Friday, January 27, 2012

Symposium on War Time today at USC

A symposium on War Time is being held at USC Law School on January 27.  Here's the program:

"WAR TIME: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences"
Location: USC Law School, Faculty Lounge, Room 433
Time 1:00 – 5:30 followed by reception.
RSVP: Faculty Services at
When is wartime? On the surface, it is a period of time in which a society is at war. But we now live in what President Obama has called "an age without surrender ceremonies," as the Administration announced an "end to conflict in Iraq," even though conflict on the ground is ongoing. It is no longer easy to distinguish between wartime and peacetime. In this inventive meditation on war, time, and the law, Mary Dudziak argues that wartime is not as discrete a time period as we like to think. Instead, America has been engaged in some form of ongoing overseas armed conflict for over a century. Meanwhile policy makers and the American public continue to view wars as exceptional events that eventually give way to normal peace times. This has two consequences. First, because war is thought to be exceptional, "wartime" remains a shorthand argument justifying extreme actions like torture and detention without trial. Second, ongoing warfare is enabled by the inattention of the American people. More disconnected than ever from the wars their nation is fighting, public disengagement leaves us without political restraints on the exercise of American war powers.
Principal Presenters:
Elaine Tyler May, Regents Professor of History and American Studies at University of Minnesota
Lynn Hunt, Professor of History, UCLA
Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Reflections by USC Faculty:
Rebecca Brown, Newton Professor of Constitutional Law, USC
Patrick James, Professor of International Relations, USC
Hilary Schor, Professor of English, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies and Law, USC

Mary Dudziak, Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science, USC

Monday, January 16, 2012

Brewer, Visions of War

Susan Brewer, author of Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq, which is essential reading on the history of 20th century American war, has an op-ed on the SHAFR blog placing Obama's December speech about the war in Iraq in the context of reactions to Iraq from American veterans who served there.  She begins:
On December 15th President Barack Obama welcomed home U.S. troops from a war he once had called “dumb.” His speech avoided the reasons why the Iraq War was fought and focused instead on honoring the American servicemen and women who fought it.  Inspiring words–“extraordinary achievement,” “honor,” “sacrifice,” “finest fighting force,” “unbroken line of heroes,” “progress of human freedom and dignity,” and “success”–far outshone the brief reference to the accomplishment of “leaving behind a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government elected by its people.”[i] At a time when public support for the Iraq War is low and regard for the military high, the president’s remarks made political sense. The speech, however, contributed to what veterans call the “disconnect” between the way civilians see war and they experience it.
Brewer argues that  "when a president praises the warriors but not the war, he evades questions about foreign policy objectives, strategic and economic interests, and accountability raised by those veterans who want to make sense of what they have done."  Read the full essay here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Phillips on Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from WWII to Iraq

An important new book on African Americans and the U.S. military, War! What Is It Good For?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq, by Kimberley Phillips, has just been released by the University of North Carolina Press.  It is in the UNC Press John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture.  Going well beyond the desegregation story, the book illuminates the relationship between military service and African American culture.  Beautifully written, it is essential reading for anyone with an interest in race and war in U.S. history.

Here's the press book description:
African Americans' long campaign for "the right to fight" forced Harry Truman to issue his 1948 executive order calling for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces. In War! What Is It Good For?, Kimberley Phillips examines how blacks' participation in the nation's wars after Truman's order and their protracted struggles for equal citizenship galvanized a vibrant antiwar activism that reshaped their struggles for freedom.

Using an array of sources--from newspapers and government documents to literature, music, and film--and tracing the period from World War II to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Phillips considers how federal policies that desegregated the military also maintained racial, gender, and economic inequalities. Since 1945, the nation's need for military labor, blacks' unequal access to employment, and discriminatory draft policies have forced black men into the military at disproportionate rates. While mainstream civil rights leaders considered the integration of the military to be a civil rights success, many black soldiers, veterans, and antiwar activists perceived war as inimical to their struggles for economic and racial justice and sought to reshape the civil rights movement into an antiwar black freedom movement. Since the Vietnam War, Phillips argues, many African Americans have questioned linking militarism and war to their concepts of citizenship, equality, and freedom.
And an endorsement:
"Kimberley L. Phillips's superb book tells the long overdue story of the disproportionate impact of American wars on African Americans and their resistance to this unequal burden. Her expansive catalogue of black artistic engagement with wartime struggles for justice--from the Double V campaign to Baghdad Hip Hop--creates a new groove in the study of American protest culture. The book sounds off beautifully, voicing cries of freedom through the guns of war."--Bill V. Mullen, Purdue University, author of Afro-Orientalism and Popular Fronts: Chicago and African American Cultural Politics, 1935-1946

Friday, January 13, 2012

Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, reviewed on Lawfare

Samuel Moyn,  The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, gets a thoughtful review from Alice Diana Beauheim at Lawfare. She writes:

Moyn’s book, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, systematically debunks the notion that human rights are generally the gradual culmination of humane, enlightened Western thought or even specifically a reaction to the carnage and genocide in the Second World War.  Instead, he argues that the post-World War Two structures and organizations that have since been claimed by the human rights movement arose from a surprisingly specific source:  the victorious powers seeking an alternative ideology to the rising post-war demand from the colonial world for national liberation, de-colonialization, and an end of empires.  Among the Allied leaders planning the post-war order, to be sure, Roosevelt (like nearly all his fellow Americans) was instinctively hostile to empire and colonialism, but that was scarcely the view of Churchill or De Gaulle, seeking to preserve theirs – or Stalin, seeking to create one.

For Moyn, then, the driving motivation behind the inclusion of “human rights”—which he notes was a “throwaway line,” not a fully conceptualized program—in the founding documents of the UN was to create an alternative to national liberation and self-determination demands by extending basic civic rights to subject peoples, at least on paper.  For the colonized, however, this vague idea of human rights did not stir the soul in the same way as national liberation and self-determination, let alone point to the same political ends.  Human rights as a concept was left on the shelf for decades gathering dust.
Continue reading here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tirman on Civilian Casualties in American Wars

"We rarely question that wars cause extensive damage, but our view of America’s wars has been blind to one specific aspect of destruction: the human toll of those who live in war zones," writes John Tirman, author of The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars, in the New York Times.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks famously said during the early days of the war in Afghanistan, “We don’t do body counts.” But someone should. What we learn from body counts tells us much about war and those who wage it....

If our leaders are unwilling to grasp the scale of death and social disruption, and the meaning of this chaos for the local population, then American war efforts are likely to end badly and relationships with allies will become strained, as has happened with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan....
Ignoring the extent of civilian casualties and the damage they cause is a moral failing as well as a strategic blunder. We need to adopt reliable ways to measure the destruction our wars cause — an “epistemology of war,” as another general, William Tecumseh Sherman, called it — to break through the collective amnesia that has gripped us.
Read the rest here.