officer who would support the coup. The younger officers dug themselves in at the junior officers’ school in Santiago and held out for four days until they were wiped out.
That was the best-known battle of the secret war that broke out inside military posts on the eve of the coup. Officers who refused to support the coup and those who failed to carry out the orders for repression were murdered without pity by the instigators. Entire regiments mutinied, both in Santiago and in the provinces, and they were suppressed without mercy, with their leaders massacred as a lesson for the troops.
The commandant of the armoured units in Viña del Mar, Colonel Cantuarias, was machine-gunned by his subordinates. A long time will pass before the number of victims of that internal butchery will ever be known, for the bodies were removed from military posts in garbage trucks and buried secretly. All in all, only some 50 senior officers could be trusted to head troops that had been purged beforehand.
Foreign agents’ role
The story of the intrigue has to be pasted together from many sources, some reliable, some not. Any number of foreign agents seem to have taken part in the coup. Clandestine sources in Chile tell us that the bombing of La Moneda Palace – the technical precision of which startled the experts – was actually carried out by a team of American aerial acrobats who had entered the country under the screen of Operation Unitas to perform in a flying circus on the coming 18 September, Chile’s national independence day. There is also evidence that numerous members of secret police forces from neighbouring countries were infiltrated across the Bolivian border and remained in hiding until the day of the coup, when they unleashed their bloody persecution of political refugees from other countries of Latin America.
Brazil, the homeland of the head gorillas, had taken charge of those services. Two years earlier, she had brought off the reactionary coup in Bolivia, which meant the loss of substantial support for Chile and facilitated the infiltration of all manner and means of subversion. Part of the loans made to Brazil by the United States was secretly transferred to Bolivia to finance subversion in Chile. In 1972, a US military advisory group made a trip to La Paz, the aim of which has not been revealed. Perhaps it was only coincidental, however, that a short time after that visit, movements of troops and equipment took place on the frontier with Chile, giving the Chilean military yet another opportunity to bolster their internal position and carry out transfer of personnel and promotions in the chain of command that were favourable to the imminent coup.
Finally, on September 11, while Operation Unitas was going forward, the original plan drawn up at the dinner in Washington was carried out, three years behind schedule but precisely as it had been conceived: not as a conventional barracks coup but as a devastating operation of war.
It had to be that way, for it was not simply a matter of overthrowing a regime but one of implanting the Hell-dark seeds brought from Brazil, until in Chile there would be no trace of the political and social structure that had made Popular Unity possible. The harshest phase, unfortunately, had only just begun.
In that final battle, with the country at the mercy of uncontrolled and unforeseen forces of subversion, Allende was still bound by legality. The most dramatic contradiction of his life was being at the same time the congenital foe of violence and a passionate revolutionary. He believed that he had resolved the contradiction with the hypothesis that conditions in Chile would permit a peaceful evolution toward socialism under bourgeois legality.
Experience taught him too late that a system cannot be changed by a government without power.
That belated disillusionment must have been the force that impelled him to resist to the death, defending the flaming ruins of a house that was not his own, a sombre mansion that an Italian architect had built to be a mint and that ended up as a refuge for presidents without power. He resisted for six hours with a sub-machine gun that Castro had given him and was the first weapon that Allende had ever fired.
Around four o’clock in the afternoon, Major General Javier Palacios managed to reach the second floor with his adjutant, Captain Gallardo, and a group of officers. There, in the midst of the fake Louis XV chairs, the Chinese dragon vases and the Rugendas paintings in the red parlour, Allende was waiting for them. He was in shirtsleeves, wearing a miner’s helmet and no tie, his clothing stained with blood. He was holding the sub-machine gun but he had run low on ammunition.
Allende knew General Palacios well. A few days before, he had told Augusto Olivares that this was a dangerous man with close connections to the American embassy. As soon as he saw him appear on the stairs, Allende shouted at him: “Traitor!” and shot him in the hand.
Fought to the end
According to the story of a witness who asked me not to give his name, the president died in an exchange of shots with that gang. Then all the other officers, in a caste-bound ritual, fired on the body. Finally, a non-commissioned officer smashed in his face with the butt of his rifle.
A photograph exists: Juan Enrique Lira, a photographer for the newspaper El Mercuriotook it. He was the only one allowed to photograph the body. It was so disfigured that when they showed the body in its coffin to Señora Hortensia Allende, his wife, they would not let her uncover the face.
He would have been 64 years old next July. His greatest virtue was following through but fate could grant him only that rare and tragic greatness of dying in armed defence of an anachronistic booby of bourgeois law, defending a Supreme Court of Justice that had repudiated him but would legitimise his murderers, defending a miserable Congress that had declared him illegitimate but which was to bend complacently before the will of the usurpers, defending the freedom of opposition parties that had sold their souls to fascism, defending the whole moth-eaten paraphernalia of a shitty system that he had proposed abolishing but without a shot being fired.
The drama took place in Chile, to the greater woe of the Chileans, but it will pass into history as something that has happened to us all, children of this age, and it will remain in our lives for ever.
by Heather Gray
Justice Initiative International
September 19, 2017
Prior to his assassination, Salvador Allende was attempting to provide opportunities for the masses of the Chilean people by undertaking initiatives to end the unfettered capitalist exploitation of the Chilean people and their country’s resources by exploitive corporations in Chile. Remember that the 1970s was also when the U.S. was engaged in the tragic war in Vietnam. The Cold War invariably raised its ugly and tragic violence to, once again, protect corporate interests.
In Part VI of this series in Chile, I am sharing the impressive first speech Allende gave to the Chilean parliament after his election. The entire list of his comments are listed below but, given its length, I chose to include the narrative below of the following sections: Allende’s Introduction; Overcoming Capitalism in Chile; Our road to Socialism; Socialisation of the means of production; Our present economic policy; The leading role of the workers.
It is interesting, relative to the struggles in the United States, that Allende ends his speech by stating, “We shall overcome!” Indeed.
…it was to be Allende’s fate to echo the fate of Martin Luther King; it was his choice to die three years later (after his 1970 speech below). Yes, on September 11, 1973, almost ten years to the day after King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, Allende chose to die defending his own dream, promising us, in his last speech, that sooner rather than later — matemprano que tarde — a day would come when the free men and women of Chile would walk through las amplias alamedas, the great avenues full of trees, towards a better society. (Duke.edu)
First speech to the Chilean parliament after his election
Appearing before you in fulfillment of the constitutional mandate, I attribute twofold importance to this message. It is the first message of a Government which has just taken office, and it corresponds to unique demands in our political history.
For this reason I wish to give it special substance, because of its present significance and because of its implications for the future.
For 27 years, I have attended this House, nearly always as a member of the parliamentary opposition. Today I attend as Chief of State, elected by the will of the people as ratified by Congress.
I am well aware that here were debated and established the laws which set up an agrarian structure based on big estates; but here too, obsolete institutions were abolished in order to lay the legal foundations of the land reform which we are now carrying out. Here were established the institutional procedures for the foreign exploitation of Chilean national resources; but this same Congress is now revising these in order to return to the Chilean people what belongs to them by right.
Congress makes the legal institutions which regulate the social order in which they are rooted; for this reason, for more than a century, it has been more responsive to the interests of the powerful than to the suffering of the people.
At the very commencement of this legislative period, I must raise this problem. Chile now has in its Government a new political force whose social function is to uphold, not the traditional ruling class, but the vast majority of the people. This change in the power structure must necessarily be accompanied by profound changes in the socio-economic order, changes which Parliament is summoned to institutionalise.
This step forward in the liberation of Chilean energies for the rebuilding of the nation must be followed by more decisive steps. The land reform which is now in progress, the nationalisation of copper which is only awaiting the approval of Plenary Congress, must be followed by new reforms – whether these are initiated by Parliament or by Government proposal, or by the combined efforts of both powers, or by plebiscite, which is a legal appeal to the foundation of all power, the sovereignty of the people.
We have accepted the challenge to re-examine everything. We urgently wish to ask of every law, every existing institution and even of every person whether or not they are furthering our integral and autonomous development. I am sure that on few occasions in history has the Parliament of any nation been presented with so great a challenge.
Overcoming Capitalism in Chile
The circumstances of Russia in 1917 and of Chile at the present time are very different. Nevertheless, the historic challenge is similar.
In 1917, Russia took decisions which have had the most far-reaching effects on contemporary history. There it was believed that backward Europe could face up to advanced Europe, that the first socialist revolution need not necessarily take place in the heart of industrial power. There the challenge was accepted and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is one of the methods of building a socialist society, was established.
Today nobody doubts that by this method nations with a large population can, in a relatively short period, break out of their backwardness and attain the most advanced level of contemporary civilisation. The examples of the Soviet Union and of the Chinese People’s Republic speak for themselves.
Like Russia then, Chile now faces the need to initiate new methods of constructing a socialist society. Our revolutionary method, the pluralist method, was anticipated by the classic Marxist theorists but never before put into practice. Social thinkers believed that the first to do so would be the more developed nations, probably Italy or France with their powerful Marxist-oriented working-class parties.
Nevertheless, once again, history has permitted a break with the past and the construction of a new model of society, not only where it was theoretically most predictable but where the most favourable concrete conditions had been created for its achievement. Today Chile is the first nation on earth to put into practice the second model of transition to a socialist society.
This challenge is awakening great interest beyond our national frontiers. Everybody knows or guesses that here and now history is beginning to take a new direction, even as we Chileans are conscious of the undertaking. Some among us, perhaps the minority, see the enormous difficulties of the task. Others, the majority, are trying to envisage the possibility of facing it successfully. For my part, I am sure that we shall have the necessary energy and ability to carry on our effort and create the first socialist society built according to a democratic, pluralistic and libertarian model.
The sceptics and the prophets of doom will say that it is not possible. They will say that a parliament that has served the ruling classes so well cannot be transformed into the Parliament of the Chilean People.
Further, they have emphatically stated that the Armed Forces and the Corps of Carabineros, who have up to the present supported the institutional order that we wish to overcome, would not consent to guarantee the will of the people if these should decide on the establishment of socialism in our country. They forget the patriotic conscience of the Armed Forces and the Carabineros, their tradition of professionalism and their obedience to civil authority. In the words of General Schneider, the Armed Forces are “an integral and representative part of the nation as well as of the State structure, that is, they belong both to the permanent and the temporary spheres, and are therefore able to organise and counter-balance the periodic changes which affect political life within a legal regime”. Since the National Congress is based on the people’s vote, there is nothing in its nature which prevents it from changing itself in order to become, in fact, the Parliament of the People. The Chilean Armed Forces and the Carabineros, faithful to their duty and to their tradition of non-intervention in the political process, will support a social organisation which corresponds to the will of the people as expressed in the terms of the established Constitution. It will be a more just, a more humane and generous organisation for everybody, but above all for the workers, who have contributed so much up to the present and have received almost nothing in return.
The difficulties we face are not in this field. They reside in the extraordinary complexity of the tasks before us – to create the political institutions which will lead to Socialism, and to achieve this starting from our present condition of a society oppressed by backwardness and poverty which are the result of dependence and under- development – to break with the factors which cause backwardness and, at the same time, to build a new socio-economic structure capable of providing for collective prosperity.
The causes of backwardness resided and still reside in the traditional ruling classes with their combination of dependence on external forces and internal class exploitation. They have profited from their association with foreign interests, and from their appropriation of the surplus produced by the workers, to whom they have only awarded the minimum indispensable for the renewal of their labouring capacities.
Our first task is to dismantle this restrictive structure, which only produces a deformed growth. At the same time, we must build up a new economy so that it succeeds the previous one without continuing it, at the same time conserving to the maximum the productive and technical capacity that we have achieved despite the vicissitudes of our under- development – and we must build it up without crises artificially provoked by those whose ancient privileges we shall abolish.
In addition to these basic questions, there is another which is an essential challenge of our time – how can people in general – and young people in particular – develop a sense of mission which will inspire them with a new joy in living and give dignity to their existence?
There is no other way than that of devoting ourselves to the realisation of great impersonal tasks, such as that of attaining a new stage in the human condition, until now degraded by its division into the privileged and the dispossessed. Today nobody can imagine solutions for the distant future when all nations will have attained abundance and realised the satisfaction of material needs and at the same time have assumed the cultural heritage of humanity. But here and now in Chile and in Latin America, we have the possibility and the duty of releasing creative energies, particularly those of youth, in missions which inspire us more than any in the past. Such is the aspiration to build a world which does away with divisions into rich and poor – and for our part, to build a society in which the war of economic competition is outlawed – in which the struggle for professional privileges has no meaning – in which there is no longer that indifference to the fate of others which permits the powerful to exploit the weak.
There have been few occasions in which men have needed so much faith in themselves and in their capacity to rebuild the world and regenerate their lives.
This is an unprecedented time, which offers us the material means of realising the most generous utopian dreams of the past. The only thing that prevents our achieving this is the heritage of greed, of fear and of obsolete institutional traditions. Between our time and that of the liberation of man on a planetary scale, this inheritance has to be overcome. Only in this way will it be possible to call upon men to reconstruct their lives, not as products of a past of slavery and exploitation, but in the most conscious realisation of their noblest potentialities. This is the socialist ideal.
An ingenious observer from some developed country which has these material resources might suppose that this observation is a new manner that backward people have found of asking for aid – yet another plea of the poor for the charity of the rich. Such is not the case, but its opposite. With the internal authority of all societies brought under the hegemony of the dispossessed, with the change in international trade relations stimulated by the exploited nations, there will come about not only the abolition of poverty and backwardness but also the liberation of the great powers from their despot’s fate. Thus, in the same way as the emancipation of the slave liberates the slaveowner, so the achievement of Socialism envisaged by the peoples of our time is as meaningful for the disinherited peoples as for the more privileged, since both will then cast away the chains which degrade their society.
I stand here, members of the National Congress, to urge you to take up the task of reconstructing the Chilean nation according to our dreams, a Chile in which all children begin life equally, with equal medical care, education, and nutrition. A Chile in which the creative ability of each man and woman is allowed to develop, not in competition with others, but in order to contribute to a better life for all.
Our road to Socialism
To achieve these aspirations means a long road and a great effort on the part of all Chileans. It also implies, as a basic prerequisite, that we are able to establish the institutional apparatus of a new form of pluralistic, free socialist order. The task is one of extraordinary complexity because there are no precedents for us to follow. We are treading a new path. We are advancing without guides across unknown territory, but our compass is our faith in the humanism of all ages and particularly in Marxist humanism. Our aim is the establishment of the society that we want, the society which answers the deep-rooted desires of the Chilean people.
For a long time, science and technology have made it possible to assure that everybody enjoys those basic necessities which today are enjoyed only by a minority. The difficulties are not technical, and – in our case at least – they are not due to a lack of national resources. What prevents the realisation of our ideals is the organisation of society, the nature of the interests which have so far dominated, the obstacles which dependent nations face. We must concentrate our attention on these structures and on these institutional requirements.
Speaking frankly, our task is to define and put into practice, as the Chilean road to socialism, a new model of the State, of the economy and of society which revolves around man’s needs and aspirations. For this we need the determination of those who have dared to reconsider the world in terms of a project designed for the service of man. There are no previous experiments that we can use as models – we shall have to develop the theory and practice of new forms of social, political and economic organisation, both in order to break with under-development and create socialism.
We can achieve this only on condition that we do not overshoot or depart from our objective. If we should forget that our mission is to establish a social plan for man, the whole struggle of our people for socialism will become simply one more reformist experiment. If we should forget the concrete conditions from which we start in order to try and create immediately something which surpasses our possibilities, then we shall also fail.
We are moving towards socialism, not from an academic love for a doctrinaire system, but encouraged by the strength of our people, who know that it is an inescapable demand if we are to overcome backwardness and who feel that a socialist regime is the only way available to modern nations who want to build rationally in freedom, independence and dignity. We are moving towards socialism because the people, through their vote, have freely rejected capitalism as a system which has resulted in a crudely unequal society, a society deformed by social injustice and degraded by the deterioration of the very foundations of human solidarity.
In the name of the socialist reconstruction of Chilean society, we have won the presidential elections, a victory that was confirmed by the election of municipal councillors. This is the flag behind which we are mobilising the people politically both as the object of our plans and as the justification for our actions. Our Government plans are those of the Popular Unity platform on which we fought the election. In putting them into effect, we shall not sacrifice attention to the present needs of the Chilean people in favour of gigantic schemes. Our objective in none other than the progressive establishment of a new structure of power, founded on the will of the majority and designed to satisfy in the shortest possible time the most urgent needs of the present generation.
Sensitivity to the claims of the people is in fact the only way we have of contributing to the solution of the great human problems – for no universal value is worth the name if it cannot be applied on the national or regional scale and even to the local living conditions of each family.
Our policy might seem too simple for those who prefer big promises. But the people need decent housing for their families, with proper sanitation – they need schools for their children which are not expressly intended for the poor – they need enough to eat every day of the year – they need work – they need care during sickness and in old age – they need to be respected as people. That is what we hope to offer all Chileans in the foreseeable future. This is what has been denied the people in Latin America throughout the centuries. This is what some nations are now beginning to guarantee their entire population.
But beyond this task, and as a fundamental prerequisite for its achievement, there is another equally important one. It is to engage the will of the Chilean people to dedicate our hands, our minds and our feelings to the reassertion of our identity as a people, in order to become an integral part of contemporary civilisation as masters of our fate and heirs to the patrimony of technical skills, knowledge, art and culture. Turning the nation’s attention to these fundamental aspirations is the only way to satisfy the people’s needs and to wipe out the differences between them and the privileged classes. Above all, it is the only way to provide the young with a mission by opening up broad perspectives of a fruitful existence as builders of the society in which they will live.
The mandate entrusted to us embraces all the nation’s material and spiritual resources. We have reached a point at which retreat or a standstill would mean an irreparable national catastrophe. It is my obligation at this time, as the one primarily responsible for the fate of Chile, to indicate clearly the road which we are taking and the dangers and hopes which it offers.
The Popular Government knows that the transcendence of a historical period is determined by social and economic factors which have already been shaped by this same period. These factors embrace the agents and modes of historical change. To ignore this would be to go against the nature of things.In the revolutionary process which we are living through, there are five essential points upon which we shall concentrate our social and political campaign – the principle of legality, the development of institutions, political freedom, the prevention of violence, and the socialisation of the means of production. These are questions which affect the present and future of every citizen.
Socialisation of the means of production
In 6 months of Government, we have acted with decision on all fronts. Our economic work has been aimed at breaking down the barriers which impede the complete fulfilment of our material and human potentialities. In 6 months of Government, we have advanced energetically along the path of irrevocable change. The printed statement which we have just distributed gives a full and detailed account of our activities.
Chile has begun the definitive recovery of our most fundamental source of wealth – copper. The nationalisation of our copper is not an act of vengeance or hatred directed towards any group, government or nation. We are, on the contrary, positively exercising an inalienable right on behalf of a sovereign people – that of the full enjoyment of our national resources exploited by our national labour and effort. The recovery of copper is a decision by the whole of Chile, and we demand that all countries and governments respect the unanimous decision of a free people. We shall pay for the copper if it is right to pay, and we shall not pay if it is unjust. We shall watch over our interests. But we shall be implacable if we find out that negligence or fraudulent activity on the part of any persons or entities has harmed the country.
We have nationalised another of our basic resources – iron. A short time ago, negotiations with the Bethlehem corporation were concluded, and as a result, iron mining passed over completely to public ownership. We are now studying the constitution of the national steel complex which will group 6 companies together around the CAP (Pacific Steel Industry). The agreement with North American industry has once again shown that the Government is offering a fair settlement to foreign capital without sacrificing the fundamental interests of our nation. But we are not prepared to tolerate the contempt for our laws and the lack of respect for established authority that we find in some foreign firms. We have also taken over coal as collective property (via the Development Corporation).
The nitrate resources are also ours. According to a settlement by the previous government, we owed $24m in debentures payable in 15 years, which with interest amounts to $38m. The shares belonging to the North American sector were theoretically worth $25m. All this has now been redeemed for $8m payable in 2 years.
We have incorporated various firms – among them Purina, Lanera Austral, and the Bellavista Tome, Fiap, and the Fabrilana textile plants – into the area of public ownership – we have requisitioned the cement industry and the Yarur (textile) industry when supplies were threatened. In order to prevent bankruptcy, we have acquired an important share of the assets of the Zig Zag Publishing House, which forms a big part of our graphics and publishing industry, so that it can satisfy the social needs of the new Chile.
In all the firms that have been taken into public ownership, the nation can bear witness to the determined support of the workers, the immediate increase in productivity, and the active participation of workers, white- collar personnel and technicians in management and administration.
We have speeded up land reform and have already achieved a major part of this year’s plan – the expropriation of one thousand big estates. The reform is going forward in accordance with existing legislation, and is protecting the interests of the small and medium-sized farmers. We want to build up a new and more vigorous agriculture, more solid in organisation and more productive. We want the men who work the land to benefit fairly from the fruits of their labour. The state ownership of banks has been a decisive step. With absolute respect for the rights of the small shareholder, we have established state control over 9 banks and are on the point of obtaining majority control in the others. On the basis of previous experience, we are hoping for a reasonable settlement with foreign banks. We are thus trying to gain control of the financial apparatus and to widen the social area in the sectors which produce material goods. We want to place the new banking system at the service of the socialised area and of the small and medium-sized industrialists, merchants and farmers, who until now have been discriminated against.
Our present economic policy
These have been our first acts towards the initiation of the essential and definitive change in our economy. But we have done not only this. We have also planned a short-term policy whose central objective has been to increase the availability of material goods and services for consumption, and we have directed that increase towards the less favoured sectors.
We are carrying on a fierce struggle against inflation, and this is the key to our policy of redistribution. The fight against inflation has acquired a new political connotation – it will be a dynamic element in the popular struggle. To halt the rise in prices means that the people will maintain the increased spending power that has been given them, and this will be definitively consolidated with the deeper entrenchment of socialist organisation. At the same time, independent businessmen can earn fair profits, the higher volume of production compensating for the smaller profits on each item.
In practice this policy has borne appreciable fruits in terms of redistribution. Nevertheless, we know that this planned reactivation faces obstacles. On the one hand, some groups of businesses are attempting to hinder the success of our measures by means of an open or a covert slowdown in production. On the other hand, some sectors which are imprisoned in a traditional model of low production and high profit lack audacity and are unable to understand the present juncture or to play a greater part in the productive process. To do so is, nevertheless, their social duty. To those who do not fulfil this duty, whether deliberately or not, we shall apply all the legal resources within our power to go on urging them and, if necessary, to make them produce more.
We are also carrying out a social policy to improve the diet of our children – to provide speedier medical care – to increase substantially the capacity of the educational system – to initiate the necessary housing construction programme – and to plan greater absorption of the unemployed as an urgent national need. We are doing this without disorder and with justice, endeavouring always to keep the social cost as low as possible. Today the citizen of our nation has greater buying power, consumes more and feels that the fruit of the common effort is better distributed. At the same time, he has the right to feel that he owns the mines, the banks, industry and the land, that he owns the future.
We are neither measuring ourselves against nor comparing ourselves with previous governments. We are fundamentally different. But if that comparison were to be made, using even the most traditional indicators, we would come out favourably. We have achieved the lowest rate of inflation in recent years – we have begun the most effective redistribution of revenues that Chile has ever seen. We shall build more houses this year than have ever been built before in a similar period. Despite the gloomy predictions, we have maintained the normal flow in supplies of essential goods.
The leading role of the workers
Everything we have discussed in the political, economic, cultural, and international fields represents the task of a whole nation, not that of one man or one government.
Between the months of November and February, the number of workers who have been obliged to go on strike has decreased from 170000 to 76000. The Popular Government’s identification with the workers who share its successes and setbacks has made disputes unnecessary which were formerly inevitable. This year there have been no strikes in the coal, nitrate, copper, iron and textiles industries, the health services, education or railroads. In other words, there have been no strikes in those sectors which are vital to the nation’s progress.
I should like to emphasise that for the first time in Chile, voluntary work has been introduced on a permanent basis in some state enterprises. And also, that for the first time it is being carried on in all areas of national life and on a massive scale from Arica to the Straits of Magellan. Soldiers, priests, students, workers, members of the professions and shopkeepers, old and young, are participating freely, spontaneously and in their own time in the common tasks. It is a much more creative development than working for profit. And it is an eloquent reply to those who, inside and outside Chile, would like to believe things that have never happened and never will. In this country there is and there will be a government which knows what methods to apply and when to apply them. As President, I assume responsibility for this.
The great achievements that lie before us will depend on the responsible and determined identification of the worker with his own real interests, which are more far-reaching than the small or big problems of this day, this month or this year. In the solidarity of the workers and their political representative, the Popular Government, we have an invincible instrument.
Those who live by their work have in their hands today the political direction of the State. It is a supreme responsibility. The building of the new social regime is based on the people, who are its protagonist and its judge. It is up to the State to guide, organise, and direct, but never to replace the will of the workers. In the economic as well as in the political field, the workers must retain the right to decide. To attain this means the triumph of the Revolution.
The people are fighting for this goal. They are fighting with the legitimacy that comes from respecting democratic values – with the assurance given by our programme – with the strength of being the majority – with the passion of the revolutionary.
We shall overcome.
Note: On August 26, 2017, I sent out the inspiring article “How About Erecting Monuments to the Heroes of Reconstruction?” by Richard Valelly who is professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. I was impressed with the responses I received to the article and am sharing them below. Below is also the excellent article posted today in the New York Times by Carl Elliott. Along the line of honoring genuine shining examples, Elliott specifies one of our profound American heroes who should be honored with a statue and it is South Carolina minister Joseph De Laine.
Here are the responses I received from the article “How About Erecting Monuments to the Heroes of Reconstruction?” While I have thanked each of these writers/responders, I am not including their names here as I have not asked for permission to do so. And again, I thank all of you for your responses.
* Excellent. We should also appropriately memorialize the many people who were lynched between 1865 and 1950. A plaque at the site of each lynching is a beginning.
* Heather, That is exactly what I was thinking, as well.
* Everyone needs real heroes to look up to – especially now.
* This could be a positive movement.
* Heather, this is an excellent piece. Thanks to the author and thanks to the Justice Initiative. Celebrations are important, and how one celebrates is also of great importance. Most important, I argue, are the information and events that we evaluate to make the decisions about whom and what we celebrate.
* Without the right information in our collective storehouse of knowledge, we will always be looking over the fence, at someone else’s “store house” for something to celebrate or destroy. Please continue the excellent work and Be well.
* Yes. There were also women not in legislatures and Congress, but very active in that period. Some are mentioned in the book I helped write: Texas Women: 150 years of trial and triumph.
* Good attempt to “make right a history” that America, both black and white, care nothing of. I agree …America must come to terms with the 1877′ Compromise in which both the Northern “US” Government agreed with Southern Government “in the wings” to “veil” a second secession while the South rebuilt its “financial coffers” over the next 90-years with” slavery by another name”. Everyday I see the “damage” caused by that alliance which has metastasized into the prison-industrial-complex of today, continued demonization of African-Americans, distrust on a national scale, isolation, marginalized education in areas inhabited by said group, sub-par housing and employment just to name a few. But you are both right, they – Black Reconstruction Politicians – stood in the “gap” with the likes of Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Thaddeus Stevens against a proverbial evil that continues to the present moment. Be blessed.
* Who could put together a list by southern state of such heroes?
* I assume that there would actually be a very long list of such folk, both pre and post civil war to chose from?
* I agree. rather than destruction, this will be construction
I am also asking each of you reading this to please consider others we should honor in America for their profound leadership in seeking justice for all. Please send your comments to me at email@example.com.
Erect a Statue of This
Civil Rights Hero
If you look closely at Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 school desegregation decision, you’ll see that Brown wasn’t a single case. It was five cases consolidated into one. Briggs v. Elliott, the first of them, took place in my home state, South Carolina. Briggs came about after the Rev. Joseph De Laine organized a group of black parents in Clarendon County to petition for equal educational facilities. The man who stood fast against that request – the Elliott of Briggs v. Elliott – was the chairman of the school board, Roderick Miles Elliott. Or as he was known in my family, Uncle Roddy.
Although I grew up in South Carolina in the 1960s and ’70s, I didn’t learn about Briggs v. Elliott until I was an adult. My father, Uncle Roddy’s nephew, often talked about how shamefully black people were treated in Clarendon County, but he was deeply uncomfortable with the part our family had played. Like most Southerners, he was skilled at avoiding unpleasant conversations, and in the case of Briggs, events conspired to help him. For reasons that remain murky, the Supreme Court case came to be called Brown rather than Briggs, even though Briggs preceded Brown both alphabetically and temporally. So it was Brown v. Board of Education that was memorialized in the history textbooks, and our family name was spared association in the public mind with a racist cause.
I won’t pretend I’m not grateful. But the fact that Brown has overshadowed Briggs has also meant that Mr. De Laine, the man who did more than anyone else to bring about school desegregation in South Carolina, has been too often forgotten. This month, with the blessing of his surviving children, Joseph De Laine Jr. and Ophelia De Laine Gona, my cousin Joe Elliott – Uncle Roddy’s grandson – submitted a letter to the South Carolina legislature on behalf of 21 descendants and relatives of Roderick Miles Elliott (including me), asking the legislature to honor Mr. De Laine with a statue on the grounds of the State House in Columbia.
In a just world, the name of Joseph De Laine would already be familiar to South Carolinians. Mr. De Laine was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a teacher in the Clarendon County public schools, where his wife, Mattie, also taught. Black schools in Clarendon County in the 1940s were in abysmal condition – dilapidated, poorly heated and woefully understaffed. Children had to walk miles to attend school, because the school board, led by Uncle Roddy, refused to provide a bus. It provided 30 buses for white children.
Mr. De Laine began organizing the parents of Clarendon County in 1947 and kept at it for the next seven years. When the Supreme Court finally vindicated his cause in 1954, it used the dissenting opinion in Briggs as the legal backbone for its decision.
In South Carolina, however, Mr. De Laine’s courage and tenacity were punished. Both he and his wife lost their teaching jobs. When an arsonist set fire to the De Laine home, which stood 60 feet outside the city limits of Summerton, S.C., the all-white firefighting squad in Summerton stood by and watched it burn to the ground. Later, Mr. De Laine’s church in Lake City was burned to the ground as well. He was eventually forced to leave the state in 1955 after defending his home against a group of armed attackers. Mr. De Laine died in Charlotte, N.C, in 1974.
Congress awarded Mr. De Laine a Gold Medal in 2004 (along with the Briggs petitioners Levi Pearson and Harry and Eliza Briggs), but a comparable gesture of recognition has never been made in South Carolina. The state has no monuments to Mr. De Laine, and apart from a small interstate interchange near Summerton, no roads, bridges or public buildings bear his name.
Asking South Carolina to honor Mr. De Laine might seem quixotic. It took decades of protest and the 2015 mass murder at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston before the Confederate flag came down from the South Carolina State House. Sixty-three years after Brown, schools in Summerton remain de facto segregated, thanks in part to a private academy favored by many white families. Change never comes easily in South Carolina, a state populated by stubborn iconoclasts who can be single-minded in the pursuit of hopeless causes. To which I say: This is exactly why we should honor Mr. De Laine. He showed us how to put that single-mindedness to work for the cause of righteousness.
School desegregation is often seen as a tool for justice, and rightly so. But it is an equally powerful tool for friendship, love and solidarity. Most of my generation of South Carolinians had the privilege of attending the integrated schools that Uncle Roddy fought against. As a result, many of us have formed lasting relationships across racial lines in ways that would have been unimaginable to our Southern grandparents, both black and white. If we can somehow make our way together through these dark times, it will be in no small part because of the vision of Joseph De Laine.
Carl Elliott, a professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, is the author of “White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine.”
by Heather Gray
Justice Initiative International
September 16, 2017In 2007, when doing research about the CIA led coup of the 1975 ousting of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, I learned for the first time about the Australian secret service involvement in the 1973 Chilean coup against Salvador Allende. More information has come to light in recent years about Australia’s role that I wanted to share. It is largely from the fascinating research and investigation by Florencia Melgar (an interview, with whom, is shared below).
Before going further, it is important to note that when the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was elected in 1972, like most Australians, he was not aware of the Australian secret service being in Chile and was furious about this when he was informed. Two of the Australian secret service individuals apparently took the lead on the CIA planned coup in Chile, and they did this undercover from the Australian Embassy while posing as diplomats. Whitlam told the secret service head that the Australians needed to leave Chile and yet his orders were ignored.
In summary, the new revelation for me is that the CIA asked the Australian secret service to, as mentioned, take the “lead” in the coup in Chile and by basically overseeing the CIA operatives in Chile. The reason, it appears, was because the Americans were concerned that Allende might close the U.S. embassy, which, in my opinion, would have been a good idea! Further, the CIA was aware that the Allende government seemingly knew who the leading CIA operatives were in Chile. Nevertheless, the following is information about circumstances preceding the CIA’s decision to reach out to Australia:
President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had been nervous about Allende since well before his election in 1970, as they knew his socialist policies would harm US business interests, like copper mining.
“But they also wanted Allende to fail because they were very afraid that the socialist experiment would be successful and would encourage other left-of-centre parties in a variety of Latin American countries to try the same thing – bring about socialism by democratic means,” says John Dinges, a journalist and author who has written extensively about Chile and who was in Santiago at the time of Pinochet’s coup.
The CIA was funnelling cash to Chile’s right-wing media outlets and Allende’s political opponents. But when it looked like he would win the 1970 presidential election, the agency stepped up its covert activities.
General René Schneider, head of Chile’s armed forces, was a constitutionalist, and respected the professional, non-political role of the military. He stood in the way of the military coup that the United States hoped would work as a last-ditch effort to keep Allende out of power. So in the lead-up to the 1970 elections, the CIA provided machine guns and cash to a group of plotters who planned to kidnap Schneider and send him to Argentina, leaving the way clear for a military takeover. But the kidnapping went badly wrong, and the General ended up dead.
The CIA rushed to cover its tracks, paying the jailed plotters $53,000 in hush money and throwing the machine guns they’d lent them into the sea. The army, and Chilean society, upset by the attempt to destroy proper democratic process, rallied around Allende. He was elected on 4 September, 1970. Now, the US would focus it efforts on undermining Allende’s government.
“They were actually organising a coup in 1970,” says John Dinges, but in the lead-up to 1973, the CIA was “very much in the background, doing things like fomenting the economic subversion, paying off right wingers to do violence in the streets – stuff like that.”
“The US definitely wanted the economy to fail so that the military would overthrow Allende,” says Dinges. “They promoted an economic blockade, preventing Chile from getting credits from international aid associations like the World Bank and the IMF.”
Meanwhile, nervous that Allende had them under close watch and that he may close the US embassy, removing their cover, the CIA called on its friends and allies to help out. (SBS)
Before proceeding with the interview with Melgar in 2013 by Peter Boyle of Australia’s Green Left Weekly, I want to provide some terms that are referred to in the interview but not explained in depth about Australia’s secret service entities and they are the following:
(1) The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is Australia‘s national security agency responsible for the protection of the country and its citizens from espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference, politically motivated violence, attacks on the Australian defence system, and terrorism.
ASIO is comparable with the British Security Service(MI5) and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Generally, ASIO operations requiring police powers are co-ordinated with the Australian Federal Police and/or with state and territory police forces. ASIO officers have the right to arrest and detain. (Wikipedia)
(2) The Australian Secret Intelligence Service is Australia‘s foreign intelligence agency. ASIS was formed in 1952, but its existence remained secret even within the Government until 1972. ASIS is part of the Australian Intelligence Community responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence, including both counter-intelligence and liaising with the intelligence agencies of other countries. In these roles, ASIS is comparable to the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (Wikipedia)
Also, the interview below refers to Felecia Melgar’s excellent research, the report of which was issued by Australia’s SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) and is appropriately entitled “The Other 9/11“. It well worth reading.
I also want to share, if you want this perspective, the link to the CIA’s own report about the CIA’s involvement in Chile entitled “CIA Activities in Chile” posted on the CIA website. It includes the following sections:
CIA Activities in Chile
September 18, 2000
Note: Below is the 2013 interview with
Felecia Melgar followed by the transcription.
How Australian intelligence helped Pinochet dictatorship
Peter Boyle from GLTV interviews Florencia Melgar, a former SBS journalist who talks about her research and findings into Australia’s involvement in the 1973 military coup against the progressive government of Allende. It is timely now for such a discussion about the secret goings on by Australian spy agencies like ASIO and ASIS now that it has been revealed that these agencies continue to this day to spy on governments like Indonesia with whom we have had good relations with.
Peter Boyle interviewed Florencia Melgar, a former SBS journalist about her research into Australia’s involvement in the 1973 military coup against the progressive government of Salvador Allende in Chile.
You investigated the role of Australian secret intelligence agencies in the destabilisation of the Allende regime in Chile and it’s overthrow of the Pinochet coup [in 1973.] What led you to this investigation?
I have been investigating into human rights under the dictatorship. But some of these small stories led me to big stories and that was the case with this.
I was doing a lot of interviews with people who were torturers in jails in Uruguay during the dictatorship of Gregorio Alvarez. Because my husband is Australian, one of them said to me: “Do you know what Australia did in Chile? Did you know Australia helped Pinochet a lot?”
So, it has been in the back of my head since 2008, and when I came to choose a topic for my PhD I thought I would do some research into it.
A lot of people told me there was no evidence for it, it wasn’t real. But then I found a quote from [former Labor minister] Clyde Cameron in the public domain and I started pulling the thread and it got bigger and bigger. I got hooked by the story because it’s not just Chile, it’s also Argentina. It’s the participation of Australia’s secret service in South America.
During the period of Allende in Chile, what exactly did Australian intelligence agents do?
Well, there was a mission of the CIA and all of that is documented. It has been declassified through the national security archive. All the details of what the CIA did – helping the strikes, giving at least $10 million in the period before Allende,
The CIA were restricted because Allende knew who they were, so they couldn’t move. So the US had to ask one of their friends, it could have been the Canadians, or the British.
Australia was chosen because they were their allies.
So they played a critical role?
They were commanding the operation and reporting directly to the CIA.
So they were basically working for the CIA?
Yes, from the Australian embassy. They were posing as diplomats.
Was this known to Australian governments at the time?
Yes. The one who made the decision was the foreign minister William McMahon, who then became prime minister. The operation started in 1972.
Gough Whitlam was the following prime minister and there are so many stories about how Whitlam was a leader on this. The fact is, Whitlam didn’t want the agents to be in Chile and he ordered them to be taken out but his orders were not followed.
So the way he tells the story in his memoirs was that there were no [Australian] secret agents left in Chile by mid-September 1973. He said the mission finished in June, 1973 and that’s what he wanted it to be, but they were still there.
So there was a lot of coverup taking place and I understand one of the agencies involved was ASIS. This is an agency whose existence was completely secret.
Yes. It was created in 1952 and remained secret until 1972, so it operated for 20 years as a secret agency. Even parliament didn’t know about it.
Was it the Whitlam government who introduced the royal commission into security agencies?
Yes, it was Whitlam who asked Justice Robert Hope to do it. According to Brian Toohey who wrote a book called Oyster, they said there isn’t much in the Hope Commission. Hope didn’t want to look too deeply into it, he could have done it but he didn’t.
When you look at the report, the chapter on Chile is [crossed out] in black. Hope didn’t do a thorough investigation.
Do you believe there have been ongoing attempts by Australian security agencies to keep this story under wraps or limit the information that is coming out?
A journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald was assigned to cover the story and to find out who these agents were. In those times, it was not illegal, as it is now, to name intelligence agents present or former.
He couldn’t do it because there was a call from ASIS to the SMH to say this is not in the national interest and the SMH decided to stop doing the research. They had the names already.
I have the names but it is illegal to name them unless the director general of ASIS, in this case Nick Warner, allows it. So I made a formal request to publish the names, hoping that even if they said no they would give me some information because I’m not obsessed with putting their names in the public domain. What I want to know is the historical truth after 40 years – why are the files hidden? The normal timeframe of 25 years has already expired.
They sent me a letter saying I couldn’t use their names but in that letter ASIS said that I couldn’t release my report at all, at the risk of seven years’ jail and no bail.
I went to SBS lawyers and they said: “This is a tricky one because most of what you’ve done is against what they are saying you can do.”
It’s illegal not just to release their names but also anything that can reveal their identity. You cannot talk about the details of the operation or anything that can lead to the details of the operation. What I agreed to with the lawyers was that I would rephrase the report, so the report released on SBS was checked by lawyers.
What kind of response have you received from this report from members of the Chilean community in Australia, many of whom fled Chile because of the terrors of the Pinochet regime?
All of them were really sad. Many of them wanted an explanation; some of them wanted an apology from the Australian government. But all of them wanted to know why, and to find out how it happened. They felt like they deserved more information.
Some of them didn’t understand, because they are good-hearted people who are sometimes not aware of how evil the system is. The intelligence system flies above the political system and it doesn’t matter who is in government.
They couldn’t understand that the same government who gave them protection was also helping Pinochet. That happens all the time.
Do you think the Chileans who fled the Pinochet regime were also spied upon by Australian agencies, while they were here?
In 1974, there were many protests and demonstrations. One in particular in Melbourne was recorded by ASIO, I could get the footage from the national archive. I got permission from ASIO to release it.
Do you know of any Chileans who suffered consequences as a result of reports on their activities in Australia?
The question is, what did ASIO do with that footage? You can make assumptions that it was sent Chile, why would they take this footage? We don’t know because it is secret and there is no accountability.
Do you feel this story is still unfinished and do you intend to look deeper into it in the future?
I hope that I can convince the two agents who worked in Chile to tell me what happened. The freedom of information laws here are very limited. All the six intelligence agencies are exempted from those laws, so the timeframe of 25 years to know the history of a country – it doesn’t apply to intelligence. So basically all foreign policy of Australia [remains secret].
When can we know? In 25 years? 40, 50, never? I need to go on doing this research because I think it’s just the beginning of it and I’m also going to rely on Chile’s documents because I think there’s a lot there.
Note: I am sure you are wondering what Australia has to do with Chile and the coup against Allende. The connection is hugely significant. But this article below sets the tone for the next article in this series with more specifics about Australia and it’s involvement in the Chilean coup.
I was not aware of Australia’s role in Chile until 2007 while I was researching and writing about the Whitlam government. As mentioned in the article below, after becoming Prime Minister in 1972 Whitlam discovered that some of Australia’s secret service individuals were in Chile. He ordered them to leave Chile and they did not adhere to his orders. He was rightly furious about this insolence.
When I first wrote the article below in 2007, it was posted on Counterpunch. and I then sent it out on Justice Initiative in 2014. The ousting of Australia’s Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in 1975, was 2 years after the Chilean coup in 1973 with the assassination of Allende. I also realize that while Whitlam was not assassinated, thankfully, and the Australians were not subjected to the tragic culture of torture, massacres and imprisonment, still there were similarities in the objectives of both leaders that infuriated the Nixon government. For one, both Allende and Whitlam thought they were heading an independent sovereign country and that they could have a say in directing its policies and control of its resources to benefit their citizens. Both leaders were mistaken in this assumption. As I wrote in 2014:
For one, both Allende and Whitlam thought they were heading an independent sovereign country and that they could have a say in directing its policies and control of its resources to benefit their citizens. Both leaders were mistaken in this assumption. As I wrote in 2014:
“I’ve recognized that most Americans do not know the role their government played in the ousting of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 and I wanted to share something about this. I was not in the United States but in Singapore and just out of Australia when Whitlam became Prime Minister but 1975 I was back in the United States. “Mother Jones”, in the states, wrote about the Australian coup but I am not aware of other media in the US doing so. Whitlam’s victory in 1972 was huge as it signified a departure from a largely US controlled Australian Liberal Party government. Whitlam, for one, started asking questions about the Pine Gap US base in the Australian desert. He was told nothing.
Some of Whitlam’s actions that infuriated the Nixon government and Henry Kissinger are the following.
Much to the disdain of the United States, Whitlam recognized Cuba and allowed it to establish a consulate in Australia. In the midst of the Vietnam War he established a consulate in Hanoi. He was one of the first western leaders to outreach to the Chinese. He started inquiring about US and Australian involvement in Vietnam and in Chile; he inquired about the threat against Aquino the Philippines; and importantly he wanted Australia to have control of its natural resources such as oil and other minerals rather than multinationals that then controlled 60% of this industry in Australia. In fact, one of his ministers called for a boycott of American products. As mentioned, Whitlam thought Australia was an independent country, but he found out differently.
This story is yet again about the destabilizing effect of the Cold War and US hegemony resulting in dire consequences for so many countries throughout the world – including Australia.
Recalling the Fall of Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam
US Meddling in Australian Politics
by HEATHER GRAY
On November 24, 2007 the Australian Labor Party swept into power with Kevin Rudd replacing conservative Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard. I awoke that morning with an email from a friend about this victory with the subject line “about bloody time! John Howard was becoming an embarrassment.” I concur. George Bush’s “coalition of the willing” (or “killing” as I say) is rapidly fading out. This news took me back, however, to 1972 and the Labor Party victory of Gough Whitlam. I was also in a state of euphoria with that win, but by 1975 the Whitlam government was dissolved by what some said was a CIA coup. Americans seem not to know about this important history.
You might ask the question “Why would the U.S. go after a democratic ally?” Most people normally think that the CIA business of ousting governments occurs in oil rich areas like the Middle East; countries that fall directly under the original Monroe Doctrine such as the beleaguered Latin Americans; or former western colonies in Africa and Asia that the U.S. thinks are fair game for the U.S. imperial ventures. But it appears that if the Americans or the CIA are bothered by some government they will go about its business of destabilization regardless. The level of democracy or alliance with the U.S. seems to have no meaning.
Being just out of Australia in 1972 and living in Singapore as the wife of a junior Australian diplomat, I was elated when receiving the news that Whitlam had become the first Labor Party Prime Minister in 23 years. I knew he was opposed to the Vietnam War and assumed that the alliance between Australia and the U.S. on the war would be strained if not broken. Little did I recognize at the time, however, the sweeping and significant progressive domestic policy changes Whitlam would initiate in Australia. Little did I realize how angry he would make the Nixon administration and the CIA.
Whitlam’s appointments for various ministries were filled with highly respected Australians such as Rex O’Connor as the Minister for Minerals and Energy, Dr. Jim Cairns who became the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, and Clyde Cameron as Minister for Labour. While Whitlam was more moderate than some of his ministers, still they all had a mission. For one, they wanted to “buy back the farm,” which was basically to establish control away from multinationals of the oil and other minerals, that then were 60% in the hands of foreigners, and to have it controlled by Australians. This is not an unreasonable goal, which the Americans, as you can imagine, did not appreciate.
In the early 1970s the war in Vietnam was raging. Australia, under the conservative Liberal Party Prime Minister Harold Holt in the 1960s, had sent Australian troops and advisers to Vietnam even without the consent of the South Vietnamese. The action was thought by some to have been primarily to please the Americans. It was a sycophantic behavior. The Labor Party opposition, on the other hand, was filled with those who were intensely opposed with Holt’s actions and to the war itself.
Tensions began to build between the Australians and the Americans over the Vietnam War. Various labor politicians were openly calling Nixon and Kissinger “mass murderers” and “maniacs.” In their fascinating article “Coup D’etat in Australia: 20 years of Cover-up” (New Dawn Magazine – 1996) Steve and Adelaide Gerlach write that:
Dr. Jim Cairns called for public rallies to condemn U.S. bombing in North Vietnam, and also for boycotts of American products. The Australian dockers unions reacted by refusing to unload American ships. While Whitlam was more moderate than Dr. Jim Cairns, Clyde Cameron and Tom Uren (prominent anti-Vietnam War Labor Ministers), he felt he had to say something to the Americans. He wrote what he considered a “moderately worded” letter to Nixon voicing his criticism of the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam, on the basis that it would be counterproductive. Nixon, needless to say, was not amused. Some insiders said he was apoplectic with rage and resented the implications that he was immoral and had to be told his duty by an outsider.
Kissinger added that Whitlam’s “uninformed comments about our Christmas bombing [of North Vietnam] had made him a particular object of Nixon’s wrath.” (Mother Jones, Feb.-Mar., 1984, p. 15)
Soon after Whitlam took office, the American ambassador to Australia, Walter Rice, was sent to meet with Whitlam in order to politely tell him to mind his own business about Vietnam. Whitlam ambushed Rice, dominated the meeting, and spoke for 45 minutes rebuking the U.S. for its conduct of the Vietnam War. Whitlam told Rice that in a press conference the next day, “It would be difficult to avoid words like ‘atrocious’ and ‘barbarous'” when asked about the bombing.
The Prime Minister also appointed Sir John Kerr as the Governor General of Australia. Kerr, while a Labor Party member, was only marginally so in his politics. The Governor General is supposed to represent the interests of the Queen but Whitlam thought, of course, that Kerr would serve, as had all others in his position, at the behest of the Prime Minister’s requests and interests. The position is thought to be mostly ceremonial. Whitlam was mistaken on this score as Kerr ends up playing the central role in finally ending the Whitlam government.
Kerr was generally conservative and a monarchist. He, for one, had been on the executive board of the Association for Cultural Freedom and Law Association for Asia, which were largely thought to be CIA front organizations.
In fact, in an October 15, 2000 article in Australia’s “The Age”, author Andrew Clark writes that the Law Association was helped by the Asia Foundation which was “exposed in Congress ‘as a CIA established conduit for money and influence .The CIA paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige, and even published his writings through a subsidized magazine” (Clark took this information from Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathon Kwitny’s book “The Crimes of Patriots”).
What Whitlam accomplished the first 100 days of his government is enough to make many of us drool over such vision. Steve and Adelaide Gerlach (1996) outline some of Whitlam’s profound policies:
In the domestic sphere, Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s first 100 days put Bill Clinton to shame. The Whitlam government ended conscription and ordered the last Australian troops home from Vietnam. It brought legislation giving equal pay to women, established a national health service free to all, doubled spending on education and abolished university fees, increased wages, pensions and unemployment benefits, ended censorship, reformed divorce laws and set up the Family Law Courts, funded the arts and film industry, assumed federal responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs (health, welfare and land rights), scrapped royal patronage, and replaced “God Save the Queen” as the national anthem with “Advance Australia Fair.”
He is also credited for ending the infamous “white Australia policy” so that finally immigrants from neighboring Asian countries were allowed legal immigrant status in Australia.
Whitlam’s foreign policies were also quite remarkable and against U.S. interests. He broke ranks with previous Australian Prime Ministers by reaching out to other Asian leaders to create trade and diplomatic relationships. He was one of the first western leaders to attempt normal relations with Chinese leaders. He also, in the midst of the war, established a consular relationship with North Vietnam by opening an embassy in Hanoi and the allowed the opening of a Cuban consulate in Sydney.
In other words, for all intents and purposes, Australia under Whitlam was not serving at the behest of British or U.S. dictates. It was independently establishing its own relationships. This was not appreciated by the Nixon administration, least of all Henry Kissinger who disliked the Labor leader immensely.
Prior to the Whitlam and since, American governments have considered Australia as a strategic location and partner in its military ventures. The Americans have bases in Australia, not the least of which being the “secret” base known as Pine Gap in the Australian dessert. Whitlam wanted to have more specifics on what the Americans were doing there. He discovered that Pine Gap (a satellite surveillance base) was run by the CIA and he made a public announcement about this. In fact, Victor Marchetti, former Chief Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of the CIA, and one of the drafters of the Pine Gap treaty, confirmed this suspicion: “The CIA runs it, and the CIA denies it,” he said (Steve and Adelaide Gerlach, 1996). Whitlam also asked the Americans for a listing of all CIA operatives in Australia.
The Americans were supposed to share information with the Australians from their satellite findings but since the Labor Party had won it was thought that much of the information was being denied the government. Whitlam threatened he would not sign an extension of the Pine Gap lease due in December 1975 and this again infuriated the Nixon administration. (It was thought by most that Whitlam was posturing and that he was not likely to end the lease, but this still concerned the U.S.)
The fact is that the infamous Pine Gap base activities were making Australia vulnerable to attack and this angered Whitlam, as he had no control over the base activities. Again, Steve and Adelaide Gerlach (1996) write that:
There were at least three occasions when the Americans did not share vital information about the bases.
1) The transmitters at the North West Cape were used to assist the U.S. in mining Haiphong harbor in 1972. The Whitlam government was opposed to the mining of Vietnamese harbors, and would not have appreciated U.S. facilities on Australian soil being used to assist such an undertaking.
2) The satellites controlled by Pine Gap and Nurrungar were used to pinpoint targets for bombings in Cambodia. Again this was an activity to which the Whitlam government was opposed.
3) Whitlam was furious when he found out after the fact that U.S. bases in Australia were put on a Level 3 alert during the Yom Kippur war. The Australian bases were in danger of attack, yet the Australian Prime Minister was not alerted to this. (Incidentally, Kissinger was angered that Whitlam could be such a pest about such matters.)
There’s one other facet that plays a role here in terms of foreign policy and it has to do with Chile. A little known fact is that the Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) was involved in the overthrow of President Salvadore Allende in 1973. Clyde Cameron said that the ASIS operatives were serving at the behest of the CIA to help in the coup against Allende, as the CIA was not able to work effectively in Chile under Allende. “They had to do their dirty work through somebody else,” Cameron noted, “and they chose the Australian intelligence organizations.” When Whitlam discovered this he demanded that the ASIS be withdrawn from Chile yet they paid no attention to his orders. When Whitlam discovered they had not yet left Chile he was furious and, as Cameron says “put the knife through a lot of these people responsible for ignoring his directions.” By that time, however, Allende had been assassinated and Pinochet had taken over (“CIA in Australia” Part 3, Melbourne, Australia Public Radio News Service, 1986).
The American response to the Whitlam government was sinister, which leads to another important character in this cast and it was U.S. Ambassador Marshall Green. The U.S. State Department appointed Green to Australia in 1973. For the most part U.S. Ambassadors to Australia were rubber stamp diplomats who were being given the post as a political favor. This was not so with Green and the Labor politicians recognized this. Green was known as the “coupmaster.” Clyde Cameron notes that, “Marshall Green was for many years a top CIA operative who orchestrated the overthrow of the Sukarno government which led to the installation of President Suharto. He was involved in the CIA intrigue in Vietnam and in the overthrow of the government of Greece. He’s a very, very skilled operative in the art of destabilization of governments that the United States doesn’t approve of” (“CIA in Australia” Part 2, Melbourne, Australia Public Radio News Service, 1986).
When Clyde Cameron was visited by Ambassador Green at his office, he asked the question “what would you do if our government decided to nationalize the Australian subsidiaries of the various American multinational corporations?” Taken aback Green quickly said “Oh, we’ll move in.” Cameron asked if he meant the marines? And Green said that they didn’t do that kind of thing anymore but that “there are other things.” This is indeed the case (“CIA in Australia” Part 2, Melbourne, Australia Public Radio News Service, 1986).
One other facet in the scheme of things was the Nugan Hand Bank in Sydney, another CIA front organization, which was “founded in the early 1970s by Frank Nugan, an Australian who had studied law for a while in Canada, and Michael Hand, and American who had fought with the Green Berets in Vietnam and then worked for the CIA airline, Air America” (John Bacher, Peace Magazine, 1988). The Nugan Hand Bank never banked. It was filled with a huge number of former military and CIA officers. Bacher says its four main services were “a way to flout laws and move money overseas; tax avoidance and schemes; extraordinarily high interest rates; and international trade connections.” The bank was involved with “drugs and arms dealing,” according to Bacher, “in Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil and the whole Rhodesian government of Ian Smith.”
As Bacher and others have noted, the Nugan Hand Bank was in the prime position to destabilize the Labor government. It “helped finance bugging and forgery operations.(and) transferred $24 million to the Australian Liberal Party through its many associated companies” (Bacher, 1988).
Whitlam at one point complained openly about the CIA meddling in Australian domestic affairs.
As the Labor ministers were attempting to move forward with their “buying back the farm” plan, the oil crisis of the early 1970s impacted the Australian and virtually all the world economies. A scandal ensued in an attempt to borrow money from a Middle Eastern source that forced the resignations of Labor ministers Cairns and O’Connor. Leaks about the negotiations for a loan began appearing in the press implicating the ministers. There were likely mistakes made by the Labor ministers but the accusations as presented by the press appeared way out of proportion. The Liberal Party, being in control of the Senate, used this scandal as an excuse to deny passing Whitlam’s budget and to force an election, which occurred in December 1975.
In the meantime, Governor General Kerr stepped in, just before Whitlam was about to make public more of the information he had about Pine Gap and the CIA involvement and one month before the decision would be made on the U.S. bases lease. Kerr had been in conversation with the Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser and others prior to his critical action.
On the fateful day of November 11, 1975 Kerr used his reserve powers as Governor General and dissolved the Whitlam government at 1:10 PM. Malcolm Fraser was given the position as caretaker Prime Minister. The Liberal Party won the election in December 1975.
According to Clyde Cameron, Kerr had been in touch with the Australian armed services and the U.S. Embassy prior to the Whitlam dismissal. There was speculation that a labor strike might occur in response to the Whitlam dismissal so the plan was for the Americans to send in their Pacific fleet to bombard Sydney if it was needed (“CIA in Australia” Part 2, Melbourne, Australia Public Radio News Service, 1986).
The whole “loan affair” controversy is filled with questions, not the least of which includes strategically placed leaks to the press about the Labor ministers’ activities and a signed letter by Dr. Cairns giving the go ahead for one loan activity that has always been refuted by him.
Steve and Adelaide Gerlach (1996) report that, “In 1981, a CIA contract employee, Joseph Flynn, claimed that he had been paid to forge some documents relating to the loan affair, and also to bug Whitlam’s hotel room. The person who paid him was Michael Hand, co-founder of the Nugan Hand Bank “. (The National Times, Jan. 4-10, 1981)
Many Australians have been seeking the smoking gun in the Whitlam ousting. One of my Australian friends says that Kerr was simply a megalomaniac. But as former CIA operative Ralph McGehee said:
“Well, my views are as though what’s the problem? I mean, we had a whole series of Agency spokesmen who said, ‘oh, yes, there was an Agency role in the overthrow of the Whitlam government’. I just don’t know why Australians can’t accept that. And then the CIA National Intelligence Daily said, ‘some of the most incriminating evidence in that period against the ministers in the Whitlam government may have been fabricated.’ This is about as strong as you get them to say so. It is quite obvious that information was being leaked about ministers Rex O’Connor and Jim Cairns and some of it was being forged which is a standard CIA process. Jim Flynn, who was associated with elements who were involved with the Nugan-Hand bank, he said that he was involved in manufacturing the cables and leaking them to the press. You have the statements by Christopher Boyce who was in a relay point for information from the CIA and in his trial he said that `if you think what the Agency did in Chile was bad, in which they spent 80 million dollars overturning the government of Chile there, the Allende government, you should see what they are doing in Australia’ . (“CIA in Australia” Part 1, Melbourne, Australia Public Radio News Service, 1986)
Whitlam made the mistake of thinking that the Australians had some control over their own country and its policies. One of the critical factors resulting in the end of his government was the likely expectation by him and others that government employees would follow the dictates of the newly elected government. The allegiances developed after 23 years of the conservative Liberal Party authority were obviously still in place. To complicate matters further, the Australian Secret Service was seemingly following the dictates of the CIA rather than the Australian authorities. The CIA was obviously able to make good use of these well-established relationships.
Former CIA officer Marchetti says it best: “in essence this is like the old days in Europe where the nobility of various countries had more in common with each other than they did with their own people. This is true of intelligence services. They tend to have more in common with each other and their establishments which they represent than they do with their own people“. (“CIA in Australia” Part 3, Melbourne, Australia Public Radio News Service, 1986)
Also, when it comes to strategic interests, the U.S. does not seemingly want to be bothered with the interference of democratically elected officials.
Whitlam was threatening to not extend the lease for the U.S. bases in Australia. This also harkens back to the 1980s destabilizing efforts on the part of the U.S. against the anti-bases movement in the Philippines. The U.S. was noted in this period for the launching of an intense anti-communist campaign in the Philippines and the funding a paramilitary groups or deaths squads to destroy the Filipino activism. The Filipino movement against extending the U.S. bases agreement (primarily for Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base) resulted in the deaths and torture of countless Filipinos who fought against the U.S. presence and to encourage the Filipino Senate not to allow for the lease extension.
What the Australian Labor Party was attempting at the time was in keeping with many of the anti-colonial movements after WWII, which was primarily to claim independence and have a modicum of control and benefit from their own natural resources. This is what Salvadore Allende was attempting at the same time period in Chile and what Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and others in South America, Asia and Africa had been engaged in as well . Unlike Allende in 1973, Whitlam was not assassinated yet the demise of his government was as symbolic and devastating for many of us around the world.
You’ve got to hand it to Whitlam, though. He certainly did his best!!
As September 11, 2017 is upon us, millions around the world and in the U.S. will invoke the September 11, 2001 tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Simultaneously, for many there will also be the recollection of the CIA coup in Chile on September 11, 1973, when Chilean President Salvadore Allende was assassinated. And yes, this had to do with the economic desires of corporate America along with its U.S. government support.
With Trump as president we are once again faced with the prospect to diluting programs that have been in place since the New Deal to benefit the masses. We are now faced with the threat of the stark economic policies of neoliberalism, or its more bleak form of the structural adjustment market-driven model, being thrust down our throats. This is thanks to, for one, the likes of the leader in the House of Representatives, the former GOP Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his radical economic “go it alone” Ayn Rand philosophy.
Ryan and others have wanted to dismantle the last vestiges of the New Deal in its current form. It’s also what Milton Friedman, of the University of Chicago’s School of Economics, wanted which is that his market-driven policies be imposed on the American people. The right wing on the whole is likely pleased that the United States might finally be the victim of these failed and tragic economic policies that they’ve forced on developing countries where the wealthy benefit and no one else. It’s a home-coming and not a pleasant one. This is also accentuated now with the presidency of Donald Trump.
Friedman’s probably smiling from his grave. Contrary to all the hype, neoliberalism is a failed system throughout the world leading to inequities, environmental degradation and starvation. As Filipino economist Walden Bello said of Friedman, “Indeed, there is probably no more appropriate inscription for Friedman’s gravestone than what William Shakespeare wrote in “Julius Caesar”: ‘The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.'”
Ironically, the two tragedies of the September 11, 1983 assassination of Allende and the September 11, 2001 World Trade building disaster are not totally unrelated. In fact, the consequences of these disasters are immense in terms of the implementation of American economic and ideological domestic and foreign policy.
What are neoliberal or structural adjustment economic policies? These are Global North v Global South distinctions on the whole: “neoliberalism” is referred to market-driven draconian economic model in the “developed” Global North; “structural adjustment” refers to the same market-driven draconian model but with distinct policies being enforced, if money is loaned, by the world’s banking system in the so-called “developing” or Global South. The requirements are austere and restrictive than what’s yet appeared in the “developed” economies, although Paul Ryan and other want to change that in the U.S. The imposition of structural adjustment on “developing” countries has made them essentially without protections and vulnerable to vulture capitalists.
Market-driven means that the market will solve our problems – place no restraints on the market because as an entity it will determine what’s needed in terms of products and consumption and everyone will benefit as a result, economically and otherwise. Yet, it’s a farce!
Neoliberalism, or its more austere structural adjustment model, was ultimately enshrined as the leading paradigm in the policy guidelines of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In fact, to receive loans, countries were required to curtail government programs that offer services to the people that are then privatized or ended altogether; tariffs that had wisely been in place to protect local business ventures were required to be lifted; and the country was generally required to provide the opportunity for foreign investment in their country, perhaps of land ownership, resource extraction and control of large scale business ventures by foreign interests.
The policies have never created a level playing field. The West’s corporate leaders have dominated as a consequence and while corporate capitalists have thrived, thanks to the World Bank and IMF, many of the poor have starved and been driven deeper into poverty. We saw this in Mexico after the passage of NAFTA as well as among workers in the United States with virtually no protection of worker rights and unions and, for the first time, under NAFTA, foreigners could own land in Mexico. This forced many Mexican farmers off the land coupled with the dumping of cheap, largely unhealthy produce, such as corn, on the Mexican market, again thanks to NAFTA.
Similarly, Paul Ryan’s philosophy is that you’re on your own essentially and to shrink the government programs altogether to insure that you don’t get help and/or to privatize everything. This brings efficiency they say. It would also finally put the nail in the coffin of the New Deal policies. Ryan apparently wants to complete the process except for the military. Who will benefit? Certainly not the 99%!
Friedman knew his neoliberal policies would essentially throw out the popular New Deal programs and that there was no way this would pass the U.S. Congress in the 1970’s. He instead needed another country and most likely a crisis to test his neoliberal policies. Chile was it.
Allende was a socialist and a friend of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. When he became the Chilean president in 1970, he immediately began to restructure the economy with admirable socialist initiatives to advance opportunities for the Chilean masses. For example, his sweeping policies included the nationalization of some large-scale industries such as cooper mining and banking; he took under the auspices of the Chilean government the educational system, the health care system, and offered a free milk program for poor children; he was engaged in land reform and the raising of the minimum wage for Chilean workers. (And you’re right – some of this sounds like our own New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s that, as mentioned, conservatives have always wanted to dismantle.)
At the time Allende took office, the three major American corporations in Chile were ITT and two American cooper-mining companies Anaconda and Kennecott. ITT owned 70% of the Chilean Telephone Company and funded the right-wing newspaper El Mercurio. They were not pleased with Allende and by all accounts complained to the American government and had, with US government knowledge, given money to Allende’s opponents. There are also reports that ITT channeled money to the CIA to help dismantle the Allende government.
Yes, we would certainly call this U.S. interference in another country’s government!!!
Allende’s threat? It was apparently independence from the United States and offering a new democratic alternative in the region.
Allende also obviously thought Chile was a sovereign nation, but Henry Kissinger (Nixon’s Secretary of State) and the U.S. corporate investors in Chile thought otherwise.
Allende’s policies infuriated Kissinger, who, by all accounts, gave the CIA the green light to get rid of Allende. But Allende also alienated some of the Chilean middle class and some Christian groups who saw his policies of empowering the poor as a threat or as a Cuban style authoritarian state.
So Allende was assassinated, became a martyr, and what followed was devastating for Chileans on the whole as thousands of Chileans became “disappeared” and activists were killed or tortured – tortured, I am told, to cleanse them of their collective “social contract” mindset.
In the coup, thousands of Chileans were taken to the Chilean Stadium in Santiago where many were immediately killed or tortured.
One was the renowned folklorist and guitarist, Victor Jara, who was also a political activist and a member of the Communist Party. Jara was inspired by the folk songs of Chile and other South American countries. Under Allende, he was one of the artists who created the “Nueva Cancion Chilena” revolution of popular music.
At the stadium, where he had performed many times, his ribs were broken by his captors, and his fingers broken as well, to prevent him from playing his guitar. His captors then mocked him by suggesting he play the guitar and he responded by “defiantly” singing part of “Venceremos” (We Will Win). He was then shot 44 times by a machine gun and his body thrown into the streets of a shantytown in Santiago.
In 1977, I was in the office of MIT professor, Dale Runge, in Boston, who had been in the Peace Corps in Chile before the coup and had known Jara. While sitting at his desk, he cried as he described what happened. Also a guitarist, Dale had frequently played with Jara and learned from him.
Just prior to his death, Jara had written the following, almost as if he envisioned his fate – here’s some of the verse:
My guitar is not for the rich no,
nothing like that.
My song is of the ladder
we are building to reach the stars.
For a song has meaning
when it beats in the veins
of a man who will die singing,
truthfully singing his song.
There is no way a discussion about Chile in 1973 can be recalled without referring to Naomi Klein’s excellent book, the “Shock Doctrine“. Shocks to countries, says Klein, offer a vacuum for “disaster capitalists” to sweep in for the kill to change and control what and how they want for their benefit. In her book she describes how on September 12, 1973 – the day after the Allende assassination – young economists in Chile had on their desks documents drafted by the Chicago School of Economics on neoliberal policies for Chile. Actually, these Chilean graduates of the Chicago School, known as the “Chicago boys”, under the tutelage of their neoliberal godfather Milton Friedman, were already well informed about the market-driven economic model.
These Chicago “boys” imposed the new policies with a vengeance, which was coupled with the ruthless and murderous Pinochet dictatorship. As Bello said, so much for “political freedom going hand-in-hand with free markets.” Yet, Friedman called it the “Chilean miracle.”
Bello, who was a graduate student in Chile around this time, has also noted, after Pinochet’s 17 years of terror, that “Chile was indeed radically transformed…for the worse“. He said further that:
Chile was the guinea pig of a free market paradigm that was foisted on other third world countries beginning in the early 1980’s through the agency of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Some 90 developing and post-socialist economies were eventually subjected to free-market, “structural adjustment.”
Structural adjustment policies (SAPs), which set the stage for the accelerated globalization of developing country economies during the 1990’s, created the same poverty, inequality, and environmental crisis in most countries that free-market policies did in Chile, minus the moderate growth of the post-Friedman-Pinochet phase. As the World Bank chief economist for Africa admitted, “We did not think the human costs of these programs could be so great, and the economic gains so slow in coming.” So discredited were SAPs that the World Bank and IMF soon changed their names to “Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers” in the late 1990’s. (Bello, 2006)
When, on September 11, 2001, the planes struck the World Trade Center Towers, it’s important to note that they struck at the symbolic heart of the American capitalist system. We lost thousands of innocent workers in this tragic event. It’s also important to note that a plane flew into the Pentagon on the same day, which is the heart of the U.S. military that essentially protects America’s foreign economic ventures and its corporate capitalists. The targets were incredibly symbolic of American imperial arrogance that has tragically destroyed countless countries, communities, families, individuals and environments throughout the world.
As writer Chalmers Johnson would say, the attack on September 11, 2001 would be “blowback” time. He noted that there was only so much that others in the world can take of arrogant economic and aggressively violent U.S. foreign and military behavior.
Was the 9/11 tragedy in New York a ploy for a U.S. on-going war in the Middle East to then destabilize it for easier exploitation by the west and to advance the military industrial complex? This question is on-going.
In fact, the aftermath of 9/11 has resulted in significant and costly wars in the Middle East by the U.S. which, coupled with the disastrous deregulation of the banking system, for one, and the economic disaster in 2008, has led to a perfect crisis for the likes of the Friedman neoliberal/structural adjustment followers, like Paul Ryan, to impose their draconian policies on Americans. The situation is the perfect “shock”, as per Naomi Klein, for these disaster capitalists in America to sweep in and create even more havoc then they have already in the U.S. and for them to gain at the people’s expense. This is similar to Chile in 1973 minus the bloody coup in American itself.
It’s way past time that we all begin to develop concrete ideas for another economic system than what we have now. As Marxist economist Richard Wolff told me, in an interview a few years ago, since the Occupy movement Americans now have in their mindset the 1% versus the 99%. There is a concrete understanding of the dreadful inequities in this U.S. capitalist economy. He said it is now much easier to talk about economic systems that we simply were denied during the Cold War and after the Cold War as well. The Cold War system set the tone for the dialogue. Yet, finally we had a prominent socialist, Bernie Sanders, running for the presidency in 2016 and actually more open dialogue. Now, that is progress!!! It’s way past time for a change!!!
Walden Bello, “Eye of the Hurricane: Milton Friedman and the Global South” (2006) Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)
Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000)
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007)
September 8, 2017
Justice Initiative International
How do you define the Klan? I define it as “white supremacy” on steroids!
After the 2000/11 disaster in New York, George W. Bush said he was going after terrorists, and my first thought was “Good, he’s going after the Ku Klux Klan!” It certainly was wishful thinking on my part! The Klan has always been considered America’s major terrorist group and/or the initiator of terrorism through its hate propaganda and Georgia’s DeKalb County, both in and around the capital city Atlanta, has played a central and national role in it all.
I am originally Canadian, but all of this comes close to home for me as, since the early 1950s, DeKalb County in Atlanta is exactly where I have mostly lived and grown up since I was a 6 year old child.
It appears also that given the recent white supremacist promotional and protest events, such as the Charlottesville tragedy and the killing in Charleston in 2015, there has been a lot of reflection by many of us in the United States about Klan history and white supremacy overall, and I am one of those.
Further, the national Klan, launched in 1865-66, and Klan rebirths in 1915 and 1963, have invariably been a backlash to counter achievements for justice.
We should also add that in the 21rst Century in 2017 we are witnessing what could be described a fourth resurgence of the Klan due to the intensification of white supremacist activities. This is both a response to what seems to be a sympathetic White House to white supremacy overall, along with the likely white supremacist response to the country having just completed two terms of its first Black President, Barack Obama.
And don’t think for a moment that the Klan has its leadership exclusively among the white working class, because if you do think that way you would be wrong. Its leadership – whether directly in the Klan or of white supremacist sentiments – has always resided in America among its white elite.
And how do you define the “white elite”? They are “white” Americans with either inherited family wealth or professional leaders such as lawyers, physicians, dentists, those in the military or those in corporate and/or in government positions, etc. In other words, they are everywhere in society. And they are interested in “power”, largely to accrue profits, pure and simple.
As civil rights leader Reverend Joseph Lowery once said, “The Klan might not be wearing sheets today, but instead they are sitting in boardrooms.” These were words of wisdom, yet the Klan members and leaders, as stated, have almost always been sitting in boardrooms or legislatures, etc. since the beginning. And further, as a Mississippi friend of mine once said, “the Klan never does anything without approval from its white elite leaders” which also makes sense.
The white elite involvement is reflected in the Atlanta history about the Klan. As you will note in the history below, Klan leaders were a General, “failed” pastor and attempted physician, businessman, dentist and lawyer.
Finally. it is also important to note that historically the white elite in America has always benefited financially through the white/black conflict and the selling of “hate”. It has been a way to also control workers and farmers where profits accrue upward to the elite. It has been, in fact, along the lines of what Karl Marx stated, that “people are treated differently for profit”. And there have always been attempts in America to treat people differently be it by race or class or religion for profit.
But rather than addressing the profit motive here, this article is largely about the history of the national Klan initiatives in DeKalb County in and around Atlanta, Georgia that includes efforts to undermine America’s movements for civil and human rights. And further, historically, in much of their infrastructure and organizing, the Klan has tried to keep everything a secret. It is way past time to expose them as much as possible so we know what we’re dealing with.
About the Klan and Atlanta
To understand the Klan vis-a-vis Atlanta and the United States overall, we need to consider some of the Venable family members that have had a long residency in the Atlanta area.
It was William Venable (1852-1905) and Sam Venable (1856-1939) who purchased Stone Mountain in DeKalb County, Georgia in 1886 for $48,000 and the family maintained ownership until the State of Georgia purchased Stone Mountain in 1958. (See biographical information about William and Samuel Venable in the appendix below.)
In turn, Stone Mountain has served as the home base for Klan activity since the early 1900s, not only because of Sam Venable’s interest and involvement in the Klan but also because he allowed it to be used to create what became the“largest high relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving, depict(ing) three Confederate figures of the Civil War – President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.” (Stone Mountain Park)
Here’s more of a description of the carving:
The entire carved surface measures three-acres, larger than a football field and Mount Rushmore. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet, and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. The deepest point of the carving is at Lee’s elbow, which is 12 feet to the mountain’s surface. (Stone Mountain Park)
Most people think the carving was completed in the early 1900s. Not so. Surprisingly, the Confederate carving at Stone Mountain was not finished until the 1970s. Its completion, according to some, was initiated by white supremacists who clearly held disdain for the successful passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act and completing this depiction honoring the Confederacy was a way to counter those victories with arrogance and disrespect.
At Stone Mountain, as you might also expect, there was a dedication ceremony to celebrate the completed carving. Georgia officials presumed President Richard Nixon was coming to the event but he instead sent his “reviled” Vice President Spiro Agnew to give the keynote and this created a controversy in itself. In a May 9, 1970 editorial entitled “Shame and Disgrace,” the Atlanta Constitution stated:
It is a shame and a disgrace that Vice President Spiro T. Agnew will make the chief address dedicating Stone Mountain Memorial Park’s monumental carving.
Honorable men ride that rocky ledge, Gen. Robert E. Lee foremost among them. He never would have dismissed dissenters as “elite snobs.” Never would he have suggested that snobbery had anything to do with the course the country should follow.
A general-in-chief of the Confederate armies (who fought in a dying cause, to be sure), Lee had traits sorely needed in this hour of the nation’s history. His temper and patience seldom failed him. Self-control was his nature. On those rare times when his wrath did get away from him, he followed it with a particularly gracious act to the one who had felt his displeasure.
Spiro Agnew has none of those redeeming qualities. He has the grace of a drill sergeant and the understanding of a 19th century prison camp warden. (virginia.edu)
Klan Beginning, It’s Rebirth and Role of Atlanta
Regarding Klan history at the national level, the initial Klan organization was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee “between December 1865 and August 1866 by six former officers of the Confederate army” including the former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (see who became its first Grand Wizard (Wikipedia). “In the late 1860s Forrest began an association with the newly formed Ku Klux Klan, a secret society that terrorized blacks and opposed Reconstruction efforts. (History.com) (See biographical information about Nathan Bedford Forrest in the appendix below.)
Then, Atlanta and Stone Mountain come into the mix regarding Klan development.
The second resurgence or re-birth of the Klan was on Thanksgiving Day in 1915. William J. Simmons, also in Atlanta, organized the event on the top of Stone Mountain after being inspired by the recently released infamous and controversial film, “The Birth of a Nation” directed by D.W. Griffith that depicted Black males as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women. In the film, it was the Klan that saved the day and protected white women. (See biographical information about William J. Simmons in the appendix below.)
Historian John Hope Franklin observed that because of the popularity of the film in the South that “had it not been for “The Birth of a Nation”, the Klan might not have been reborn in 1915″. (Wikipedia)
It was also from “The Birth of a Nation” that Simmons was inspired by the depiction of the Klan “cross burning” that was not a part of the original Klan in 1865 but which, however, Simmons made sure was used in the 1915 event at Stone Mountain. Below is a description:
Looking eastward on a chilly Thanksgiving night in 1915, residents of Atlanta were met with an unfamiliar sight. Fifteen miles away the barren summit of Stone Mountain was illuminated by flames rising high into the blackness. The city, still reeling from a summer of anti-Semitic angst over the murder conviction and subsequent lynching of Jewish industrialist Leo Frank, would have been excused for thinking the giant burning cross was a work of Jewish retribution. In fact, it was the same violently anti-immigrant men who had committed the recent act of mob justice, and were now inaugurating the renewal of the Ku Klux Klan. It was the first time a burning cross had been used as a hate symbol in America. But the formerly innocuous act would soon become one of the hallmarks of the Klan-enduringly equated with intimidation, fear, and violence in the South and beyond.
On the mountaintop that night were fifteen men led by William Joseph Simmons, a failed medical student and army veteran who had been inspired by the popular new movie, The Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith’s silent film, based on the 1905 novel “The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan”, includes scenes depicting Klan members burning crosses before lynching a black man accused of murder. Simmons and company, fresh from committing their own act of extrajudicial justice, adopted the flaming cross symbol. But the origins of the practice were a far cry from the racist rabble rousing espoused by the Klan’s second coming. (Time Line)
Sam Venable was involved in this 1915 gathering and became secretary of the Klan.
Also, “the youngest participant that fateful night atop Stone Mountain was thirteen-year- old James Venable, Sam’s nephew.”(Atlanta’s Stone Mountain: A Multicultural History)
Close to five decades later, James Venable led the 1963 third resurgence of the Klan, also held at Stone Mountain. Venable then became the imperial wizard of the National Knights of the Klan from 1963 to 1987.
In summary, DeKalb County, Georgia, therefore, holds the record for two-thirds of these major national Klan initiatives.
Klan Organizing and Response to Civil and Human Rights Initiatives and its Mission
What is described here is by no means the extent of the response by the Klan to human and civil rights initiatives but instead is a few major examples. The 1963 Klan gathering, organized by James Venable, took place just two months after the huge and impressive August 28, 1963 “March on Washington” when Atlanta resident and civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his acclaimed “I Have a Dream Speech” in which he includes the comment, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia”.
The 1963 Klan gathering in Georgia was also but a month and a half after the devastating African American 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
(The bombing was)….an act of white supremacist terrorism which occurred at the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963, when four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted at least 15 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps located on the east side of the church.
Described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity”, the explosion at the church killed four girls and injured 22 others. (Wikipedia)
Clearly, the Klan’s third resurgence under the leadership of James Venable on November 1, 1963 at Stone Mountain coupled with the Birmingham bombing were disdainful reactions by white supremacists to the growing civil rights movement and demands for justice in the United States. It was very similar to the motives leading to the creation of the Klan itself in 1865 with the intent being to strike against emancipation and the beginning of reconstruction involving the leadership of freed slaves.
To provide a sense of the documented mission regarding “white” supremacy being the major quest of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, below is a portion from the 1921 Klan constitution that includes reference to white supremacy. To read the entire constitution, click here.
CONSTITUTION AND LAWS
Knights Of the Ku Klux Klan (Incorporated)
Imperial Palace, Invisible Empire
Proclaim to the World
…..We invite all men who can qualify to become citizens of the Invisible Empire to ap- proach the portal of our beneficent domain, join us in our noble work of extending its boundaries, and in disseminating the gospel of “Klankraft,” thereby encouraging, con- serving, protecting and making vital the fraternal relationship in the practice of an hon- orable clannishness; to share with us the glory of performing the sacred duty of protecting womanhood; to maintain forever the God-given supremacy of the white race; to commemorate the holy and chivalric achievements of our fathers; to safeguard the sacred rights, privileges and institutions of our Civil Government; to bless mankind and to keep eternally ablaze the sacred fire of a fervent devotion to a pure Americanism.
Apparently, the constitution developed for the 1921 Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was adapted from Nathan Bedford Forrest’s original Klan constitution in 1868 that can also be read by clicking here.
DeKalb County and the Venable Family
DeKalb County, in Atlanta, is where many of the Venable family lived and where I grew up, as well. In fact, at least one of the Venable family relatives, who I knew, went to my high school – Druid Hills – close to Emory University in Atlanta.
However, the details of the Venable family history I have only recently discovered. As is usually the case in the South, I heard rumors about some of the Venable family and questionable activities at Stone Mountain while growing up, but never had the details. And I never made the connection between the Venable family house in our Druid Hills area and Klan activity. Yet, growing up, I never wanted to go near Stone Mountain and didn’t go there until much later.
Below is a videoed lecture by Venable family member, Frank Eldridge, as he describes the Venable House where he grew up along with other Venable family members. Eldridge’s great grandfather was William Venable and Sam Venable was his great uncle.
The house was sometimes referred to as “Stonehenge”. Located on 1410 Ponce de Leon Road in Atlanta, it is now St. John’s Lutheran Church and is just a few blocks away from where I presently live. Some years ago, the church members invited Eldridge to speak as they wanted to learn about the history of the building.
I am astonished with the fact that while I have been doing some of this research that a surprising number both black and white activists in Atlanta who I’ve mentioned this history to – some of whom also live close to the Venable House – like me, they knew nothing of the history of the Venable family and Klan involvement. It is simply not something that has been discussed. This is typical southern behavior I must say which is often not to question enough – especially by those who have lived here a long time – to hid what they think might be happening, sometimes to try to excuse it, and then sweep it under the rug.
My older brother said recently that some of the fraternities at Druid Hills High School would occasionally hold parties at the Venable House.
Here is a brief description of the house:
The Tudor Domestic Gothic building above is the Stonehenge Mansion near the corner of Oakdale and Ponce de Leon in eastern Atlanta, Georgia. It was built by the Venable family in 1914. The architect was Edward Bennett Dougherty. The mansion is now part of St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Samuel Hoyt Venable and William Venable owned the Southern Granite Company, which owned Stone Mountain, Arabia Mountain, and Pine Mountain in Georgia. The mansion was therefore built of granite from Stone Mountain, which is about twelve miles to the east. Stone Mountain granite is a gray granite… (University of Georgia)
(See the Appendix for information about other Atlanta structures built from the Stone Mountain granite.)
Some Venable family members have seemingly regarded the Klan involvement as unfortunate. In fact, Frank Eldridge said that while running for government positions he had never verbalized his family’s Klan history. He said that the presentation he was giving at the church was the first time he had spoken in public about his family’s Klan connection, as having the Klan association known, he said, would not be helpful for a politician or judge.
Eldridge, however, has had an impressive legal career.
In 1965, Judge Eldridge was admitted to the Georgia Bar and practiced as a trial lawyer until April 15, 1979, when he was appointed to the Superior Court of Fulton County by Governor George D. Busbee, where he served and was re-elected without opposition until his appointment on July 16, 1996, to the Court of Appeals of Georgia by Governor Zell Miller. He served as Chief Judge of the Superior Court of Fulton County as well as District Administrative Judge and served on the Judicial Council and the Executive Committee of the Council of Superior Court Judges.
(Also) ….since 1974, he has taught adults in the “International Class,” which is comprised of a racially, ethnically and culturally diverse group of international students and immigrants as well as American citizens by birth and naturalization. (Georgia Appeals)
Eldridge noted that his relative, James Venable, was considered the disreputable member of the family. James Venable’s career was also political in addition to his Klan activities. He was the mayor of Stone Mountain Village from 1946 to 1949 and he was also an attorney in Decatur, Georgia that is located, as well, in DeKalb County.
Here’s more about James Venable and his Atlanta connection, where, in a 1982 interview, he mentions connections with the descendants of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Atlanta. (The excerpt below is from a transcribed interview with James Venable by James Mackay.)
….but really you never become a Klansman till you complete the third degree, the Knights of the Great Forrest, named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was the first Imperial Wizard, and his son was a Grand Dragon of Georgia, lived out there on Forrest Avenue, and black people have been successful in changing that name of that street after Ralph McGill there. He lived the third house, right at Glen Iris, on Forrest Avenue. I went to school with Nathan III. He finished military college at West Point. He died in 1946. I was acquainted with his father, who was the Grand Dragon of Georgia and the son of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, perhaps the bravest general, he and Stonewall Jackson. He had twenty-nine horses shot from under him, Nathan Bedford Forest. History doesn’t recall these facts.
Venable mentions Forrest Avenue, close to downtown Atlanta, being named after the original klansman, Nathan Bedford Forrest. My father used to teach in the Emory University Dental School in the 1950s on that very Forrest Avenue that was then changed to Ralph McGill Boulevard. It was named after McGill who was known as the anti-segregationist editor of the Atlanta Constitution.
Being “White” in the South
Atlanta also used to be the headquarters of the “Anti-Klan Network” led by the esteemed civil rights leader, Reverend C.T. Vivian. In the 1980s, Reverend Vivian asked me to participate in a Klan recruiting effort in the small town of LaGrange, Georgia south of Atlanta. In the LaGrange town square, the Klan was to have a Klan member at each corner handing out information about the Klan to drivers coming into the square.
Reverend Vivian wanted white activists standing next to the Klan members at each corner to, in contrast, distribute information about the Anti-Klan Network. I did precisely that.
Standing next to a Klan member who wore his Klan robe, I distributed information about the Anti-Klan Network while also observing Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) staff looking out the windows of some of the office buildings with their rifles in hand. It was rather sobering to say the least. I heard the FBI was there as well.
While I was handing out the Anti-Klan Network materials, a “smiling” white male drove his truck around the square with black workers sitting in the back of the truck. It was clearly a scare tactic to intimidate the workers and make them more malleable – an age-old white supremacist and Klan tactic.
In the above narrative I have not written extensively about the specific activities of the Klan but rather about some of the early Klan formation. However, in my recollection of my high school in Atlanta, the Klan activities were not discussed openly even though they were occurring not far away.
Further, as someone “white” and, reflecting upon growing up in Atlanta and in the South, I realized that there were often rumors in my high school and elsewhere of outrageous “white supremacy” atrocities in and outside the city, yet much of it was not openly discussed and was rarely in the press as well. Everything was done in secret it seems.
This is called a “closed” society, which describes the South at its core and in which you are enclosed in a vacuum of lies and deception and lack of openness altogether…but I and some others knew instinctively that the culture left much to be desired. It was as if by closing yourself in, by not saying something openly or inquiring openly, that it was in some way a testament or an attempt to think, for one, that the violence and racist actions didn’t actually exist or also that you improperly try to distance yourself from it. And you can’t actually do that because by being “white”, all of us are, one way or the other, complicit in it all.
We are complicit by not saying anything, not learning about and not doing anything about this insane mindset and societal and oppressive impact of “white supremacy”.
This kind of “closed” thinking and lack of action against white supremacy is exceptionally harmful in countless ways. White supremacy tears at and rips apart the heart of society and not just in the South, but throughout the country and the world. I even heard from visiting scholar Gerald Horne this week, in his Atlanta lecture, that the surviving members of the “Little Rock Nine”, who, in 1957, integrated the Little Rock, Arkansas school, are still receiving death threats. Yes, it is white supremacy on steroids for sure.
In fact, if we don’t know the present actions and the history of it, and if we don’t acknowledge the actions and impact of white supremacy overall, we don’t then know how to appropriately react against it.
(1) William Venable (1852-1905)
He is the son of William Richard Venable (1826-1873) and Sarah Cornelia Hoyt (1834-1916). He married Sarah A. Miller , daughter of Thomas Compton Miller on 15 Dec 1877 maybe at, La Grange, Troup Co., GA. William in 1874 is listed as Deputy Clerk Superior Court. William’s wife Sallie predeceased him by eight years leaving him with two daughters. Two daughters survived him, Coribel Venable Kellogg and Robert Ridley “Bob” Venable Thornton Roper, she is named after Dr. Robert Ridley of Atlanta. William was a Georgia State Senator for many years and served one term as President of the Georgia State Senate. He was a member of the Atlanta Police Board, a prominent Mason, a Knight of Pythias, and a member of all the city clubs. William and his brother, Samuel H. Venable owned and operated the Southern Granite Company which in turn owned Stone Mountain, Arabia Mountain, and Pine Mountain. (Find a Grave)
Sam and his brother William bought Stone Mountain in 1887 from several owners. They were the first to own the entire mountain. They founded Venable Brothers and opened and operated the quarries at Stone Mountain. Under their able management the granite from this mountain made possible one of the major industries in the Empire State of the South, and played a prominent part in the rebuilding of Atlanta after the destruction of the War Between the States. Stone was quarried by the Scotch and Welsh quarrymen, who were imported for their skill in this field. Granite was cut for paving blocks, which were in great demand prior to the use of other materials for paving streets. Curb and building materials were also produced at Stone Mtn. and shipped all over the United States. In 1916, Samuel H. Venable jointly with his sister Elizabeth Venable Mason, and their nieces Coribel V. Kellogg and Robert V. Roper deeded to the United Daughters of the Confederacy the steep side of Stone Mountain and the adjacent land for the purpose of a Confederate Memorial. It was stipulated in the deed that if the memorial was not completed in twelve years, it would revert to the owners.
Samuel H. Venable, unmarried, Pres. Venable Bros., owners of Stone Mountain and Pine Mountain. Clubs: Capital City Club, Piedmont Driving Club, and Druid Hills Golf Club. Summer home: “Mont Rest” and “Wohelo” Stone Mountain, GA. Residence: “Stonehenge,” Druid Hills, Atlanta, GA. The United Daughters of the Confederacy contacted Gutzon Borglum to carve a head of Robert E. Lee on the mountain. After lengthy study of the mountain contour, Borglum said, “It seems to me that the only fitting memorial to the South of 1861-1865 by the equally great South of today, is to reconstruct as best we can the great characters of those days, and colossal proportions, carve them in high and full relief in action, mounted and on foot moving across the granite mountain in the arrangement of two wings of an army, following the mountain contour, moving naturally across it’s face to the East.” The first of the 200 feet high figures was unveiled in 1924. Borglum’s superb head of Gen. Robert E. Lee was unveiled. The UDC lost control and was taken over by the KKK. In 1925 the sculptor was dismissed. Many years later Borglum completed his carving on Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. Sam never married. In 1920 he deeded his half of the mountain to his sister, Elizabeth Venable Mason. (Find a Grave)
(3) James Venable (1901-1993)
James R. Venable, a Georgia lawyer and white supremacist who organized a major Ku Klux Klan faction in 1963 and headed it for nearly 25 years.
From 1963 to 1987, Mr. Venable was the Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Klan, which he organized as one of several rival Klan factions nationally.
Mr. Venable’s ancestors owned Stone Mountain near Atlanta and ran a granite quarry there. The mountain, the site of a 1915 rally that revived the nearly extinct Klan, later became a state park and memorial with a giant relief of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson carved in the mountainside.
Mr. Venable was mayor of Stone Mountain Village from 1946 to 1949 and used the mountaintop and nearby family land for annual Klan rallies.
As a lawyer in Decatur, he sometimes represented blacks. He won acquittal for a black accused of murder and won an appeal for two Black Muslims in Louisiana convicted on charges stemming from a police raid on their mosque. (NYTImes)
(4) Structures in Atlanta and Washington DC built by Stone Mountain granite
In Atlanta Fulton Tower, Fulton County Court House, Carnegie Library, North Ave. Presbyterian Church, DeKalb County Court House, Federal Prison, US Post Office, Rhodes Memerial Building, and Stone Henge, Sam Venable’s residence (1410 Ponce de Leon Ave.) all testify to it’s beauty as a building material. The Lincoln Memorial has a Stone Mountain granite foundation, and the chair on which the statue of Lincoln is sitting is also from Stone Mountain. (Find a Grave)
Note: It is interesting to note that the 1963 revival of the Klan, led by Georgia resident James Venable, took place on November 1, 1963 at Stone Mountain, Georgia. This was but 2 months after another Georgia resident, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the “March on Washington”, on August 28, 1963, and recited his now legendary “I Have a Dream” speech in which King wisely stated “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia”.
The Klan renewal in November 1963, in tandem with the growing Civil Rights movement and the huge national support for the “March on Washington”, was, obviously, a related response to these impressive civil rights actions.
Below is a 2016 article by Ken Lawrence that offers a history of Stone Mountain in Georgia that has served historically as the site for both the second (in 1915) and third (in 1963) resurgence of the Klan.
Correction: Here also again is the pictorial video of the unveiling of the King statue on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol on August 28, 2017. The previous video released stated that King was assassinated in Nashville, Tennessee which was not correct – he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while organizing a march for and support of Garbage Workers in Memphis.
September 1, 2017
Stone Mountain, Georgia: its history, monument,
controversy, and commemorative stamp
March 04, 2016
By Ken Lawrence
Stone Mountain is the name of a dome-shaped mineral outcrop called a monadnock or a pluton, “the largest exposed mass of granite in the world,” according to David B. Freeman, author of Carved in Stone: The History of Stone Mountain.
It rises 780 feet from the surrounding area, is seven miles in circumference, covers 563 acres, and gives its name to a small town at the base of the rock, located about 16 miles east of Atlanta, Ga.
Today Stone Mountain is best known as a tourist attraction that draws about four million visitors each year, lured by a carving on the bald battleship-gray vertical north face of the mountain that is the world’s largest bas-relief sculpture, and from the poetic crescendo of Rev. Martin Luther King’s Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
Georgia has designated the sculpture and surrounding park as a monument to the Confederate States of America (CSA), which seceded from the United States and launched the 1861-1865 Civil War in a failed attempt to preserve the institution of forced, uncompensated labor based on the lifetime enslavement of Africans, their offspring, and their descendants.
Equestrian images of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, are carved on the mountainside.
History of Stone Mountain
Indigenous Americans had inhabited the area for millennia, and had encircled the mountaintop with a rock wall long before the first European explorers arrived.
In 1597, Spanish settlers along the Georgia coast heard stories about its striking appearance. By the end of the following century, English traders had been there. A sad consequence was an epidemic of alien diseases that decimated local tribes. In the 18th century, survivors formed the Creek Confederation to oppose further European incursion, with Stone Mountain as their ceremonial meeting ground, at the crossroads of trails to and from settlements throughout the region.
The 1821 Treaty of Indian Springs opened the area to settlement by outsiders. Elected president in 1828, Andrew Jackson called for removal of eastern tribes to the West. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830; federal troops expelled the Creeks and Cherokees from Georgia in the Trail of Tears forced march during 1838 and 1839.
Meanwhile the government had established the Rock Mountain post office July 18, 1834, and renamed it Stone Mountain in January 1836. The village at the base of the mountain was incorporated as New Gibraltar on Dec. 21, 1839. In 1845, it moved half a mile west, and assumed its present name in 1847. Railroad connections with Atlanta and Augusta brought prosperity. By 1850, the scenic town had become a resort for city-dwellers on holidays as well as a hub for shipping farm produce and quarried granite to market.
The 1860 census reported 164 white households and 290 slaves in the Stone Mountain area. Although a majority of DeKalb County voters opposed secession, local men enlisted in the Confederate Army shortly after war against the Union erupted April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter, S.C.
Confederate artillerymen used Stone Mountain as a target to test breech-loading cannon manufactured in Atlanta for accuracy. In the summer of 1864, federal troops, commanded by Gen. James B. McPherson, routed Rebel forces at Stone Mountain and destroyed the railroad line while the main body of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army laid siege to Atlanta.
Atlanta surrendered Sept. 2; its capture assured the re-election of Abraham Lincoln. Sherman next deployed his forces for his march to the sea, which began Nov. 15, 1864. On the first day of the march, his left flank reached Stone Mountain and camped there. The 2nd Massachusetts Volunteers destroyed public buildings in the town before resuming their advance.
As Sherman’s army swept across Georgia, thousands of slaves left their former owners and followed the Union Army to Savannah in the largest mass liberation since the Vicksburg campaign of 1863. On Jan. 16, 1865, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15, which confiscated 400,000 acres of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida land along the Atlantic coast and divided it into parcels settled and worked by freed former slaves, each family given 40 acres and a mule.
After Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, President Andrew Johnson revoked Sherman’s order, but grateful African-Americans at Stone Mountain named their community Sherman Town in his honor, as it has been known ever since. Local businesses prospered after the war, and by 1871 they promoted their restored resort as “America’s favorite picnic ground.”
In 1886, a firm owned by George Morelin, Charles Horne, Samuel H. Venable, and William H. Venable purchased the Stone Mountain Granite and Railway Co.
Soon afterward, the Venable brothers bought out Morelin’s and Horne’s shares. William Venable died in 1905, leaving Samuel as the most important property owner when William J. Simmons founded the second Ku Klux Klan and burned a cross at the top of Stone Mountain on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1915.
In his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, my friend and colleague James W. Loewen wrote:
Simmons gathered 34 white men there who called themselves the “Knights of Mary Phagan.” Phagan, a young white factory worker, had been murdered in Atlanta two years earlier. Leo Frank, a Jewish industrialist, was (erroneously) convicted of the crime. In August 1915, a band of whites took him from prison and hanged him. Spurred by their success and inspired by the recently released film Birth of a Nation, which told a tale of purported Reconstruction horrors, the men, some of whom had participated in lynching Frank, met on top of Stone Mountain to form the second national Klan.
Simmons had timed his inaugural rally to coincide with the Atlanta opening of Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith’s silent motion picture glorified the original KKK, which had terrorized and murdered black and white Republicans in the former Confederacy from 1865 to 1877, and had ruthlessly restored white-supremacist governments to those states by preventing freed former slaves and their allies from voting. The movie portrayed African-Americans, played mostly by white actors in blackface makeup, as sex-crazed savage brutes who defiled white women.
Venable became a member of the Klan and hosted KKK events on his mountain for decades afterward. In 1923, he granted the Atlanta Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan an easement to hold annual rallies at the top of Stone Mountain. Samuel Venable never married; he died in 1939. The easement to the Klan remained in effect until the state of Georgia purchased the property from Venable’s heirs in 1958.
In 1963, James R. Venable, nephew of the former owner, became imperial wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the third iteration of the KKK, this time aimed at terrorizing and suppressing the growing civil-rights movement for racial equality. Loewen wrote, “Every Labor Day weekend, Venable, who for a time was mayor of Stone Mountain, invited the Klan to his property at the base of the mountain for rallies that included burning three 60-foot crosses.” James Venable died in 1993.
In 1997, Stone Mountain city councilman Charles E. Burris became the first African-American mayor of the town. He defeated incumbent Patricia Wheeler 278 votes to 260.
At the time of his election, Burris and his family lived in the home that had been James Venable’s residence. “Tell me that God doesn’t have a sense of humor,” Burris remarked to the New York Times after the election. Burris died in 2009 at age 57; Wheeler is once again the mayor.
Envisioning a Monument to the Confederacy
In 1914, two editorial writers had called for likenesses of Confederate leaders to be placed on the face of Stone Mountain. Caroline Helen Jemison Plane, widow of a Confederate officer killed in the war, a member of United Daughters of the Confederacy and first president of the UDC’s Georgia division, took up the cause and became its prime advocate.
The Georgia division and Atlanta chapter of UDC approved her proposal for a 70-foot bust of Robert E. Lee on the mountain. Venable agreed to allow the carving. In June 1915, Plane invited Idaho-born artist Gutzon Borglum to visit Atlanta and consider taking the assignment; he arrived in August to examine the site.
Borglum told Plane that a single bust of Lee would be insignificant and not a suitable tribute, “a postage stamp on a barn door.” He submitted an alternative proposal that would feature Davis, Lee, Jackson, and four other top CSA commanders as the central panorama, followed by their armies, including 65 additional individual likenesses, plus horses and artillery, together with a large memorial hall at the foot of Stone Mountain, an amphitheater on the right and an artificial lake on the left.
Plane suggested adding a Ku Klux Klan group, “which saved us from Negro domination and carpetbag rule . … in their nightly uniforms approaching in the distance,” to Borglum’s 72 figures. Borglum did not accept her idea but he included an altar to the Klan in his plan. He joined the secret order and became active in its top ranks. Borglum began work in 1923, the same year that Venable granted the KKK’s easement to convene on the mountain.
On Jan. 19, 1924, with only Lee’s roughly carved image to be viewed, 5,000 people attended an unveiling ceremony at Stone Mountain. On March 17, Congress passed and President Calvin Coolidge signed the Stone Mountain Memorial Coinage Act, which authorized the United States Mint to issue up to five million commemorative half dollars, to be sold at face value to the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association, which in turn would sell them to the public at a profit and use the proceeds to pay the costs of the project.
Not long afterward relations between Borglum and his employers began to deteriorate. On Feb. 25, 1925, the association accused the artist of “neglect and virtual abandonment, inordinate demands for money not due him, offensive egotism, and delusions of grandeur,” and fired him. Outraged by the executive committee’s action, Borglum smashed his models. Officers of the association filed charges of malicious mischief and willful destruction of association property against him.
Borglum barely escaped arrest as he fled the state, never again to be involved with the Stone Mountain sculpture. After leaving Georgia, Borglum relocated to the Black Hills of South Dakota where he carved the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
A New Artist and a Fresh Design for Stone Mountain
After dismissing Borglum, the association’s officers searched for another sculptor to resume the project. Their first choice was Lorado Taft, but he refused because “no self-respecting artist would take over another man’s work.” After being rejected by several other well-known sculptors, the association commissioned Henry Augustus Lukeman of New York on April 17, 1926. Helen Plane, age 96, died a week later; sponsorship had passed to a new team.
Ironically, the commemorative coins that featured Borglum’s images of Lee and Jackson were minted just as his successor was crafting a new model. Instead of 72 figures, Lukeman proposed just nine, still in a procession led by Davis, Lee, and Jackson but in formal heroic postures, not the naturalistic poses favored by Borglum.
After securing the association’s approval, Lukeman and his carving team set to work in September 1926, first by blasting a new vertical face into the mountain with dynamite, removing more than one million cubic feet of rock that weighed more than 85,000 tons, which all but obliterated Borglum’s version of Lee. Lukeman’s Lee was unveiled April 9, 1928, the 63rd anniversary of the general’s surrender at Appomattox.
That was as far as Lukeman got. The unveiling was a disappointment. Coin sales had failed to generate the anticipated income, partly because they had been condemned by the Union veterans’ Grand Army of the Republic organization and partly because Borglum and his supporters resented his humiliation and refused to help his successor. Only 1,314,709 were purchased. With funds almost gone, the association ordered work on the sculpture halted at the end of May 1928. Title to the property reverted to Venable, and after his death to his descendants. Lukeman died in 1935; Borglum, in 1941.
Using Confederate Symbols to Oppose Civil Rights
After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools in its 1955 Brown v. Board of Education decision, white demagogues responded with racist pledges to defy federal law and to thwart the movement for civil rights. In that poisoned political discourse, white legislators embraced Confederate emblems as symbols of their opposition to equal rights for African-Americans.
In 1956, the Georgia legislature replaced horizontal red and white stripes on the state flag with the Confederate battle flag that featured a St. Andrew’s cross as its most recognizable feature. In 1958 the state of Georgia purchased the Stone Mountain property, determined to complete the Confederate memorial.
Among the first additions were “white” and “colored” racially segregated comfort stations. In 1962, the association selected a third sculptor, Walker Kirtland Hancock of Massachusetts, to finish the job. Once again the design changed, becoming smaller and including fewer figures.
Hancock’s plan eliminated the horses’ legs that had featured so prominently in Lukeman’s model “to give the emphasis to essential features while avoiding a stark realism where it would be inappropriate.” More candidly it meant less toil for the artist and his team of rock carvers, and lent an unfinished aura to the result.
Rock carving technology had made great strides during the 35 years that the sculpture had been neglected. The new tool of choice, the thermal-jet torch, not only allowed for more intricately detailed and accurate cuts; it was also far more efficient. One carver “could remove as much stone in a day as twenty men could do in a week with pneumatic drills and wedges,” according to Freeman.
Work officially resumed July 11, 1964, and six years later the job was nearly finished. A dedication ceremony for the monument was held May 9, 1970. President Richard Nixon had agreed to be the keynote speaker, but “the crisis in Cambodia and student unrest at home forced Mr. Nixon to cancel his visit,” according to the New York Times.
Vice President Spiro Agnew spoke in his place. The Washington Star reported, “A memorial official described the turnout as disappointing, but there were indications that the crowd was more disappointed with the vice president’s speech.” Instead of a speech about Confederate glory, he called for national unity in support of the U.S. war in Indochina.
The organizers had expected a crowd of 100,000 to attend, but fewer than 10,000 official guests and spectators actually came. “Wishbone Chicken Company sold only 2,000 of 10,000 boxes of fried chicken prepared for the event,” noted Freeman. A Washington Post reporter caught the mood of those who had attended: “… the mountain is a symbol of the Klan to some, to others it is a monument to the lost cause and the Confederate dead of the Civil War.”
The KKK and the Lost Cause had evidently lost some of their luster, but that did not prompt anyone to reconsider whether a postal commemoration, which had been wending its way through phases of planning and execution since 1968, was appropriate.
Postal Commemorations of Confederate Leaders
Every U.S. postage stamp issued to commemorate Confederate leaders has generated controversy. First was the 4¢ Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. Jackson, and Stratford Hall (Lee’s birthplace) stamp in the 1937 Army set, Scott 788. As soon as the plan to issue the stamp was announced in June 1936, Union veterans gathered at the Grand Army of the Republic national encampment denounced it.
Oddly, Lost Cause adherents attacked the stamp after it was issued because Lee was depicted with only two stars on his collar, not the three that he had worn as the top commander. But the design had been adapted from a drawing submitted by no less a Confederate expert than August Dietz, the dean of CSA philately.
The 3¢ United Confederate Veterans stamp of 1951 (Scott 998) was more pathetic than offensive, issued on the occasion when three of the last 12 surviving veterans of the Confederate Army gathered for their final meeting at Norfolk, Va.
The U.S. Navy performed a reenactment of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, where the Union’s ironclad won. The Post Office Department used exactly the same portraits for the United Confederate Veterans stamp that had been pictured on the 3¢ Grand Army of the Republic stamp issued in 1949 (Scott 985) on the occasion of the GAR’s final encampment in Indiana, changing only the color, inscription, and insignia. Critics on both sides were insulted by the similarity.
When the Post Office Department issued the 30¢ Robert E. Lee stamp of the Liberty series in 1955 (Scott 1049) Lee was portrayed in civilian clothes even though the photograph used as the model had pictured him in his Confederate uniform. Nevertheless, letters to newspapers throughout the country argued that Lee had betrayed his country and was unfit as a stamp subject, quickly followed by letters expressing the opposite opinion.
After the Postal Service issued the Civil War Legends pane of 20 32¢ stamps (Scott 2975), I wrote in my August 1995 American Philatelist column that “subjects on the Civil War pane honor equally those who committed armed treason in defense of chattel slavery with those who stood and fought gallantly for freedom.” It was a passing but opinionated phrase in an article about the variety of stamp subjects offered that year.
Prof. James T. Currie of Virginia protested in the October issue, “I have enjoyed reading Ken Lawrence’s columns until now. I knew Ken twenty years ago in Mississippi and accept his political persuasion, which is somewhat to the left of center … His statement … goes too far. It is obvious that Ken should stick to stamps and leave history and political commentary to others.” Another 20 years on and here I am, still at it.
The 6¢ Stone Mountain Commemorative of 1970
My objection to the 1995 Civil War Legends pane pales in comparison to my low regard for the 6¢ Stone Mountain Memorial stamp of 1970 (Scott 1408). On previous occasions, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the Post Office Department had steadfastly refused to honor Davis on a postal issue, even after accepting Lee and Jackson as stamp subjects.
For example, on May 18, 1960, the Associated Press reported that the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee “unanimously agreed not to recommend issuing a Jefferson Davis commemorative stamp in 1961” as part of the Civil War centennial issue.
Anticipating the Stone Mountain stamp “to reflect Federal forgiveness,” stamp columnist David Lidman wrote in the Aug. 23, 1970, New York Times, “Lee and Jackson have appeared on other United States stamps, but Davis never.”
Belmont Faries, the Washington Evening Star editor who later chaired the CSAC, gave an uncharacteristically blunt account in the May 1973 S.P.A. Journal:
The Stone Mountain Memorial commemorative of 1970 reflects, to an unusual degree, the role of complex political pressures and sectional prejudices in the selection of stamp subjects. …
An item “Stone Mountain, Ga. Sculpture – completion and unveiling in May 1969” appeared on the agenda of the Stamp Advisory Committee at its meeting of May 21, 1968. No action was taken. The committee had consistently since its creation refused to approve a stamp for Jefferson Davis and had little enthusiasm for promoting a Confederate memorial at a time when civil rights was a major political issue.
By early 1969, when the delayed dedication had been fixed as May or June 1970, the political situation had changed. A carefully cultivated “Southern strategy” had contributed to the election of a Republican president, Richard Nixon, and the new postmaster general was a Republican from Alabama, Winton M. Blount. Rep. [Ben B.] Blackburn, a Republican, made a new request for a stamp in April, 1969. …
At its meeting of Sept. 10, 1969, Postmaster General Blount’s new Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee had recommended a Stone Mountain Memorial stamp. It repeated the recommendation on Feb. 6, 1970. …
The Stone Mountain stamp drew quite a bit of criticism in Congress and in letters to newspapers and the Post Office Department. An American Federation of Teachers local in Philadelphia was irritated that a stamp could be issued for Confederate leaders while there was none for Dr. Martin Luther King. A letter-to-the-editor writer, obviously an unreconstructed Northerner, wanted to know if a Benedict Arnold stamp would be next. …
In any event it had served its purpose – it had helped build the image of a Republican Administration sympathetic to the South. …
Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, hosted the Sept. 19, 1970, dedication ceremony. Maddox was a segregationist firebrand who had become famous for his refusal to allow African-Americans to dine at his Pickrick Restaurant in Atlanta. He had distributed axe handles to his racist supporters as clubs to intimidate and beat black people who tried to enter his establishment.
On July 3, 1964, just a week before Hancock’s rock carvers resumed work on Stone Mountain, Maddox became the first business owner to publicly, deliberately violate the federal Civil Rights Act that had outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations. When a federal court ordered him to admit black customers, Maddox sold the restaurant so he would not have to obey and launched a career in politics as a die-hard white-supremacist.
At the 1970 dedication ceremony, Maddox performed as a Lost Cause spokesman with choice words for Gen. Sherman, reminding the crowd who had burned Atlanta. But Assistant Postmaster General James W. Hargrove presented even more enthusiastic praise for the Confederacy. He likened the Nixon administration’s postal reforms to the example pioneered by the CSA post office headed by John H. Reagan, Davis’s postmaster general:
“Comparisons are always risky, but our efforts at postal reform in 1970 are not too far off the course which Reagan tried to follow 109 years ago.” (On July 1, 1971, the Post Office Department ceased to exist, replaced by the business-oriented U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. postmaster general ceased to be a member of the president’s cabinet.) In reality, Confederate postal service had been less efficient and more expensive than U.S. mail of the 1860s.
Naturally I collect the Stone Mountain stamp despite my revulsion, but there’s not a lot to recommend it. The Scott catalog lists no errors or varieties; as a dull gray monochrome design it hasn’t attracted much interest from collectors, but my collection includes the illustrated example that caught my eye as a United States stamp specialist, with misregistered perforations that affected the appearance.
A second Stone Mountain stamp, a $5 souvenir sheet issued by St. Vincent in 1989, which shows Walt Disney cartoon characters as Civil War reenactors in front of Stone Mountain, is more colorful, and does not annoy me as much as the 1970 U.S. stamp does.
When Lester Maddox died in 2003 at age 87, the New York Times called him “one of the last of the Southern demagogues.” Today officials who manage the Stone Mountain Memorial are scrambling to shed the racist trappings that have been so essential to the park’s purpose, but their changes might be too little and too late to satisfy 21st century standards of fairness, respect for fellow citizens, and civic dignity.
The American Custom of Toppling Monuments
The tradition of toppling monuments and tearing down symbols of oppressors, foes, and false gods is almost as ancient as the tradition of erecting them. It’s as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July, almost literally.
On July 9, 1776, immediately after the Declaration of Independence was read at New York to George Washington’s army, a group of soldiers and local citizens went to Bowling Green Park in Manhattan where they pulled down and dismembered a large gilded monument of King George III on horseback.
Lead from the statue was melted down into 42,088 musket balls, which the Continental Army used as ammunition in the Revolutionary War. One might accuse that mob of having rewritten history, but if they did, it wasn’t by erasing the memory of a despised despot from history books or from lessons taught to later generations of school children, even though visitors to Bowling Green Park are no longer able to play in the shadow of a toga-clad tyrant.
Anyone who wishes to celebrate or mourn the memory of George III, including descendants of colonial American Tories and their Hessian mercenaries, is free to do so. But no one should have the power to impose the king’s image as a lesson model for Americans. Such an attempt would rightfully be condemned as myth-making, not praised as honoring history.
With respect to Confederate symbols, the issue is not simply one of respecting the dead, as in a cemetery, or their notable achievements, as in a museum display. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these images were placed in government buildings and public spaces as affirmations that white supremacy had been restored after the overthrow of Reconstruction-era interracial Republican governments.
Last summer, after a deranged white racist named Dylann Roof, who embraced the Confederate battle flag as the emblem of his doctrine, murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and shocked the conscience of the community, the push to remove symbols that incited race hatred from public places gained momentum.
This was not a new issue in Georgia. The Confederate battle flag had been incorporated into the design of the Georgia state flag in 1956 as a gesture of segregationist defiance to racial integration. After decades of debate and a few failed attempts at compromise, the legislature finally voted to remove the offensive emblem in May 2003, and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law.
Debating the Future of Stone Mountain
Less than a month after the Charleston massacre, critics of public Confederate iconography directed their attention toward the biggest example of all, the one that has been entwined with the Ku Klux Klan for 100 years. In July the Atlanta NAACP demanded that relief sculptures be removed from the face of Stone Mountain, calling them a “glorification of white supremacy.”
An unnamed spokesman for the memorial responded that the issue was up to the legislature. The proposal to remove the large likenesses of Davis, Lee, and Jackson from Stone Mountain is not radical; precedent already exists for demolishing Lee’s first Stone Mountain image. Skilled stone workers could take down the current version just as easily, but it would be costly and would surely affect attendance.
Hoping to defuse the issue without a loss of revenue, Bill Stephens, the chief executive officer of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, announced last October that the park will erect a tower on the top of the mountain containing a replica of the Liberty Bell as a tribute to the Rev. King and the line from his “I Have a Dream” speech. Gov. Nathan Deal at first endorsed the plan, but it has subsequently become mired in controversy.
Georgia law requires that “the memorial to the heroes of the Confederate States of America graven upon the face of Stone Mountain shall never be altered, removed, concealed or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of the state who suffered and died in their cause.” Adherents of the Lost Cause recite that provision to deflect every proposal for change.
But the hypocrisy and duplicity of the Lost Cause club is transparent to anyone who takes more than a superficial look. For evidence, consider the case of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, a senior Confederate commander whom Lee affectionately called “my old war horse.” If the purpose of Stone Mountain and other shrines is to honor historical truth, Longstreet would be featured alongside Lee, and in Georgia, at least, Jackson probably would not.
Longstreet’s image isn’t there because neo-Confederates detest his memory so thoroughly that there was no monument to him at all until 1998, when the National Park Service placed an equestrian statue of him at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The reason is straightforward and exposes an inconvenient truth. Longstreet was the only senior Confederate general to join the Republican Party during Reconstruction. He supported Gen. Ulysses S. Grant for president and embraced equal rights for African-Americans. (There is a Longstreet museum in Russellville, Tenn., the location of his 1863 winter headquarters.)
Yet Longstreet has a stronger connection to Georgia than any of the three who are represented. The legal phrase that designates Stone Mountain as a “tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of the state” is an odd requirement. None of the three men were citizens of Georgia, and of the three, neither Lee nor Jackson had any significant link to the state.
Other Possible Lesson Plans for Stone Mountain
I favor eradication of Davis, Lee, and Jackson, but politically that will probably prove difficult to achieve any time soon. Meanwhile, a more immediately practical plan might be to modify parts of the existing sculpture or to add new carvings, or both. There’s a lot of vacant rock on that mountainside.
Of the three, Jackson has the least plausible claim to represent citizens of Georgia, but it might be possible to replace Jackson’s head and shoulders with a bust of Longstreet, or to add Longstreet and his mount as a fourth figure in the procession if removing Jackson isn’t feasible.
Including Longstreet would provide a plausible reason for Lee to be present as Longstreet’s commander. Together they would provide an excellent tableau for educating visitors about the choices that faced former Confederate soldiers and citizens after the war, with Longstreet welcoming emancipation and black suffrage while Lee remained largely equivocal and unrepentant.
Longstreet became a model citizen of Georgia, a man whom young Georgians could properly learn to admire. In 1875 he moved his family to Gainesville, where he served for a time as postmaster. His neighbors affectionately designated his farm “Gettysburg.” Longstreet’s later appointments included U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, U.S. Commissioner of Railroads, and U.S. marshal.
If Davis can’t be taken down from the mountain, the association should at least assure that park visitors learn about his Georgia connections. There are two important ones, neither a credit to his reputation:
After moving the CSA capital to Richmond in 1861, Davis sought to expand the power of the Confederate government. His fiercest critic was Georgia Gov. Joseph E. Brown. In anticipation of the fall of Richmond in 1865, Davis fled. When Union cavalry caught up with his entourage in Georgia, Davis tried to escape by disguising himself as a woman.
Lost Cause devotees overlook or excuse the former point and fiercely deny the second. Here I shall briefly review them both, as Stone Mountain programs ought to do.
At first, white Georgian men enthusiastically enlisted in the Confederate Army. Brown wanted them to serve in defense of their home state; Davis ordered most of them to serve in Virginia. As their terms of enlistment expired, enthusiasm for war waned. To stem the outflow, in March 1862 Davis asked the Confederate Congress to enact a conscription bill, the first ever adopted in America.
Brown defied the law and refused to allow the Georgia militia to be called out of state for duty. When the CSA’s second conscription act passed in September, Brown denounced it as unconstitutional and Davis as a tyrant. He predicted that its effect would be to “disband and destroy all military organization in this State and leave her people utterly powerless to protect their own families even against their own slaves,” a prophesy that came true when Sherman arrived in 1864.
The Capture of Jefferson Davis
Union Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. Benjamin D. Pritchard caught up with Davis and his party at Irwinville, Ga., May 10, 1865. Pritchard recorded the capture in his diary: “Moved up & captured the whole camp without firing a shot, which proved to be Jeff Davis (who attempted to make his escape in disguise as an old woman, fit ending for such a cause as his).”
Davis never lived down the humiliation of that day. His admirers have tried ever since to obscure the truth, so here I’ll quote a couple of contemporaneous eyewitness accounts from the Confederate side. Varina Davis described her husband’s escape attempt in a June 6 letter to Francis P. Blair of Maryland:
[K]nowing he would be recognized, I [pled] with him to let me throw over him, a large waterproof wrap which had often served him in sickness during the summer season for a dressing gown and which I hoped might so cover his person that in the grey of the morning he would not be recognized. As he strode off I threw over his head a little black shawl which was around my own shoulders, seeing that he could not find his hat and after he started sent my colored woman after him with a bucket for water, hoping that he would pass unmolested.
Jefferson Davis and his admirers argue that he really had not disguised himself as a woman even though he was wearing his wife’s garments. But Mrs. Davis continued,
When he had proceeded a few yards, the guards around our tents with a shocking oath called out to know who that was. I said it was my mother and he halted Mr Davis, who threw off the cloak with a defiance and when called upon to surrender did not do so, and but for the interposition of my person between his and the guns would have been shot.
Less ambiguous is the May 10 entry of Confederate Navy Capt. John Taylor Wood, who was traveling with the Davises and who succeeded in escaping while his leader was being captured:
I went over to the P’s tent, saw Mrs. D. told her that the enemy did not know that he was present & during the confusion he might escape into the swamp not more than 100 yards distant; she much alarmed said if we would engage the attention of some Yankees near the tents he could do so. Some time was lost, it was becoming more light, the enemy were posting their sentries around the camp, when the P. came out of his tent with a gown & hood on & bucket on his arm, with Helen the mulatto nurse. They advanced some distance towards the stream, when one of the Yankee guards directed them in another direction as the balls were flying where they wished to go. They pushed on, Mrs. D. in her over anxiety saying from the tent, “they were only going after water”, “they were not afraid of the balls.” Another Yankee rode up, ordering them to halt, saying he knew who it was, recognizing a man, but not the P., still moving on, he ordered them to halt, pointing his Carbine at the P.’s head. Then Mrs. D. by her appeals, the children by crying, the servants by fear & howling destroyed all. Others rode up, the P. was obliged to make himself known. This attempted escape in disguise I regret exceedingly, only Mrs. D.’s distress could have induced him to adopt it.
Naturally, caricaturists in the North made the most of opportunity, portraying the CSA leader being captured in a lady’s dress, as Charles Magnus did on the colorful patriotic song sheet illustrated here. Exaggeration is the principal tactic of caricature, much as creating larger-than-life equestrian statues is the tactic of myth-makers.
Adding these accounts should help convey to visitors a better sense of history, and provide them less of a propensity to be misled by myths.
Others Worthy of Remembrance on the Mountain
Finally, over the long run a more representative group of historical figures ought to be carved in stone if that continues to be the feature promoted to prospective tourists as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The shelf life of white supremacy is past its expiration date.
Here are a few that I would like to see considered, keeping in mind that many worthy prospects have feet of clay that ought to be forthrightly acknowledged:
Joseph Vann, the Cherokee chief who waged a successful legal battle against the federal government’s Indian removal policy, won $19,605 compensation for his property that the government had seized, might be suitable to demonstrate Indian resistance. In other respects, though, Vann was less virtuous. He owned slaves and treated them harshly. Consideration of Vann’s positive and negative qualities, and those of the mighty Washington administration he fought, could stimulate an interesting learning experience.
More deserving of having their likenesses on the mountainside are Ellen and William Craft, the most famous antebellum runaway slaves. They made a daring escape from Macon, Ga., in December 1848, traveling north by train and steamboat. Light-complexioned Ellen posed as a white male planter, William as her servant. They arrived at Philadelphia on Christmas Day, creating a media sensation.
Sherman belongs there too, as the conqueror and liberator, the Civil War’s greatest tactician, a latter-day Caesar. But his postwar service in the West and his genocidal attitude toward the Sioux Indians ought not to be omitted from the guidebooks, lest he too become the subject of another god-like fable.
Helen Dortch Longstreet, the general’s widow, was a great Georgian in her own right. As assistant state librarian in 1894, she became the first woman to hold a state office, and the “Dortch Bill” adopted in 1896 opened the top state librarian position to women. She was a civil-rights champion and an environmental activist before that cause became fashionable. In 1943 at age 80, she went to work as a riveter at the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta.
Those are just a few of my ideas for making Stone Mountain a more inclusive and educational place for families to visit. The roster of more recent Georgians of note, especially those who made history during the civil rights era, is almost endless.
Think of the splendid postal commemoration and festive dedication ceremony that these Georgia Legends could support. In that spirit I’ll take a step back and acknowledge that the 6¢ Stone Mountain commemorative stamp has served me well as a useful opener to this conversation, which thoughtful people of Georgia and the rest of us should pursue.
The Confederate Symbols Controversy have arrived at Philately’s Doorstep
Oscar Wilde wrote, “Life imitates Art more than Art imitates Life” because “the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain forms through which it may realize that energy.” His insights explain why these debates and their outcomes make a difference. Now we can add that our stamp hobby imitates both.
In the 4th quarter 2015 issue of The Confederate Philatelist, Confederate Stamp Alliance president Deane R. Briggs wrote, “To avoid losing existing and potentially new members, the officers and trustees are contemplating replacing the Confederate battle flag on the Alliance’s masthead.” Several proposed alternatives are illustrated and members are asked to express their preferences. It will be interesting to see how this initiative ends. I hope the alliance’s reformers will prevail, but the wider debate will continue, whether the context is a huge carving on a mountain or a printed image the size of a postage stamp.
Shall our descendants emulate Davis, Lee, and Jackson? Can we replace them with
nobler examples, or at least present better models as alternatives for future generations? My answers are: “No, children of the future should learn to admire and emulate women and men who cherish freedom and equal rights for all”; and “Yes, we have an abundance of historical figures who present more virtuous models for our descendants to follow.”
Davis, Lee, and Jackson may have been dedicated men who fought bravely for the Confederacy, but President Ulysses S. Grant’s recollection of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox appropriately summarized Lee’s moral failure: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Grant’s point of view, the choices of subjects to commemorate with postal issues are no less political than the decisions about whose likenesses should be celebrated in public parks, and both choices ought to be judged according to the same praiseworthy principles.
-Dedication to Stephen G. Esrati-
Many Linn’s readers will surely disagree with my opinions about the Stone Mountain stamp, the subject of this month’s Spotlight, just as many of us once took issue with controversial views expressed by Stephen G. Esrati in his 1980s “Stamps and Politics,” a Linn’s feature that was one of my favorite columns. I dedicate this Spotlight column to him on the occasion of his 89th birth anniversary March 13.
Esrati was born in Berlin, Germany. His family emigrated to Palestine in 1933, and came to the United States in 1937. He became an American citizen in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army in Italy after World War II and in the Irgun Zvai Leumi underground Jewish army in Palestine.
After earning two political science degrees from Boston University, Esrati became a journalist. He worked on the Boston Herald-Traveler, the Celina (Ohio) Daily Standard, the Van Wert (Ohio) Times-Bulletin, and the Toronto (Ont.) Globe and Mail.
At the time of his retirement, he was a copy editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He has written two novels, Comrades, Avenge Us, set in the Balkans during World War II, and The Tenth Prayer, critical of Israel.