Decency in Academia
jpino at SPAMkent.edu
Mon May 15 11:37:21 MDT 2000
Forward: from a letter sent to the provost at Kent State from a professor
in our philosophy department.
From: walter e davis <wdavis at kent.edu>
Subject: reply to Dr. Eckstein
I am sharing my response to Yoram Eckstein's letter to the Beacon Journal
because I believe they support the idea that these kinds of topics are
important for an open discussion.
May 12, 2000
I only recently learned of your letter to the Beacon Journal and want to
take some time for a thoughtful response to your denouncing my claims of US
imperialism. You questioned my knowledge of US history, and suggested that
I spread among my students a "tasteless and disgusting message." Those are
strong words and require a response which I shall share with others. I
want to show that I am more than versed in the history of US imperialism.
Further may I suggest that your letter expressed an egocentrism quite
unbecoming of a professor at a university.
First I am sorry for the suffering you experienced in Stalin's labor camps
and in the deserts of Central Asia. With such a traumatic experience, it
is understandable if you are emotionally tied to the material comforts of
university life in the US. I suppose that is the reason you are offended
by people criticizing your new found paradise. But it might also be
expected that you would have some empathy for those who are still
oppressed. Your escape from the confines does not mean that oppression no
longer exists. And just because oppression occurred at the hands of other
imperialists does not mean that the US is not also an empire. Yes, US
imperialism means there are oppressed people within the empire as well as
those on the periphery. So I shall consider the matter of history and
current evidence of US imperialism.
You claim to have: "studied 20th-century history and geography of
concentration camps with the heels of my own two feet." While one's own
life experiences are important, they are hardly sufficient for
understanding the world we currently live in much less for giving us a
historical perspective. Further, as Marx well understood, reality is not
given in the appearance of things. If it was, then there would be no need
for science. But as any university professor should know, science is
necessary to understand the complexities of the universe -- both physical
and social environments. As a scientist, I read extensively and try to
read as many different perspectives as possible. I also read critically, I
pursue the truth wherever it leads me. Simply being in Stalin's
concentration camp hardly makes one an expert in US imperialism. In fact,
there are reasons for predicting the opposite.
Rather than try to provide the evidence of US imperialism in this letter
I will give you a modest list of sources. Some of the better theoretical
accounts of the nature of modern day empires are Nederveen Pieterse (1989)
and Doyle (1986). Modern-day Western empires differ from more ancient ones
in their mode of production (capitalism) and technology (industrialization)
and they are more global (Nederveen Pieterse & Parekh, 1995). Kennedy
(1987) identifies six current "great powers" -- "concentrations of economic
and military power" -- as the U.S., the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, China
and the European Economic Community (which includes Britain and 9
nation-states on the European continent). It is very well documented that
empires competing for the world's wealth have racked untold havoc upon both
the social and physical environments, particularly in the last three
centuries (Blum, 1995; Eckhardt, 1992; Parenti, 1995; Smith, 1994). Such
competition for example resulted in WWI and WWII. But for the abundance of
data and evidence that the US is the most extensive and most destructive
empire today one should also examine in particular Parenti (1995), Knutsen
(1999), Sivard (1990), Jones (1972), Petras, & Morley (1981) and Gerson,
The most comprehensive and well documented account of the imperial acts
committed by the European settlers against the indigenous peoples of the
Americas comes from Ward Churchhill (1993). Between 1492 and 1892 an
estimated population of as many as 125 million indigenous people were
reduced by 90%. They died of being hacked apart with axes and swords,
burned alive and trampled under horses, hunted as game and fed to dogs,
shot, beaten, stabbed, scalped for bounty, hanged on meathooks and thrown
over the sides of ships at sea, worked to death as slave laborers,
intentionally starved and frozen to death during a multitude of forced
marches and internments, and, in an unknown number of instances,
deliberately infected with epidemic diseases (Churchill, 1993).
You did not mention this act of genocide did you Yoram? Are you aware of
it? You did not mention the 600,000 Phillippinos slaughtered by the U.S.
military during the take over of the Island or of the 1 and ½ million
Iraquis who have died as a result of the Gulf War. As you say, the list
goes on and on. Are you aware of what is going on right now in Vieques?
Are you aware of the illegal and immoral economic blockade of Cuba? If you
are aware of US atrocities you did not mention any of them except to
parenthetically acknowledge slavery and lynchings as if they were a thing
of the past. Genocide is of course more than just numbers as I am sure you
recognize. Do you resent this comparison to the genocide of Stalin because
you personally were involved only in the latter? Do you assume that since
Stalin carried out atrocities, no one else did? Or is it that you care
about things which only affect you directly? Why ignore any acts of
genocide or oppression? I don't understand your being offended by my
pointing out atrocities irrespective of who carried them out. You are
either ignorant of US history or are in fact in denial. Of course you know
what it means to claim to not be in denial.
Do you actually believe that the oppression of Native Americans and those
of African descent ended with reservations and the Civil War? Read more
from Churchill and his colleagues (Churchill, & Vander Wall,1990a; 1990b;
Falkowski,1992; Harry, 1989; Smith, 1996). Are you aware of the very
recent report by Amnesty International which said, on the eve of the US
Government's first appearance before the UN Committee against Torture, in
Geneva, that "cruelty to detainees and prisoners is becoming
institutionalized across the USA." "Since the United States ratified the
Convention against Torture in October 1994, its increasingly punitive
approach towards offenders has continued to lead to practices which
facilitate torture or other forms of ill-treatment prohibited under
international law." The spiraling prison and jail population -- which
recently hit two million for the first time -- and the resulting pressures
on incarceration facilities have contributed to widespread ill- treatment
of men, women and children in custody. Police brutality is rife in many
areas, and it is disproportionately directed at racial and ethnic
minorities. Do you know about the case of Gary Grahm and hundreds like
him? Do you know about the Amadou Diallos and Mumia Abu-Jamals?
I assume you do not since you are amazed "how people born in this country
tend to characterize the U.S.A. as criminally oppressive, genocidal,
militaristic . . ." Do you honestly think that US militarism has nothing
to do with these and other acts of violence you read about daily in the
mass-media? Not even the halls of our public schools are safe for God's
sake. The US leads all so-called developed nations in violence of all
kinds. And if you want to understand the connection between US militarism
and academia read Louis Mumford's (1967) scholarly account of the
military-industrial-scientific complex (the megamachine). Connections are
also well explained in Simpson (1994), Edwards (1996) and Chorover (1979)
to cite only a few. Other good detailed accounts of US militarism are
found in Cook (1962), (Donovan (1970), Vagts (1959), Karsten (1989; 1998),
Koistinen (1989), Ekirch (1972), Mann (1996), Coulter, (1994) and Otley
(1998). I am just beginning to answers your question: "I don't know what
history books he used to derive his opinions."
The information you get from the references I have cited will not be
included in the history books found in public schools or in many of the
libraries of mainstream academics. No it takes a diligent scholar to shift
through myths and misinformation in today's age of information. Historians
themselves admit to a neglect of any serious analysis of US history. Of
course Zinn (1980) and Hofstadter (1970) are exceptions and I highly
recommend you read them.
Critical thinking is an imperative of a true scientist. I also tell my
ethics class that self-reflective criticism is essential to becoming a
moral agent. I was born in the US, it is this country that I am most
obligated (but not limited) to criticize. Criticism is necessary if
advances are to occur. I take it that you were not born here. I respect
your right to criticize Germany and the Soviet Union. Is your assumption
that because you have not personally experienced oppression during your
time in the US that no one in the US experiences oppression? I am keenly
aware of the privileges which I have living in an empire. I am also keenly
aware that these privileges come at a very high cost and mostly to others.
William Appleman Williams' (1980) book is a must read for any one who lives
in the US.
The fact that I can get a letter published in the Beacon Journal means
that there is freedom of the press in the US? Surely you understand that
it is much more complicated than that. The BJ also has a policy of not
allowing me to respond to your letter. That of course would mean public
dialogue. Do you want to understand how controlled the mass-media really
are? Please read Parenti (1996), McGowan (2000), McChesney (1999), Herman
and Chomsky (1988), and Herman and McChesney (1997) among several others I
could name then talk to me about freedom of the press.
You are disturbed that as an educator I am free to spread among my
students my "tasteless and disgusting message." Did you even know what
courses I taught when you wrote that? Would you prefer I spread what I
know to be lies and falsehood, rather than what I believe to be the most
accurate and truthful? I don't reject evidence just because it is not all
rosy and pretty. Do you? Do you understand anything about globalization,
the World Bank, International Monetary fund, Free Trade Zones, etc and the
role of the US where more transnationals reside? We are now in the
so-called post-colonial period where it is no longer plunder by raids but
plunder by trade, in the words of J.W. Smith (1994). We live in a world of
extreme material wealth and greed and extreme poverty and destruction.
There is in fact going on right now a symposium on globalization conducted
via e-mail. Are you participating? If so you would understand that it is
not only "people who were born in this country" who understand US
domination and imperialism.
You also state that I am to have no fear of incarceration or even fear of
losing my job. If you knew the history of US universities as I do then you
would know that indeed many professors as well as administrators have lost
their jobs because of their political beliefs -- simply for being
socialists, advocating a free-silver political economy or supporting labor
unions for example. Are you familiar with the "employment at will"
doctrine? Do you know who the owners of this university are? Are you
familiar with Frederick Taylor's scientific management model? Barrow
(1990) is perhaps the best source in both theory and data. What you will
find in these accounts is the fact that today it is not necessary to fire
people in order to influence their beliefs -- the corporate ideology is
well established at universities throughout the US and challenges to it are
the exception and not the rule. See also Karier (1978), Hofstadter and
Smith (1961), Hofstadter (1996), Jacoby (1991), and Tyack (1974) as a few
which come to mind.
I could give you a lot more to think about but I won't. Instead, I will
stop in to see you sometime and we can discuss these issues as gentlemen
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