RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES: Timely books bring depth to public debates and issues

At the University of Wisconsin Press, we’ve published many books on topics that seem ripped from current news headlines. Whether fiction or nonfiction, they offer broader or deeper perspectives on current events.

Deadly LieThis August, as the country was shocked by photos of heavily armed Ferguson, Missouri, police wearing camo and patrolling in a massively armored truck, former soldiers commented, “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone.” We had just published Lev Raphael’s Assault with a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense touching on many hot-button issues—plagiarism, bullying, suicide, academic freedom, stalking—but most of all on the militarization of police in American towns and cities. Raphael wrote op-eds in the Huffington Post: Why Are We Arming Our Police Departments for War? and Do College Towns Really Need Tanks to Keep Them Safe?

The death of several unarmed black men this summer at the hands of police also underscoredSister the continuing importance of the story of Daniel Bell, murdered by two Milwaukee policemen in 1958. His sister, Sylvia Bell White, tells the story of her whole life, including Daniel’s murder and her quest for the truth to come out, in the book Sister: An African American Life in Search of Justice. Sylvia Bell White is a powerful witness to systemic racial injustice and public indifference to the wrongful deaths of African Americans.

This fall, we’ve published The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County, a novel by Jerry Apps. When Apps started plotting the novel several years ago, he was thinking about historic trees and various threats to them. A frac sand mine seemed like a good plot element; there were Apps-Great-Sand-Fracas-cabout ten mines being developed in western Wisconsin. By the end of 2013, sand mining had boomed. There were already more than 120 mines active or in development. Frac sand mining became the center of Apps’s story, as he portrayed the battles over land use in a fictional Wisconsin town. “Through fiction I’ve tried to illustrate, in an entertaining way, how complicated local development issues can be,” Apps wrote in a blog.

As Barack Obama was running for president, historian Bruce Mouser was finishing a book for us on George Edwin Taylor, an African American who ran for president in 1904 as the nominee of the National Liberty Party. In the fall of 2013, as President Obama made a case for airstrikesTorture against Syrian chemical weapons, we were preparing to publish Chris Edelson’s legal history of Emergency Presidential Power. Alfred McCoy’s Torture and Impunity, published shortly after revelations of torture and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government from the 1950s to the present.

Our list in Russian and Eastern European Studies has frequently intersected with world events, as well. War in the Balkans in the 1990s resulted in Yugoslavia dividing into seven countries by 2008, creating avid interest among diplomats, armies, and aid organizations in the language textbooks books we’d been publishing for Macedonian, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, and Albanian. In 2012, as the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot was arrested for the vaguely defined crime of Microsoft Word - LaPierreCoverDesign.docx“hooliganism,” we were publishing Hooligans in Khrushchev’s Russia: Defining, Policing, and Producing Deviance during the Thaw by Brian LaPierre.  As Russian troops recently invaded Ukraine to reclaim the Crimean peninsula, we were publishing Russian–Ottoman Borderlands, edited by Lucien J. Frary and Mara Kozelsky, a historical overview of the frequent territorial disputes in the Balkans, Black Sea region, and Caucasus.

With a strong list of gay- and lesbian-interest books, we’ve published several that presaged or contributed to social conversations around gay family rights: Just Married: Gay Marriage and the Expansion of Human Rights by Canadians Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell;  Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family by American Joel Derfner; and The Paternity Test, Michael Lowenthal’s novel about gay parenthood.Lawfully

The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq by Bronson Lemer was published in the midst of the final “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy debate. Joy Ladin’s moving memoir Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders prompted one reviewer to comment, “It is a fierce story of regular old human life: hideous choices, endless repercussions, occasional glory, frequent humiliation, abiding difficulty. It could have happened to us.” Her story continues to make news.

Remaking RwandaAnd when we published Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, the book achieved a level of sales unexpected for an edited volume of scholarly essays. The cause of its success? A public denunciation of the book by the Rwandan government.

 

UNIVERSITY PRESS WEEK BLOG TOUR: Take a fascinating tour of other blogs from university presses.

Christina Stoddard talks about poetry, Mormonism, feminism, gang violence, and revenge

Christina Stoddard is the author of the poetry collection HIVE, for which she is the winner of the 2014 Brittingham Prize in Poetry. Hive has just been published by the University of Wisconsin Press. We spoke with Stoddard about this fierce debut collection of poems about brutality, exaltation, rebellion, and allegiance.


Stoddard-Hive-c

I needed to write a poem that was absolutely boiling over with rage.


Where did the title of the book come from? Why Hive?   Beehives are actually an important symbol in Mormon culture, and have been dating back to pioneer times. The exact reason why is not known for sure, but there are a few theories. One is that honeybees embody many qualities that the Church teaches its members to prize: harmony, industriousness, order, communal labor. Everyone performing their assigned role and everyone working together for the common good. Bees are cohesive and single-minded, not individual. Bees don’t deviate from the path they’re given—and thematically that is perfect for my book, which is about a teenage girl who is doing exactly that: deviating from the path she’s supposed to follow. Utah’s nickname is the Beehive State—even though they don’t really raise bees there and Utah doesn’t produce a lot of honey.

I gather from the book that you did not grow up in Utah, however.   No, I didn’t. I was born in the Pacific Northwest and grew up in Tacoma, WA, which is where the book is set. But my father is from Utah, and we visited relatives there often, so I’m familiar with a few cities in Utah.

How long did it take you to write the book?  That’s a little difficult to answer, because I spent many years

Christina Stoddard

Christina Stoddard

trying to write it and mostly failing. Originally what I produced weren’t poems, they were more like polemics. I was a very angry person in my teens and twenties, and I had to work through that anger first. A few of the poems have existed in some form for more than a decade. But most of the book was written over a period of three years, 2010 to 2013, after I had taken some creative writing workshops from poets Claudia Emerson and Ellen Bryant Voigt. Those women gave me the keys that unlocked everything else.

What sorts of keys?  I took a summer workshop at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, from Claudia Emerson, and when she read the group of poems I had turned in for class, Claudia basically told me that it seemed like I was phoning it in. She said I wasn’t pushing myself in either form or subject matter, and she challenged me to do better.

Really?  Yes. That hurt at first, certainly, but I decided there were two options: I could either give up and go sulk in the corner, or I could fling myself off a cliff of experimentation and see what happened. I chose the cliff. I started trying to write lyric poems, whereas previously my style had been very chatty, straightforward and plain, very rooted in story, what are often called narrative poems. A narrative poem has a beginning, middle, and end, and there’s usually a lot of context about what’s going on.

I took that new lyrical work and applied the next summer to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I had no idea if the poems were any good—they were way outside of my comfort zone. But I got accepted, and I took a workshop with Ellen Bryant Voigt. Ellen once  . . .  Full interview continued here (more…)

Jan Vansina, pioneering historian of Africa, receives lifetime achievement award from AHA

For reclaiming the “unknowable” history of Africa in seven landmark books from the University of Wisconsin Press

Jan Vansina.  Photo by Catherine A. Reiland / African Studies Program, UW-Madison. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jan Vansina. Photo by Catherine A. Reiland / African Studies Program, UW-Madison. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jan Vansina, one of the world’s foremost historians of Africa who literally wrote the book on using Oral Tradition as History, was honored at the January 2015 convention of the American Historical Association with its Award for Scholarly Distinction. The honor is awarded for outstanding lifetime achievements in the field of history. Vansina was cited in particular for his many innovations in scholarly methodology, institution-building, and mentoring.

Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history in the 1950s and 1960s, a time not so long ago when there was still a widely held view that cultures without written texts had no history, or that their history was unknowable. Up to that point, “African” historiography focused entirely on the history of European colonizers in Africa, not on the history of Africans.

Vansina was an early recipient of the “Distinguished Africanist” award by the African Studies Association of the United States, and in 2000 he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.

In an interview with the University of Wisconsin Press, where he has now published eight books over the course of fifty years (seven on Africa and one on his Belgian childhood), Vansina looked back at how his books published by UWP have influenced the study of Africa’s history, both within Africa and around the world.

“My own case shows that the kind of specialized scholarly books published by university presses typically lead to further research by others and do so for a whole generation or longer. In a field that is new, such as African history was when I began, university presses publish specialized works of scholarship that commercial publishers take no interest in. And I have found that just placing research findings in archives is not enough: publication is absolutely essential to the advancement of research. Indeed, I would argue that university presses are as essential for research in the humanities and social sciences around the globe as are laboratories for research scientists.”

As a young employee of a Belgian research agency sent to the Congo in 1952, Vansina discovered that he could analyze the oral tradition stories he heard from Kuba informants by using the same methods he had learned for extracting historical information from European medieval dirges. This was a historiographical breakthrough that gave the study of pre-colonial African history both the scholarly justification and the self-confidence it had been lacking.

Vansina recalls the impact of his first book with UW Press in 1966, Kingdoms of the SavannaSavanna

“It was a preliminary historical overview of an area and period in Africa that was little known in academic circles at that point. It was quickly translated into French and published in Kinshasa, and it won the Herskovits Prize for best book from the African Studies Association.”

Although historians were accustomed to studying kingdoms, the book used a very innovative mix of oral and written sources to provide a history of pre-colonial kingdoms in central Africa. At the time, a review of the book in the American Historical Review recognized Vansina’s innovation:

“This signal contribution to African history, and the writing of history more generally, has emerged from the scholarship of one who is ranked by many as among the foremost of the contemporary historians of sub-Saharan Africa.”—American Historical Review

“Over the next twenty-five years or so,” Vansina remembers, “several scholars were inspired by the book to pursue their own research in the past of the various kingdoms I wrote about, so that by the year 2000, individual monographs had been written about nearly all the major kingdoms of the southern savannas (at least five in RD Congo, three in Zambia, and three in Angola).

The impact of Kingdoms outside academia was rather colorful, Vansina recalls. “In Central Africa many in the Congo read it, and it became coveted underground reading for those in the Angolan insurrection against their Portuguese overlords. Its popular impact was especially strong in the lower Democratic Republic of Congo (or RD Congo), where local demand has been strong enough to produce a translation in Kikongo around 1990 and another one in Lingala. In the 1970s there was even a local church calling itself ‘The Church of the Kingdoms of the Savanna.’ ”

In 1978, Vansina published a scholarly monograph, The Children of Woot, on the history of a single kingdom in RD Congo. He comments, “The one completely new feature for a history book was the inclusion of its long lexical appendix, as essential to the argument. A monograph like this is not expected to have a host of readers when it is published but it is expected to attract small numbers of researchers for many years thereafter. Thus even today this book and especially its data have not been superseded by anything else.”

Oral Tradition as HistoryOral Tradition as History, a methodological work published in 1985, is Vansina’s book that is most widely known and used in fields beyond African history. “It is a manual about how to handle a certain kind of oral history worldwide, not just in Africa. Some twenty-five years earlier as a young man, what I had written about oral tradition had made a splash and led to extensive debates. This new book was a complete reworking that took into account valid observations made by critics, but still showed the extent to which oral histories of this sort could be relied upon. It has had an active life. For example, it was recently translated into Indonesian Malay.”

Vansina continued to innovate with his book Paths in the Rainforests (1990), a historical overview built primarily on linguistic and archaeological data reaching more than two thousand years into the past. It attempted a history of the peoples in the Central African rainforests, a large area that had been written off as “without history.”

“But I wrote it as history, introducing new concepts, and included a very large appendix showing the results of comparativePaths linguistic data. No one had ever attempted anything similar, certainly not on that scale, and this book was therefore a bit of a gamble, but it convinced most social anthropologists and archaeologists. I am gratified that from that time onward it has served as an incentive for much further research by others. This year an archaeologist wrote me to say that his discoveries conformed to the predictions the book had made. The most important results of Paths in the Rainforests, though, have been in the field of history, where others have now used similar techniques in their own work, including very deep historical research on the Great Lakes region of East Africa.”

“Until the publication of Paths in the Rainforests, it was difficult to make more than superficial attacks on the widespread myth that Central African peoples live in ‘impenetrable jungles as their ancestors have lived for thousands of years.’ . . . Jan Vansina’s Paths makes a truly significant contribution to African history by providing a solid framework for the description and integration of a millennium of evolution of the many societies of the vast rainforests.”—Curtis A. Keim, African Studies Review

Living AfricaAs the field of African history matured, Vansina was one of the first to look back at it in a combination historiography and memoir, in his 1994 book Living with Africa. David Henige, longtime African studies librarian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and co-editor of a UW Press book series in African studies, commented on the significance of the memoir.

“Jan Vansina’s academic career is virtually simultaneous with the field of African history itself. His centrality in the burgeoning field in the 1950s and 1960s was so intense that he was actually called a ‘Culture Hero’ in print, after the anthropological concept that a single figure epitomizes in the collective memory an entire epoch.” —David Henige, University of Wisconsin

Also in 1994, the horrific violence and mass killings in Rwanda returned Vansina’s attention to research he had done in Rwanda from 1957 to 1961. The rich and extensive documentation he had collected was available in an archive there, but no one had made use of it for publications.

Antecedents to Modern Rwanda“I knew from that research that Rwanda’s past, and historical memories of that past, were quite relevant to a fuller understanding of the genocide and people’s motivations. I also felt that knowledge of Rwanda’s pre-colonial history could contribute to political choices about its future.

So, I first wrote a book in French about the main social and political developments of the country, directed as much towards Rwanda’s governing elite as towards historians. But the new elite came mostly from Uganda and used English, not French. So I translated the work into English and UW Press published it as Antecedents to Modern Rwanda in 2004.”

“Though its narrative and its major interpretations have been accepted by most academics, and also led to the publication of two academic debates about its significance, in Rwanda there is official silence about the book. It has not been formally banned in Rwanda, but the history I present runs counter to the official ideology and now also to the official history the government promulgates. But I know that actually the book has been widely read in Rwanda, even discussed, but no one will publicly admit to this. I hope that it will eventually be recognized and lead to further research in Rwanda.”

Most recently, in 2010, Vansina experimented with another new approach to African history. “Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880–1960VANSINA Revised Fronts.indd, was my deliberate attempt to write a book for undergraduates. It presents the history of a colony through the eyes of a colonized people. I used sidebars and illustrations, a format still rather uncommon in works of African history. I resisted reducing the historical complexity of the period to simple formulas. The anecdotal evidence so far has it that while most students like it, many find all those names and the very complexity of the history a bit overwhelming as well. But I hope it will inspire others to experiment further with approaches for undergraduates that will open new perspectives to them.”

Jan Vansina’s legacy also includes an extraordinary impact beyond academia. When the journalist Alex Haley was researching the family history that would become his famous book Roots, a powerful and groundbreaking story of enslaved African Americans, he could find no written documents that directed him to a point of origin in Africa. Eventually, someone suggested that he contact Jan Vansina, who had been doing innovative research on African oral traditions.

Vansina suggested to Haley that the few words, names, and stories that had been passed down to Haley from an enslaved African ancestor named Kunta Kinte might be from the Mandingo people in Gambia, a culture with a very rich oral tradition recited by trained griots. Eventually Haley’s quest led him to a griot in a remote Gambian village who had memorized the history of a large, extended Kinte family. Two hours into the recitation, the griot mentioned a young man, Kunta, who went away from his village to chop wood and was never seen again. This astonishing connection was the beginning of a great movement of reclamation of African heritage by African Americans.

Thru the DayNow 85 years old and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Vansina recently published his eighth book with the University of Wisconsin Press, departing from African history to write a memoir of his youth in war-torn Belgium: Through the Day, Through the Night: A Flemish Belgian Boyhood and World War II.

“Not only a personal narration about the Flemish struggle to achieve cultural and political recognition, Vansina’s Through the Day, Through the Night is also a lesson on how history and memory work.”—Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Université Laval, Canada

But Vansina is not done yet; the rich research notes and knowledge of primary sources that he’s accumulated over a lifetime of scholarship will doubtless result in continuing innovative and influential work on the history of Africa.

“the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution”?

Jason Knirck’s new book challenges the depiction of the 1920s as a period of political inertia in Ireland

Jason Knirck

Jason Knirck

Reposted from the IRISH TIMES

BY JASON KNIRCK, author of Afterimage of the Revolution: Cumann na nGaedheal and Irish Politics, 1922–1932

In March 1923, Ireland’s Cumann na nGaedheal government was criticised in the Dáil (Irish parliament) for allowing the military to seize cattle found trespassing on a landlord’s estate.  TJ O’Connell of the opposition Labour party claimed it was hypocritical for the government to insist on strict enforcement when Sinn Féin had openly encouraged disrespect for the law during the revolution.

In response, vice-president Kevin O’Higgins denied that his party had preached anarchy and famously said, “we are the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution.”

Kevin O'Higgins

Kevin O’Higgins

This rather disingenuous statement has come to define Cumann na nGaedheal and the postrevolutionary period in Ireland, as historians often depict the 1920s as an era of stultifying conservatism and inertia. John Regan has even labelled the government counter-revolutionary, with its main goal being the creation of the Irish Party’s imagined Home Rule state.

The common notion is that the promise of the revolution faded in the 1920s as a conservative government replicated the institutions and ethos of its colonial predecessor. While the achievements of the revolution undoubtedly disappointed many, and were largely carried out in an atmosphere of social and cultural conservatism shared by much of the Sinn Féin leadership, recent research has increasingly questioned the depiction of Cumann na nGaedheal as counter-revolutionary or static.

The revolution and its emancipatory rhetoric cast a deep shadow over the following decade, as members of the government Knirckand their anti-Treaty opponents generally defended their policies by invoking revolutionary principles. Although most Treatyites understood the importance of the transition from active revolutionaries to government ministers, this shift did not necessitate a wholesale abandonment of revolutionary ideals.

Like any postrevolutionary government, Cumann na nGaedheal emphasised some aspects of the revolution while downplaying others. Notions of self-determination, anti-imperialism, and Irishness inherited from Sinn Féin became the key points around which Cumann na nGaedheal policies pivoted.

Taking a closer look at the Free State’s relationship with the British Empire is crucial in this regard. Despite constant criticism that the government was pro-British or pro-imperial, Cumann na Gaedheal consistently sought to protect and expand the state’s sovereignty against British threats.

The broadest strokes of this policy are well-known, culminating with the 1931 renunciation of the British parliament’s right to legislate for the Dominions, but the government’s support for Irish sovereignty went beyond these major initiatives.

Shortly before his assassination, for example, O’Higgins represented Ireland at a naval disarmament conference in Geneva. Although Ireland had no immediate interest in naval matters, O’Higgins attended in order to prevent Britain signing any agreement on behalf of the “British Empire,” an entity that he claimed had no legal existence.

The Irish government also earlier turned down a British offer to pay the expenses of Irish delegates travelling to London for the 1926 Imperial Conference, seeing this as an infringement on Irish independence. In this case, the desire to protect sovereignty even triumphed over the tightfistedness of the Department of Finance.

The government also invoked the other Dominions in protecting its sovereignty. Treatyites claimed that existing Dominions would be guarantors of Irish freedom, as any British interference with the Free State would implicitly threaten other Commonwealth members as well. This reimagined the British Commonwealth as an anti-imperial empire: a collection of sovereign states united against the metropole.

continue to page 2, on the Irish Times site here

Does education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history matter? You bet it does.

Rupp-Leila-2014-165tLEILA J. RUPP is the co-editor of the newest book in the Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History published by the University of Wisconsin Press. She and Susan K. Freeman are co-editors of UNDERSTANDING AND TEACHING U.S. LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER HISTORY. Rupp is a professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Freeman is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at Western Michigan University.


by Leila J. Rupp

It’s been 35 years since the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, making it an appropriate moment to evaluate where the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement is now. In 1979, just 10 years after Stonewall, 2 years after Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign, and 1 year after the murder of Harvey Milk, more than 100,000 people gathered in Washington to demand equal rights for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.everywhere

We hear a great deal these days about what has changed: gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, same-sex couples rushing to the altar, positive representations of queer people in the media. But the official demands of the march—passage of a comprehensive lesbian/gay rights bill in congress, issuance of a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, repeal of all anti-lesbian/gay laws, an end to discrimination in lesbian mother and gay father custody cases, and protection of lesbian and gay youth—remain mostly unmet.

ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if signed into law, might have satisfied the first demand. ENDA finally passed in the Senate last fall, but it is now losing the support of gay organizations because of the broad religious exemptions with the potential to gut the bill, given the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. President Obama signed an executive order adding transsexuals to those federal employees already protected on the basis of sexual orientation and banning discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual identity by companies with federal contracts, going somewhat beyond the second demand. As for the other three—well, anti-gay laws remain on the books, lesbian mothers and gay fathers still can’t count on a fair deal, and no one has yet figured out how to “protect lesbian and gay youth from any laws which are used to discriminate against, oppress, and/or harass them in their homes, schools, jobs, and social environments,” as the final march demand put it.

RuppcoverAnd that’s the demand I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as a historian and California resident. Not so much about protecting students from oppressive laws, but about what, if anything, they know about Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk, Stonewall, and marches on Washington. California’s Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Responsible (FAIR) Act, signed into law in 2011, is the nation’s first legislation requiring public schools to teach about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans alongside those marginalized by gender, ethnicity, race, and disability. This in contrast to Tennessee, for example, where the state legislature has considered a Classroom Protection Act, known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which would prevent teachers from talking about sexual orientation and even require them to notify parents if they suspect children might be queer.

Given the bullying that goes on in the schools and the high rate of suicide of queer youth, does education matter? You bet it does. When four gay or bisexual students in the Anoka-Hennepin, Minnesota, school district committed suicide, and the school district’s gag order prevented staff from talking about issues of sexual orientation, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center, supported by the Justice Department, filed and won a lawsuit against the school district. The suit cited a California climate study that showed that any mention of queer people or issues increased student safety and improved the climate for queer students. Robert King, a teacher at Palisades Charter High School in southern California, tells a story about the impact of including LGBT content as part of one day’s lecture on civil rights movements. He was talking about Stonewall when a student, Jack Davis, raised his hand and came out to the class. His classmates applauded, got up out of their seats, and hugged him. In an essay published later, Davis wrote that he had been “looking for a way to come out to everyone,” and the mention of Stonewall gave him the opportunity. Walking out of class, the “weight of the world seemingly lifted from my shoulders . . . and I was ecstatic.”

If the mere mention of Stonewall in part of one lecture on one day can mean so much to a vulnerable student, just think what 71.3%a transformed curriculum could do, not just in California, but across the country. It would go a very long way toward crossing at least one of the demands from 1979 off the list.

A transformed curriculum is of value to all students and teachers, whatever their orientation. LGBT history can provide both a fuller understanding of U.S. history and contextualization for the modern world. A book I have co-edited with Susan K. Freeman—Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Historyis the first book designed for university and high school teachers who want to integrate queer history into the standard curriculum. Full of classroom-tested advice, rich information, and inspiring stories, it is a valuable resource for anyone who thinks history should be an all-inclusive story.

Leila J. Rupp is professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and coeditor, with Susan Freeman, of Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, published in the Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History from the University of Wisconsin Press. Rupp is the author of many books, including A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America and Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women.

MORE ABOUT THE HARVEY GOLDBERG SERIES FOR UNDERSTANDING AND TEACHING HISTORY


Al McCoy, author of book “TORTURE AND IMPUNITY,” blogs on How to Read the Senate Report on #CIA #Torture

This blog by Alfred McCoy is re-posted from HISTORY NEWS NETWORK.

Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred McCoy is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of two recent books on this subject—Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012) and A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2006), as well as a related work, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State.

Introduction  The recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture is arguably the single most important U.S. government document released to date in this still-young 21st century. Yet even with all its richly revealing detail about the CIA’s recourse to torture since 9/11, the report’s impact on the ongoing U.S. debate over impunity is muted by some serious failings. Above all, the committee’s cursory treatment of Washington’s long, contradictory history with torture renders this report, in certain critical areas, superficial.

No matter what its limitations might be, this Senate report is still an torturereport-cia-lrghistoric document that will be debated for months and analyzed for years. At its most visceral level, these 534 pages of dense, disconcerting detail takes us into a Dante-like hell of waterboard vomit, rectal feeding, midnight-dark cells, endless overhead chaining, and crippling cold. With its mix of capricious cruelty and systemic abuse, the CIA’s Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan can now join that long list of iconic cesspits for human suffering—Devils’ Island, Chateau d’If, Con Son Island, Robben Island, and many, many more. But perhaps most importantly, these details have purged that awkward euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” from our polite public lexicon. Now everyone, senator and citizen alike, can just say “torture.”

In its most important contribution, the Senate report sifts through some six million classified documents to rebut the CIA’s claim that torture produced important intelligence. All the agency’s assertions that torture somehow stopped terrorist plots or led us to Osama Bin Laden were false, and sometimes knowingly so. Instead of such spurious claims, CIA director John Brennan has now been forced to admit that any link between torture and actionable intelligence is “unknowable.”

Of equal import, the Senate staffers parsed those millions of CIA documents to shatter the agency’s myth of derring-do infallibility and expose the bumbling mismanagement of its two main missions in the War on Terror: incarceration and intelligence. Every profession has its B-team, every bureaucracy has its bumblers. Instead of sending James Bond, Langley dispatched Mr. Bean and Maxwell Smart—in the persons of psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. In perhaps its single most damning detail, the Senate report revealed that the CIA paid these two Air Force retirees $81 million to create sophisticated “enhanced interrogation techniques” after they had spent their careers doing little more than administering the SERE torture-resistance curriculum—a mundane job tailor-made for the mediocrities of modern psychology (more on this in a moment).

Case of Abu Zubaydah   For all its many strengths, the Senate report is not without some serious limitations. Mired in detail and muffled by opaque pseudonyms, the committee’s analysis of this rich detail is often cursory or convoluted, obscuring its import for even the most discerning reader. This limitation is most apparent in the report’s close case study of Abu Zubaydah, the high-value detainee whose torture at a Thai black site in 2002 proved seminal, convincing the CIA that its enhanced techniques worked and giving these psychologists control over the agency’s program for the next six years. But, says the Senate report, earlier non-coercive interrogation produced more numerous intelligence reports.

This finding is good as far as it goes, but let’s see what more extensive analysis might extract from this critical section of the Senate’s report. Among the countless thousands of interrogations during the War on Terror, Abu Zubaydah’s has been cited repeatedly by conservatives to defend the CIA’s methods.In memoirs published on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Dick Cheney claimed the CIA’s methods turned this hardened terrorist into a “fount of information” and thus saved “thousands of lives.” But just two week later, Ali Soufan, a former FBI counter-terror agent fluent in Arabic, published his own book claiming he gained “important actionable intelligence” by using empathetic methods to interrogate Abu Zubaydah.

If we juxtapose the many CIA-censored pages of Ali Soufan’s memoir with his earlier, unexpurgated congressional testimony, this interrogation becomes an extraordinary four-stage scientific experiment testing the effectiveness of CIA coercion versus the FBI’s empathy.

Stage One. As soon as Abu Zubaydah was captured in 2002, Ali Soufan flew to Bangkok where he built rapport in Arabic to gain the first intelligence about “the role of KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.” Angered by the FBI’s success, CIA director George Tenet pounded the table and dispatched psychologist James Mitchell, who stripped Zubaydah naked and subjected him to “low-level sleep deprivation.”

Stage Two. After the CIA’s harsh methods got “no information,” the FBI men resumed their empathic questioning of Abu Zubaydah to learn “the details of Jose Padilla, the so-called ‘dirty bomber.'” Then the CIA team took over and moved up the coercive continuum to loud noise, temperature manipulation, and forty-eight hours of sleep deprivation.

Stage Three. But this tough CIA approach again failed, so, for a third time, the FBI men were brought back, using empathetic techniques that produced more details of the Padilla bomb plot.

Stage Four. When the CIA ratcheted up the abuse to confinement that was clearly torture, the FBI ordered Ali Soufan home. With the CIA in sole control, Abu Zubaydah was subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation , nudity, and waterboarding but gave no further information. Yet in a stunning bit of illogic, Mitchell claimed this negative result was, in fact, positive since these enhanced techniques showed that the subject had no more secrets to hide. Amazingly, the CIA bought this bit of flim-flam.

Examined closely, the results of this ad hoc experiment were blindingly clear: FBI empathy was effective, while CIA coercion proved consistently counterproductive. But this fundamental yet fragile truth has been obscured by CIA claims of good intelligence from the torture of Abu Zubaydah and by censorship of 181 pages in Ali Soufan’s memoir that reduced his account to a maze of blackened lines that no regular reader can understand.

Unanswered Question  More broadly, the Senate committee’s report also fails to ask or answer a critical question: If the intelligence yield from torture was so consistently low, why was the CIA so determined to persist in these brutal but unproductive practices for so long? Among the many possibilities the Senate failed to explore is a default bureaucratic response by a security agency flailing about in fear when confronted with an unknown threat. “When feelings of insecurity develop within those holding power,” reported a CIA analysis of the Cold War Kremlin applicable to the post-9/11 White House, “they become increasingly suspicious and put great pressures upon the secret police to obtain arrests and confessions. At such times police officials are inclined to condone anything which produces a speedy ‘confession,’ and brutality may become widespread.”

Moreover, the Senate’s rigorously pseudonymous format strips its report of an element critical to any historical narrative, the actor, thereby rendering much of its text incomprehensible. Understanding the power of narrative, the CIA has given us the Oscar-winning feature film Zero Dark 30 about an heroic female operative whose single-minded pursuit of the facts, through the most brutal of tortures, led the Navy SEALs to Osama Bin Laden. While the CIA has destroyed videotapes of these interrogations and censored Ali Soufan’s critical account, scriptwriter Mark Boal was given liberal access to classified sources.

Instead of a photogenic leading lady, the Senate report offers only opaque snippets about an anonymous female analyst who played a pivotal role in one of the CIA’s biggest blunders—snatching an innocent German national, Khaled el-Masri, and subjecting him to four months of abuse in the Salt Pit prison. That same operative later defended torture by telling the CIA’s own Inspector General that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had extracted the name of terrorist Majid Khan—when, in fact, Khan was already in CIA custody. Hinting at something badly wrong inside the agency, the author of these derelictions was rewarded with a high post in the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center.

By quickly filling in the blanks, journalists have shown us the real story about this operative that the Senate suppressed and Hollywood glorified. This CIA “Torture Queen,” reports Jane Mayer in the December 18 issue of the New Yorker, “dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; …gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; …misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.”

After all that, this agent, whom Glenn Greenwald has identified as Alfreda Bikowsky, has now been promoted to a top CIA post and rewarded with a high salary that, says an activist website, recently allowed her to buy a luxury home in Reston, Virginia for $875,000. In short, adding the name and narrative reveals a consistent pattern of CIA incompetence, the corrupting influence of intelligence gleaned from torture, and the agency’s perpetrators as self-aggrandizing incompetents.

Torture and ImpunityCold War History   The Senate report’s signal failing is its cursory treatment of the sixty-year history of secrecy that inscribed tolerance for psychological torture into the country’s intelligence community, political culture, and federal laws.

Viewed historically, the current controversy is the product of a deeply contradictory U.S. policy toward torture since the start of the Cold War. Publicly, Washington advocated a strong standard for human rights–manifest in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Simultaneously and secretly, however, the CIA was developing ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of these same international conventions.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led a secret allied research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind. While its exotic experiments with LSD led nowhere, CIA-funded behavioral research produced two key findings—sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain—that became central to its new doctrine of psychological torture.

After four years of mind control research for use against the enemy, President Eisenhower ordered, in 1955, that all American soldiers at risk of capture be trained to resist torture. During the Korean War, about thirty captured US airmen were tortured to make false statements, some on Radio Beijing, that America had used biological weapons in North Korea. Consequently, the Air Force flipped these methods from offense to defense to give its pilots so-called SERE training—an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.

After a decade of mind-control research, in 1963 the CIA codified its findings in a secret handbook, cited in the current Senate report, called the “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual with a new method of psychological torture that was, for the next thirty years, disseminated worldwide and within the U.S. intelligence community.

But as the Cold War wound down, Washington abandoned its torture techniques. After a death in custody, the CIA purged these coercive techniques from its interrogation canon and even concluded they were counterproductive. After decades of training Latin American militaries in torture, the Defense Department, under Secretary Dick Cheney, recalled all copies of extant manuals that detailed these illegal methods.

Twelve years later when the Bush administration opted for torture after 9/11, the sole institutional memory for these psychological methods lay in the military’s SERE training. Under contract with the CIA, the two psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen, reverse-engineered this defensive doctrine to produce the agency’s signature “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Instead of outsourcing torture to allies as Washington had done during the Cold War, Bush’s policies required that CIA agents dirty their own hands with the tortures detailed in the Senate report—both the harsh physical methods (wall slamming, facial grab, stomach slap, rectal feeding), and psychological techniques dating back to the KUBARK manual (sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, shackling for enforced standing).

Legal Protection for Torture   Not only is the use of psychological torture embedded in the nation’s security agencies, it has been sanctioned by U.S. laws designed to prohibit this abuse. The reason for this contradiction is, once again, found in a troubled history ignored by the Senate report.

When the Cold War came to a close, Washington finally ratified the UN Convention Against Torture that banned the infliction of both psychological and physical pain. On the surface, the United States had apparently resolved the long-standing contradiction between its anti-torture principles and its torture practices.

But when President Clinton sent this UN Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included language drafted six years earlier by the Reagan administration with four detailed diplomatic “reservations” focused on just one word in the treaty’s twenty-six printed pages: “mental.”

Instead of the UN Convention’s broad ban on “severe pain or suffering,” these U.S. reservations redefined psychological torture as “prolonged mental harm.” Since “prolonged” was vague (how long is prolonged?) and “harm” was ambiguous (what constitutes harm?), these reservations created enormous loopholes—just like the one Bush lawyers later opened by allowing harm up to “organ failure.”

This language and its loopholes have been repeated, verbatim down to the semicolons, in every U.S. law enacted to comply with the UN Convention—first in Section 2340 of the Federal Code; next in the War Crimes Act of 1996; and most recently in the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Impunity in America   As America now concludes a decade-long debate over impunity, the Senate report serves as a powerful corrective to years of CIA disinformation. Since CBS Television released those photos from Abu Ghraib prison back in 2004, the United States has been moving, almost imperceptibly, through a five-step process of impunity over torture quite similar to those experienced earlier by nations such as England, France, or the Philippines.

Step One—Bad Apples. For a year after the Abu Ghraib exposé, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blamed some bad apples by claiming the abuse was “perpetrated “by a small number of U.S. military.”

Step Two— National Security. In the months following Obama’s inauguration, Republicans took us deep into the second stage by invoking national security, with Dick Cheney saying repeatedly the CIA’s methods “prevented the violent deaths of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people.”

Step Three—Unity. In April 2009, President Obama brought us to the third stage of impunity when he visited CIA headquarters and appealed for national unity, saying : “We’ve made some mistakes,” but it’s time to “acknowledge them and then move forward.”

Step Four—Exoneration.After the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, neo-conservatives formed an a cappella media chorus to claim, without any factual basis, that torture led us to Bin Laden. Within weeks, Attorney General Eric Holder ended the investigation of alleged CIA abuse without a criminal indictment, exonerating both the interrogators and their superiors.

Step Five—Vindication.Since the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in September 2011, we have entered the fifth, final, and most fraught step toward impunity: vindication before the bar of History. Until now, the CIA’s defenders were winning this political battle—interrogation videos destroyed, books censored, indictments quashed, lawsuits dismissed, imagined intelligence coups celebrated, medals awarded, bonuses paid, and promotions secured.

But with the release of this Senate report and the media’s pursuit of the facts behind its obfuscations, the full story of abuse, fabrication, and dissimulation inside the CIA is finally starting to emerge. Instead of steely guardians willing to break laws, trample treaties, and dedicate their lives in defense of America, this report reveals these perpetrators as mendacious careerists willing to twist any truth to win a promotion or secure a lucrative contract.

Conclusion   Despite its rich fund of hard-won detail, the Senate report has, at best, produced a neutral outcome, a draw in this political contest over impunity. Over the past forty years, there have been a half-dozen similar scandals over torture that have followed a familiar cycle—revelation, momentary sensation, vigorous rebuttal, and then oblivion. Unless we inscribe the lessons from this Senate report deeply into the country’s collective memory, then some future crisis might prompt another recourse to torture that will do even more damage to this country’s moral leadership.

See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157950#sthash.QzcOAFKd.dpuf

Also by Alfred McCoy, from the University of Wisconsin Press: PolicingPOLICING AMERICA’S EMPIRE: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State.

 

Alfred McCoy explains why impunity for torture is a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government. #torture

Torture and ImpunityMany Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights abhorrent to American principles and traditions. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to 2012 in his book Torture and impunity, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.

During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject’s resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America’s moral authority as a world leader.

As 2014 draws to a close, a U.S. Senate investigation has documented the use of extensive use of many kinds of torture by the CIA in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and has presented further evidence that such techniques were not actually effective for gaining crucial information.

In 2012, an Italian court convicted 23 CIA operatives of kidnapping a Muslim cleric under the U.S. program of “extraordinary rendition.” The cleric, Abu Omar, was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. The Americans were all convicted in absentia after the United States government refused to hand them over. View a 2012 interview with Alfred McCoy about this policy of impunity.

Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin– Madison. His many books include Policing America’s Empire and A Question of Torture. Torture and Impunity is published by the University of Wisconsin Press as part of the book series, Critical Human Rights, edited by Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus.

“A masterful account of an appalling national drift toward accepting torture as part of our culture and polity.”—Alex Gibney, director, Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side

“This book gives the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about the use of torture by the United States intelligence services.”—Jennifer Harbury, author of Truth, Torture, and the American Way

“A fascinating and disturbing book, providing the most authoritative account of torture yet available and conforming to the best traditions of scholarship.”—Richard Falk, Princeton University

“McCoy, our finest thinker on the issue of torture, describes its legalization under Bush and the damage caused to morality, law, and our future by Obama’s granting of impunity to the torturers. Readers will come away with the understanding that the United States’ commitment to human rights was tested by 9/11—and it failed.”—Michael Ratner, president emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights

Books are great gifts!

books_equal_gifts

For your holiday shopping convenience, we have suggestions of University of Wisconsin Press books that would be great gifts! At this special gift suggestions page, find a wide range of selections: biographies, fiction, movies, poetry, traveler’s tales, natural history, Civil War, hunting and fishing, farm stories, classics in translation, Wisconsin, and more. Or just use the “custom search” box in the left sidebar to search our books using the key words of your choice.

Gambler and Politician William Thomas Scott Was African American Presidential Candidate in 1904

WILLIAM THOMAS SCOTT was an entrepreneur and political activist from East Saint Louis and Cairo, Illinois, who in 1904 briefly became the first African American nominated by a national party for Featured imagepresident of the United States. He is alleged to have been one of the wealthiest African Americans in Illinois at the peak of his career.

A new book, A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: William Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839–1917, by Bruce L. Mouser, is the first biography of Scott, whose story has been largely forgotten except in the Cairo area. The book is published by the University of Wisconsin Press and has a foreword by Harvard professor, author, and documentary filmmaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Scott’s story is set in a time when Black Americans were experiencing enormous change. Born in Ohio in 1839, Scott was a free man before the Civil War. He joined the Union Navy in 1863 and served at Cairo, Illinois, the headquarters of Union Forces in the West during the Civil War. He saw the end of slavery and was already a political player when African Americans obtained the right to vote in 1870.

Cairo, Illinois during the Civil War (National Historical Society photo)

Cairo, Illinois during the Civil War (National Historical Society photo)

“The biography is a fascinating and informative look into the life of a forgotten but important African American leader who charted his own course from the Civil War to the eve of America’s entry into World War I,” says Roger Bridges, historian at Illinois State University.

“William Thomas Scott was a maverick who worked tirelessly to promote and advance the black community (while at the same time lining his own pockets in the sordid world of gambling, prostitution, and tavern-keeping). Scott emerges in Mouser’s biography as a powerful, interesting, and enigmatic leader working on both sides of the law to further his own interests and those of the larger African American community,” Bridges notes.

As Mouser discovered, Scott was a charismatic hustler who built his fortune in Illinois in the Cairo–East Saint Louis area through illegal liquor sales, gambling, and operating houses of ill repute. He also branched into legal businesses including hotels, saloons, and real estate. Eventually he became the publisher and editor of what may have been America’s first African American daily newspaper, the Cairo Gazette, and became active in politics.

“The post-Civil War era in the United States was a time of promise for African Americans, but in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries they lost ground with the rise of Jim Crow laws and scientific racism,” says the book’s author, Bruce Mouser. “William Scott struggled into the twentieth century to retain the progress made by African Americans.”

William Thomas Scott

William Thomas Scott

Scott was an outspoken advocate for equal rights. Like many in his era, he believed in political patronage and frequently led rebellions against political bosses who failed to deliver jobs and reforms in exchange for votes.

“Scott refused to be complicit in backing politicians who took him and the broader base of first-generation black voters for dupes,” notes Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “He saw the political game for what it was: a game of power.”

When nearly all voting Blacks were Republicans—the party of Abraham Lincoln—William Scott broke away to become a Democrat. In his journalism and speeches he encouraged Blacks to look beyond Lincoln’s party and cast their votes in support of their own economic interests and civil rights. Scott became disillusioned with Democrats of the era as well and helped build the National Negro Liberty Party (NNLP) to forward economic, political, and legal rights for his race.

Although arrested numerous times on charges related to bootleg liquor sales, gambling, and prostitution, Scott had remained a popular public speaker, journalist, and political power broker in Illinois. But the hustling that had brought him business success proved his undoing as a national political figure. Although he was the NNLP’s initial presidential nominee in 1904, revelations about his scandalous past forced him to step aside for another candidate.

The author of the biography, Bruce L. Mouser, is a retired professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. He first became aware of Scott’s story while he was writing a different book about another early African American journalist and politician, George Edwin Taylor.

George Edwin Taylor

George Edwin Taylor

“I had initially thought that George Edwin Taylor was the first African American nominated to run for president of the United States. Taylor was indeed the first to get on the ballot, but as I found out in my research, William Thomas Scott was actually the first nominee of the National Negro Liberty Party, but he was soon replaced by Taylor,” Mouser says. “Taylor was better educated and more socially acceptable as a candidate. William Scott’s past arrests for vice trades wouldn’t play well in the national political arena.”

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Bruce Mouser

(Mouser tells Taylor’s story in his 2011 book For Labor, Race, and Liberty: George Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics.)

William Thomas Scott’s life, as depicted in A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics, reveals the roots of African American disillusionment with the Republican Party and the dynamics of interest-group politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Omar H. Ali, professor of African American Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, says, “Bruce Mouser has carefully retrieved from dusty archives the documentary evidence to write an exceptionally thoughtful and compelling biography of independent black leader William Thomas Scott. Scott’s biography shows how African Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries negotiated Democratic authority and Republican complacency (or the reverse), by either creating new coalitions or breaking out on their own.”

The biography is available through local and online booksellers and libraries, or from the University of Wisconsin Press at 800-621-2736 or this web page. (If not in stock at a local store or library, it can be requested.) It is published in paperback, and an e-book version will be available soon from many e-book vendors and libraries.