Monday, November 25, 2019


After a two-day conference attended by 850 people from 28 states and numerous anti-racist and other progressve organizations, activists voted on November 24 to reconstitute the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. police violence and racism have been festering for years as the 2014 conference described below articulated.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Harry Targ

Stop Police Crimes!
End Mass Incarceration!
Free All Political Prisoners!

(Rally with Angela Davis, Trinity United Church of Christ, part of the National Forum on Police Crimes, Chicago, Illinois, May 17, 2014).

It was inspiring and informative attending the rally with Angela Davis and the celebration of the lifelong political work of Charlene Mitchell, the founder of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR). The rally and award ceremony honoring Davis and Mitchell capped a two-day National Forum on Police Crimes at the University of Chicago.

The National Forum held workshops highlighting police crimes against undocumented and other immigrant workers, the labor movement and all workers, the LGBTQ community, women, peace and solidarity activists, and people of color.

Central themes reflected in the workshops and the rally included the current condition of police misconduct in the United States, an analysis of the fundamental role of the police and incarceration in the United States, the interconnectedness of forms of repression and the struggles against them, and the twin roles of repression and ideology as the glues holding together a global political economy in crisis. Lastly, the celebration of the 41 years of the NAARPR illustrated the possibilities of struggle and victory.

The call for the National Forum highlighted the contemporary crises of civil rights and civil liberties including:

-a “national epidemic” of police and vigilante killings of young African American men, such as Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant;

-the mass incarceration of people of color such that, as Michelle Alexander has reported,  more African Americans are in jail or under the supervision of the criminal justice system today than were in slavery in 1850;

-the targeting and deportation of millions of immigrants;

-the institutionalization of laws increasing surveillance;

-the passage of so-called Stand Your Ground laws, justifying gun violence against people perceived as a threat;

-and the continued persecution of  political prisoners from the recently convicted Occupy Movement activist Cecily McMillan, to the thirty-year listing of exiled Assata Shakur, living in Cuba, as one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, despite the fact that her original  conviction  for murder was based on faulty evidence.

Several speakers during the rally made it clear that the primary purpose police forces play in the United States is to protect the stability of the existing economic and political system. In short, the police in virtually every community serve the interests of what Occupiers call the one percent in opposition to the 99 percent. 

While laws and police often come to the aid of aggrieved members of communities, their primary function is to protect the unequal distribution of wealth and income and political power. The physical presence of police, with larger numbers in poor and Black and Brown communities than others, constitutes a threat to the physical survival of people, particularly young men. For most people in poor communities of color, the police represent an occupying power. 

Police repression in the United States is embedded in the history of slavery, institutionalized racism, the legitimized use of violence, and the interconnectedness of violence against African-Americans, Latinos, women, gays, transgender people, and workers. Further, police repression on a global basis serves to impose policies in keeping with neoliberal globalization; including the privatization of public institutions, cutting back on social safety nets, opposing demands by low-wage workers for economic justice, and extracting larger shares of the value of the labor of workers. Since the embrace of neoliberal policies virtually everywhere in the world, economic inequality has grown dramatically. With growing protest activities, police and military repression has increased as well.

Speakers suggested that the criminal justice system--the police, prisons, and laws restricting political participation—is a form of direct violence; that is seeking to create pliant behavior by force or the threat of force. Further, the criminal justice system is an instrumentality of structural violence; protecting the various forms of exploitation and oppression embedded in the society at large.

In addition it is replicated in the broader culture. Mass media romanticize police behavior, courts of law, even vigilante forms of violence. Police programs, the portrait of scientists engaged in uncovering crimes, and even police comedies pitting bungling but wise police investigators against incorrigible criminals give credence to the necessity of police, prisons, oppressive laws, and the need for order. Consumers of pop culture are rewarded for their willing acceptance of the systems of control as they exist for an hour or two of entertainment. Besides, most people think, what are the alternatives to armed police, laws, prisons, and the right-to-bear arms?

The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression successfully struggled to free Angela Davis and many others falsely incarcerated and inspired mobilizations of activists everywhere to protest police violence, prisons, the death penalty, and Stand Your Ground laws. The Alliance in Chicago continues the struggle and has demanded civilian control of the police. 

Angela Davis posed the vision of an unarmed police force administered by the community and the elimination of prisons entirely. While these proposals cannot be achieved in the short run, she and the Alliance believe as the World Social Forum suggests, “Another World is Possible.” To make these visions reality they say, “a multi-racial, multi-national and multi-cultural broad-based movement” is needed to create “united democratic action.”   

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


     Harry Targ

The voucher program in Indiana was just one part of a school “reform” program — critics say it is really a school privatization effort — launched by Mitch Daniels when he was governor, from 2005 to 2013, and continued by his successor, Mike Pence, now the vice president of the United States. Pence is part of the Trump administration, which supports the kind of changes that Daniels implemented even though they have had harmful effects on traditional public school systems. (Valerie Strauss, “What’s Really Going On in Indiana’s Public Schools,” Washington Post, December 17, 2017).

Entire public school systems in Indiana cities, such as Muncie and Gary, had been decimated by funding losses, even as a hodgepodge of ineffective charter and voucher schools sprang up to replace them.  Charter school closings and scandals were commonplace, with failing charters sometimes flipped into failing voucher schools. Many of the great public high schools of Indianapolis were closed from a constant churn of reform directed by a “mindtrust” infatuated with portfolio management of school systems. (Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch in   Valerie Strauss, “Why It Matters Who Governs America’s Public Schools, “ Washington Post, November 4, 2018).

Some facts about Indiana Funding and Teacher Education:

-Indiana funding for education below average for all states and behind five neighboring states and has declined in recent years in comparison with levels of spending nationally

-in 2015-206 Indiana was 34th in instructional spending per student, 42nd in terms of instructional salaries, lower rankings than a decade ago

-Indiana entry level teacher salaries have declined compared with other states over the last five years

-Indiana has a high ratio of students to teachers

-“Indiana would need to increase its investments in public education by about $1.49 billion/year to reach parity with the average of its neighbors, or by $3.33 billion/year to return to its national ranking only five years earlier. Policy options for achieving these goals include raising the per-student foundation amount, reallocating state dollars towards K-12 education, and directing local taxes towards education.” ( from Robert K Toutkoushian, Ph, D,  “Education Funding and Teacher Compensation in Indiana: Evaluation and Recommendations,” March 11, 2019).

The Teachers Movement Continues

“Red for Ed” is the slogan that animated 15,000 teachers, students, and trade unionists to  attend a huge rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, November 19.  147 school districts were shut down around the state because teachers felt obliged to attend this statehouse rally, one of the biggest ever in Indiana history. Core demands involved compensation (incoming teachers earn just $35,000 in a state where 37 percent of households have earnings below a livable standard); an end to 15 hour professional training for all teachers to keep their accreditation; and an end to evaluating teachers on the basis of questionable test scores of students (which obliges teachers to teach for the test rather than wholistic learning).

Teachers marched around the Statehouse and waited in long lines to enter the Capital building, waiting as much as an hour during drizzling weather. Once inside 6,000 teachers sitting on the floor or standing against railings on the second or third floor  listened to teachers from around the state talk about the lack of compensation (many teachers have had to take second and third jobs), inadequate supplies (teachers have to bring pencils, crayons, and paper for their students), and unmanageable class sizes.

Indiana is a leader among the 50 states in shifting resources from public education to vouchers and charter schools  embracing what is called a “Mindtrust” model of education, using a profit/loss market model to evaluate the educational process. Because public education has been underfunded (“starving the beast”) performance often has stagnated. Then privatizers have advocated for charter schools. However, charters have often had deleterious effects on teachers, students, and communities. These school policies involving defunding public schools, investing in charter schools, privatizing, defunding, and attacking teachers and communities have spread all across the country. But now Indiana teachers have become the latest to say “No.” They have been inspired by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, Illinois and elsewhere. And this round of mobilizations is broadly supported by families and communities that see educational institutions as the anchor of society. In addition, teachers increasingly see themselves as workers and trade unionists see teachers as allies. As in the case of Indiana, the trade union movement supported the November 19 mobilization.

The Threat to Public Schools

Since the dawn of the twentieth century the anchor of most communities in the United States, has been its public schools. Schools help raise, nourish, mentor, and educate the youth of America. Parents, as best they can, participate in supporting school systems and provide input on school policy. Teachers and school administrators sacrifice time and energy to stimulate the talents of young people. And teachers through educational associations and trade unions organize to protect their rights in the workplace, always mindful of the number one priority; serving the children and the community.

Beginning in the 1970s, various special interest groups, many well-funded, began to advocate for the privatization of education. Looking at aggregate data showing some failing school performance, they argued that private corporations, charter schools, could educate children better. They blamed the lack of marketplace competition for waste of taxpayer dollars for poor performance. Most often under-performing schools were underfunded schools: underfunded because of racism and patterns of segregation.

The neoliberal answer was to shift public funds, formerly from public schools, to private corporate charter schools. Along with the creation of charter schools, voucher systems were established by state legislatures and school districts allowing parents to place their children in any school they could find; often difficult to access and sometimes far from the child’s neighborhood. The introduction of charter schools and vouchers began the process of shifting resources from public education to private schools, thus destroying adequately performing public schools and weakening nearby communities.

The data on the shift from public schools to charters is shocking. For example in Detroit between 2005 and 2013 public school enrollment declined by 63% and charter school enrollments rose by 53%; in Gary the decline in public schools was 47% and the rise in charter school enrollment rose by 197%;  and in Indianapolis the decline in public school enrollments totaled 27% and the rise in charter schools was 287%. 

This historic transfer of public funds for education to privatization would often be sped up by local crises. The biggest crisis in an American community in decades occurred in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck that city in August, 2005. In its aftermath 100,000 citizens were forced to leave the city because their homes were demolished. Over 100 public schools were destroyed in the disaster. Subsequently virtually all those schools were replaced with charter schools, run by private corporations for a profit, devoid of teachers’ organizations and parental participation in the revitalization of educational institutions. Commenting on the New Orleans experience Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the Obama administration suggested that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to the educational system of New Orleans. 

The human tragedy of Katrina was also a metaphor for what was to follow all across the nation: powerful forces swept away vibrant publicly controlled and accountable educational institutions, replacing them with new profit-driven, non-transparent, non-union, corporate schools that did not serve the needs and desires of the remaining members of the community. Public education is being uprooted, transformed, and destroyed all across the United States.  

To facilitate the privatization of schools cities everywhere have begun to close public schools. Detroit, New York, and Chicago closed over 100 schools per city in recent years. In Philadelphia, municipal funds for a prison came from the closure of 50 schools. The impacts of school closings is reflected in the essay “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” produced by the Journey for Justice Alliance: “Closing a school is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a community; it strikes at the very core of community culture, history, and identity and…produces far-reaching repercussions that negatively affect every aspect of community life.” 

Recent Impacts

First, the shift of scarce state budget funds from public to charter schools has meant a significant decline in resources to maintain and improve public schools. If funds for new charter schools and increased money for vouchers are transferred from adequately performing public schools to under-performing charter or religious schools the changes in educational policy lead to a decline in the quality of education provided to all students. For example, in the 2014-2015 Indiana budget, $115 million was diverted by the state legislature from public education to the growing voucher program.

Therefore, as money is withdrawn from K-12 public education the traditional schools have reduced resources with which to do their job. This leads to declining performance. Then privatization advocates call for further reduction as well as school closings, rather than increasing resource allocation to public schools. 

Second, a high percentage of school closings occur in poor and Black communities. These closings create what the Journey for Justice Alliance calls “education deserts.” Parents have to find adequate, affordable schools elsewhere in the cities in which they live. Oftentimes charter schools refuse to admit particular students because of biased estimates of their probability of success, disabilities they may have, insufficient English language proficiency or other reasons. “Charter schools use a variety of selective admissions techniques, such as targeted marketing strategies, burdensome application processes, imposing academic prerequisites, and the active discouragement of less-desirable candidates.” (Journey for Justice Alliance, Death By a Thousand Cuts, May, 2014, pp.11-12). In some cases, parents cannot find adequate schools for their children anywhere near their community. 

The closing of schools, the struggle for admission to new schools, the increased class sizes of new schools, the adjustment to a new school culture, along with the inexperience of new teachers, all impact in negative ways on the educational experience of children. Education writer, Scott Elliott reported that of the 18 charter schools operating in Indianapolis in 2015, half of them had test scores in 2014 that registered a “fail” in state examination of their children. The failing charter schools served children from poorer backgrounds and/or were children with special needs such as language training. Several of these failing charter schools had been operating for several years and some had been part of national charter networks.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability summed up studies of the impacts of voucher programs on educational performance: ‘None of the independent studies performed of the most lauded and long standing voucher programs extant in the U.S.--Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.--found any statistical evidence that children who utilized vouchers performed better than children who did not and remained in public schools.”

Third, as parent and student protests in Chicago, in various cities and towns in Indiana, and elsewhere suggest, there is an inverse relationship between the spread of charter schools and voucher systems and citizen input into educational policy-making. Historically, while many parents chose not to participate in school board decision- making, the prerogative existed for parents, and even students, to provide input into educational policy. It was assumed that members of communities had the right and the responsibility to communicate their concerns to school administrators, elected school boards, and teachers. Most school districts have active parent organizations. 

The documentary Education Inc. demonstrated cases in which the frequency of public school board hearings was reduced and meetings were summarily adjourned to avoid debate on controversial issues. And legislatures, such as in Indiana, have prohibited state executive or legislative bodies from regulating the “curriculum content” of private schools that accept vouchers.

Fourth, the neoliberal design referred to above is based upon the proposition that institutional and policy success is best measured by the profit accrued to the corporate bodies involved. In the field of education, neoliberal policies seek to shift accountability from the public to the private sector; from professional skills to market skills; and from participation by the professional and union organizations of teachers, parent groups, and engaged students to corporate executives of private corporations. The neoliberal design regards educational professionalism and training and teachers advocacy associations as impediments. 

Therefore the full force of state educational policy includes transferring status, respect, adequate remuneration from long time public school teachers to marginalized, under-trained new workers in charter schools. Also, the charter school movement is avowedly an anti-teachers union movement. 

Documentaries on education such as Rise Above the Mark and Education Inc. illustrate that career teachers find demoralizing the repeated and dysfunctional testing of children, declining resources for their schools, and repeated public statements devaluing and demeaning teachers. Educational spokespersons in these films speak in the most glowing terms about the passion to teach, commitment to children, and talent of staffs under their leadership. School superintendents in these documentaries also speak about the contributions which teachers unions make to the enhancement of school performance.   

The sum total of the thirty year effort to transform the educational system under the guise of “reform” are the following: the tradition of public education is being destroyed; access to quality education is becoming more difficult and more unequal; transparency and parent input into policy making is becoming more difficult; and the attack on professionalism and teachers unions is making it more difficult to teach.

How to respond?

Other issues need to be discussed including testing, evaluations based on dubious metrics, charging parents for text books, inequitable access to school supplies by district and by public versus private schools, inadequate funding, the development of curricula appropriate for a twenty-first century educational agenda, and the need to combat the “school to prison pipeline” that seems to undergird much of urban education. Responses to protect and enhance the quality of educational life for children require the following:

Creating an educational movement in the state of Indiana that says “enough is enough” to those advocates of so-called education “reform.” That means developing inside strategies that include running and electing legislators and executives who believe in public education. It means lobbying at the State House during the legislative season. It means launching litigation when politicians and educational privateers violate the Indiana constitution’s guarantee that all children have a right to a quality education.

The educational movement must also embrace an outside strategy, building a social movement. It should include education, agitation, and organization. Pamphlets, speakers, videos, and other public fora need to be organized all around the state. Educators and their supporters need to rally and protest so that the issue of quality education is discussed in communities and the media.

And organizationally, an educational movement should draw upon the militancy, passion, and expertise of educational organizations around the state that are already engaged in this work. Strengthening the movement for quality education is more about bringing existing groups together than creating new ones. That is the vision of Indiana Moral Mondays and the idea of “fusion politics.” Assemble those who share common values and a vision and build a mass movement such that as the old slogan says: “The People United Shall Never Be Defeated.” 

The huge rally of November 19 suggests that such a movement has been born. Or as this new movement in Indiana proclaims: “Red for Ed.”

What Specific Policies and Programs to Support?

1.Increasing, not decreasing, federal, state, and local funding of public education.

2.Prioritizing the funding of traditionally under-funded schools in economically disadvantaged communities. Resources should include salaries to encourage experienced teachers to remain in disadvantaged communities. Funds should provide equal technologies, including libraries, computers, and other tools, for schools in lower income communities equal to those provided for wealthier communities. Resources should provide for language training, math education, and programs in the arts.

3.Policy-making bodies in all branches of government should be open and transparent so that parents, teachers, and students can observe and participate in decision-making.

4.In school districts where teachers choose to form unions or other professional associations these organizations should be recognized partners in the policy-making process.

5.Assessments of school performance should be determined by teachers, school administrators, and parents, not politicians or educational corporations. Teachers should not be forced to “teach to the tests.”

6.The goal of the educational process should be the full development of the potential of each and every student irrespective of race, gender, class or other forms of discrimination.

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Memoir of Vietnam and El Salvador with Meaning for Latin America Today

6 PRIESTS KILLED IN A CAMPUS RAID IN SAN SALVADOR  (30 years ago today) Lindsey Gruson, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 1989 Six Jesuit priests, including the rector of a leading university, were killed here before dawn today by what one witness described as a group of 30 men dressed in military uniforms. Most of the priests were dragged from their beds in cubicles in a dormitory at the Jose Simeon Canas University of Central America on the outskirts of the capital and shot in the head with high-powered rifles, apparently of the same type issued by the army. The Jesuits' cook and her 15-year-old daughter were also shot to death.

National Public Radio November 15, 2019

Witness to war: an American doctor in El Salvador: a review essay

Harry R. Targ, Monthly Review,Vol. 37, October, 1985

The great American sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote of the distinction between "personal troubles" and "public issues." Troubles relate to the individual personality and its interaction with an adjacent milieu of limited size. To understand them requires an examination of individual biography. Issues, on the other hand, transcend individual biographies and restricted social spaces, and they relate to the structure and dynamics of societies. Mills suggests that in order to understand and deal with personal troubles, it is often necessary to look beyond them no larger issues and their structures. Marx put the connection between biography and structure, individual and history, this way: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."

All this may bear on our understanding of a book by Dr. Charles Clements, called Witness to War: An American Doctor in El Salvador. It is a book about personal troubles and public issues, personal commitment and recalcitrant history. At a superficial level, the book is an account of Clements' one-year stay in the liberated zone of the Gauzapa Front in El Salvador, ministering to the health needs of the civilian population. It also explains why Clements chose to volunteer for such arduous and heartrending service. At a more fundamental level, Witness to War is a personal biographical statement about one man's struggle for identity. It is a generational statement about the efforts of Americans to come to terms with the Vietnam experience. Finally, it is a profoundly significant historical statement that describes how the conduct of the United States in world affairs has shaped and distorted the lives of the people of El Salvador.

Charles Clements was born into a military family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His father, an air force colonel, instilled the virtues, "My early boyhood comes back to me as a kind of endless Fourth of July."

As a successful young student, Clements entered the Air Force Academy in order to benefit from a scholarship. At the academy he evidenced disdain for "hairy and dirty" antiwar demonstrators, but he found himself somewhat discomforted by combat training films. Clements claims he was more the scientist, the technocrat than the macho fighter pilot.

Upon graduation Clements was sent to UCLA for graduate work in operations management. Before completing his studies, he volunteered for flight school and hence training for Vietnam. After pilot training Clements flew transport planes in Vietnam. Within a year he would find himself in a psychiatric ward in an air force mental institution after he had refused to fly C-130s any longer in support of the war effort.

What experiences led this patriotic, ostensibly apolitical, technocratic young man to declare his opposition to the Vietnam war? Clements provides something of a checklist of events, facts, and experiences that reshaped his consciousness of the war.

He recounts a fighter pilot's description of a bombing run that led to a squadrom award. The pilot told of how he spotted, in his words, "a bunch of slopes," that is Vietnamese peasants, in a field. Upon receipt of orders, he was authorized to gun them down; at least thirty-one people died. "Weren't they farmers?" Clements asked. "Who the hell care?" the pilot replied. "They were gooks in a free-fire zone, so I offed them."

Clements tells why he began to believe he was being betrayed by his government. The number of enemy dead was inflated; American casualty figures were manipulated to minimize a negative impression. He was ordered to fly cargo to a location in the morning only to pick it up in the afternoon. When he asked about this, he was told that if he did not fly these worthless mission, he would be called back to the United States, thus reducing warfront capabilities.

Walking the streets of Saigon, Clements noted the prostitutes, drugs, black market sales, slums, and bars. He met CIA agents who described for him the rural pacification program, which involved the execution of alleged guerrilla sympathizers. He remembers how U.S. planes would fly over North Vietnam inducing anti-aircraft fire so that so-called reactive bombing could be justified, or the secret air strips in Laos that were being supplied by C-130s despite disclaimers by President Nixon.

Clements also received information from a bar-hopping CIA agent who told him that "his boys" were negotiating with General Lon Nol about a coup in Cambodia. Further, Clements became aware that Cambodia was being pummeled with bombs, again with official denials from Nixon, Kissinger, and the others.

When Clements finally decided to declare his refusal to participate in the war any longer, the official response conformed to the scenarios that could have been written by Ken Kesey or Kurt Vonnegut. "I recommend that you go see the base psychiatrist," his squadron commander said. Clements may have noted that this is the typical way that Americans respond to public issues--conceptualize them as private troubles.

Clements spent six months in a mental institution learning to ingratiate himself with peers and authorities. Finally he was discharged from the air force in March 1971 with a "10 percent disability."

Nine years later, Clements graduated from the University of Washington Medical School. He became a resident in family medicine at a county hospital in Salinas, California. Again, as in Vietnam, experiences and information were to transform his understanding and concern about a public issue, El Salvador.

A medical research committee returned from that country with a report that death squads were murdering surgeons in operating rooms, shooting patients, and "disappearing" health-care workers in clinics. At the time, Clements was treating some of the 600,000 Salvadoran refugees who had run from the mass murders in their own country. He saw patients missing limbs and other bodily organs that had been cut off with machetes, cases of deliberate acid burns, and other physical signs of torture. Also, "many of the refugees were emotional basket cases: hysterics, depressives, catatonics, paranoiacs--human being after human being whose mind has been tormented by terror."

After a period of money raising and public speaking to oppose U.S. policy in El Salvador, Clements decided to offer his services to alleviate some of the suffering of the kind he had seen. Since he had become a Quaker in the years after he left Vietnam, his support of the Salvadoran people had to be nonviolent. He therefore decided to go to El Salvador and provide medical care to civilians in the zones of popular control, that is, in areas governed by supporters of the opposition to the government in San Salvador. In February 1982, Clements clandestinely crossed the border between Honduras and El Salvador on foot and after hours of walking arrived at the Guazapa Front, an area about two hundred square miles surrounding a dormant volcano, twenty miles north of San Salvador.

Within this region were several villages n which Dr. Clements would visit and work in for a year. Villagers in the Guazapa Front had their own rudimentary political and social institutions, including schools, communal agricultural production, medical clinics, and a militia. The guerrilla coalition, the FMLN or Farabundo Marti Liberation Movement, had a presence in the region, was broadly supported by the people, and had a membership that was mostly from Guazapa.

During the course of Clements' stay in Guazapa, the region was subjected to periodic attacks from Salvadoran ground forces and boming and napalm attacks from the air. However, except for fortified government military installations, the Salvadoran army was unable to establish political control in Guazapa. They could only kill and destroy. Witness to War gives examples of the utter brutality of the army against residents of Guazapa. For instance, Camila, a 38-year-old woman, broke into hysterics when questioned about her history of pregnancies. She had had nine pregnancies. Three children survived. Two others died of fever and diarrhea, a common killer of children in the country. These two died during the years when she and her husband had decided to pay off the mortgage, equalling half their crop, rather than save the money for emergency food needs. Each year Camila had to choose between the threat of their land being repossessed or their children's health being endangered. Two other of Camila's children were killed in a government massacre early in 1980. Clements asked her why the family had not fled from government troops. Camila responded: "Because we didn't know then. We had never been to a demonstration or belonged to an organization. We didn't know we were the enemy."

Clements recounts walking along a trail behind a young woman. She suddenly dropped dead from a sniper's bullet. He ran to the body, grabbed the toddler the young woman was carrying, and dashed for cover. The little boy's father had already been killed. Now the child's aunt, a widowed woman, would have to care for him and his siblings. It was common for families to be formed and reformed as parents and children died. Intact nuclear families were rare in Guazapa.

Frederico was the male elder of a three-generation family in Copapayo. By local standards he was rich, owning several acres of land and some livestock. Clements said the family could have been evacuated to the United States but chose to stay because it "believed that the Christian and patriotic thing to do was to stay and contribute to the struggle." Frederico's wife Isabel headed the local Association of Salvadoran Women. One daughter ran the health-care program in their region of Guazapa. One son headed agricultural production in the same area. The son's wife, a seamstress, administered the village's shop where hats, packs, and uniforms were produced. One of Frederico's daughters was a school-teacher in Copapayo. Two younger children were members of the local militia. Just before he left Guazapa, Clements took a picture of all 14 family members. He expected to have the photograph developed in the United States and sent to Frederico. Before he could develop the film, thirteen members of Frederico's family were slaughtered in a government assault. A single photo, reproduced in the book, "is all that remains of them."

Much of the state violence, the vision of the people, and Clements' own activities are capsulized in a vignette about the eighth of October 1982, the fifteenth anniversary of Che Guevara's death. Che's memory is cherished even by those not engaged or predisposed to take up arms for revolutionary change. As Clements reports: "They remember him not as an ominous threat to liberty, but as the passionate doctor who once spoke before the United Nations General Assembly, challenging the northern industrial nations to share just 1 percent of their gross national product with the Third World." So, as Clements was completing his medical rounds on this special day, he happened upon a tiny village, Plantanares, where a small band played and some two hundred people were dancing. Many guerrillas and members of the local militia danced with guns slung across their backs. The event, of course, was the Fourth-of-July-like celebration in memory of Che.

As Clemens walked among vendors and sipped a cup of sugary coffee, a spotter plane circled over the area a few times, then disappeared. After viewing the celebration, Clements began his travel to another town. About an hour later, planes stormed out of the distant sky, "like a swarm of angry hornets," he remembered. Villages were bombed and strafed in an all-out attack. The village where the celebration for Che was in progress was directly hit. A family of twelve, including the woman who served him coffee, died when their house was destroyed by a bomb.

He ended the vignette with a tale about Che. It seems that as the small band of guerrillas landed in Cuba and headed for the Sierra Maestra mountains in 1956, Che was faced with the choice of grabbing a bag of medicine or a satchel of ammunition. Che, the doctor, chose the ammunition. Clements wrote that he realized he could not make the same choice as Guevara. However, he granted, "I won't presume to judge the moral correctness of that choice or its historical significance. If Che Guevera hadn't existed, perhaps some propagandist or poet might have invented him."

Not all of Clements' accounts of Guazapa are about the victimization of the population. He describes much that can help us understand the Salvadoran people and their attempt to build new institutions for a better life. We are first introduced to Nico, a slight twelve-year-old correo, or messenger, who guides Clements from the Honduran border. He is a cheerful, pistol-toting young man who is matured by the experiences of violence around him, although physically he is underdeveloped because of inadequate nutrition. Nico is like other children his age who serve the revolution as best they can, knowing full well that they will be guerrillas some day. In preparation, they attend school, engage in military drills, and still have time for soccer and other activities.

Ramon was a guerrilla leader in the area. He was also a doctor. During his last year in medical school Ramon was serving his obligatory period of residence in the countryside when the Salvadoran military occupied the medical school and killed many fellow medical students. Ramon decided to stay with the peasants. Clements portrayed him as "a study in contrasts." Before his troops, Ramon would speak in slogans about imperialism and the "fascist Reagan." In private, Clements said, Ramon showed how he detested bloodshed. He never spoke of the many combat exploits that had made him famous in the region. Rather, he would talk of the future, such as building a national health system in El Salvador much like that in Britain or Canada. He would describe efforts to erase illiteracy from among guerrilla volunteers and to overcome their machismo. The companeros, Ramon argued, had to be more than fighters; they had to be examples to the rest of society.

As to rural production, Clements describes what he called "pre-Columbian collectivism." In virtually every village in the Guazapa Front people cooked and washed their clothes communally, as well as cooperatively cultivating their corn and beans and gathering firewood. Time and level of commitment to communal activities varied and was freely chosen by the villagers. These traditions predated Spanish occupation and survive after one hundred years of oligarchic control of the land and the use of violence against the people. In this light, not only the North Americans but the economic oligarchy and the Salvadoran military were truly the foreigners of El Salvador.

Clements' descriptions of village cooperatives, small medical clinics, a public village trial of a soldier for murder, the endless discussions and debates among representatives of guerrilla groups, the eager participation of young and old, men and women, in maintaining village life, and the voluntary participation in guerrilla or militia organizations, are instances of a rich textured participatory democracy at work. Clements' description bears no relationship to the charges of incipient totalitarianism leveled at the opposition by U.S. politicians.

Finally, Clements' descriptions point to the thoroughly indigenous character of the revolution. People don't talk in ideologies but in terms of their oppression and their hopes for the future. They are clearly influenced by their culture and traditions, as with the cooperative agricultural production, by the church, as suggested by discussion of a legendary progressive local priest, by their sense of outrage at the oligarchy, and by their understanding of what economic and political democracy might mean to El Salvador.

Clements' book is weakest in its discussion of the history of U.S. imperialism in Central America. Ultimately, however, these more abstract and historical formulations go beyond, even if derived from, Witness to War. Rather the book is an account of one man's private troubles as he experiences Vietnam and El Salvador.

Ultimately, it portrays Clements' growing understanding of Vietnam and El Salvador as public issues.

The book ends with a description of an encounter the author had with some Salvadorans at a Christian base community. Clements found his hosts uncomfortable with his description of his pacifist commitment. Gabriel, the lay priest in the community, responded to the author's talk about nonviolence with his own understanding of peasant experience. Gabriel said:

“You gringos are always worried about violence done with machine guns and machetes. But there is another kind of violence that you must be aware of, too. I used to work on the hacienda. My job was to take care of the dueno's [landlord] dogs. I gave them meat and bowls of milk, food that I couldn't give my own family. When the dogs were sick, I took them to the veterinarian in Suchitoto or San San Salvador. When my children were sick, the dueno gave me his sympathy, but no medicine as they died.

To watch your children die of sickness and hunger while you can do nothing is a violence to the spirit. We have suffered that silently for too many years. Why aren't you gringos concerned with that kind of violence?”

After Gabriel's speech, Clements said, there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Gabriel added, "Tell your people they could start base Christian communities too."

By citing this incident at the book's end, Clements shows that he had begun to see private troubles as public issues, that people make history not precisely in ways of their own choosing, and that gringos as well as Salvadorans must work as they see fit to stop the violence and the poverty in El Salvador, and wherever else it exists.

Targ, Harry R. "Witness to war: an American doctor in El Salvador." Monthly Review, Oct. 1985, p. 57+. Gale Academic Onefile,

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Harry Targ

Helping Students Adjust

“It’s clear that today’s young people…are more fragile in some ways. ….They seem  to be a little less ready, a little less prepared  for difficulty and setbacks than earlier generations. And so, yes if we can do something that enhances their resilience and all this that I just talked  about, I think it’s our responsibility to do that,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels quoted in Joseph Ching, “Student Success Initiative to Launch: Program Tailored to Tackle Gen Stressors,” Purdue Exponent, October 17, 2019.

The Vice Provost of Student Life, Beth  McCuskey, the article reported, announced a new program to facilitate student resilience called “”Steps to Leap,” which would help students respond to stresses in college and beyond building “lifelong skills in the area of well-being and resiliency.” This program would coordinate various university programs, including curricula, to address “five core pillars of life skills:” “well-being, leadership and professional development, impact, networks, and grit.” Daniels added that students today were having more severe mental problems than in years past.

The article then cited a college senior who had been researching student stresses for the new Steps to Leaps program. He suggested that generation Z students were too impatient; they expected change to occur immediately, not realizing that change takes “one step at a time.” He claimed Zers were reticent to network and rejected leadership as an hierarchical concept.

In a subsequent article announcing the program’s beginning, a student was quoted as saying that it was good to know that Purdue was supporting them in their endeavors: “Purdue has your back.” (Sean Murley, “Students Excited About ‘Steps to Leaps,’ Purdue Exponent, October 31, 2019).

Student Protests

One week later, a group of students protested an incident in which a pharmacy refused to sell a cold product to a student because he used his  Puerto Rican driver’s license as an ID, thus in the clerk’s mind, signifying that he was not a US citizen. A spokesperson from the pharmaceutical company apologized for the incident. But given experiences of discrimination on campus some students urged Purdue to issue a public statement condemning all forms of discrimination. Their demands were ignored. A Ph.D student protestor suggested that “Purdue is complicit in this case.  Students perceive, and rightly so, that the university’s diversity statements are mere words stated to give the illusion of anti-discriminatory policies.” (Dave Bangert, “Students Are Demanding That Daniels Denounce CVS Incident, Journal and Courier, November 8, 2019.
The particular incident, for which the company apologized, is not the issue. Students at Purdue University have for a long time raised concerns about racist incidents on campus. Over the last three years alt-right flyers with coded Nazi symbols have appeared on campus. Earlier, in December, 2014, students mobilized to protest the killing of an unarmed African-American man by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Demonstrators urged then that the Purdue administration address racial profiling and harassment on the campus . University spokespersons refused to publicly reiterate the institution’s stated commitment to oppose discrimination wherever it occurs.

Over the last several years, Purdue University reaction to student protest seems to contradict the claim that students “have the university’s back.” Rather Steps to Leaps, as described, seems to be a program designed to train students to adjust to a world with serious problems. And, if one reads between the lines, the Steps to Leap program regards student protest as part of the problem, not the solution. However, data would indicate a dramatic increase in youth protest in the United States and all across the globe. Why? Because of the threat to the physical survival of the planet, growing inequality in wealth and income and abject poverty, racism and sexism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, war, and the threat of violence in public spaces, including schools.

In short, the Steps to Leaps program is based on unfounded generalizations about the inadequate adaptability of Generation Zers to a complex world, and an assumption that protest and demands for radical change represent an impatience that is a sign of mental stress and immaturity. Again it is assumed that stress and “immaturity” is greater in this cohort of students than in prior periods (Students in the 1960s were characterized in similar ways as Steps to Leaps today).

Generation Zers Are Taking the Lead  for Social Change

In contradistinction to the implicit message of Steps to Leaps, protest can be seen as a manifestation of a profound commitment of Generation Zers to the project of transforming a world that is being destroyed by fossil fuels, endemic violence and racism. A year ago I wrote an essay about the skillful and committed mobilization of young people who had experienced gun violence at the Parkland High School in Florida. It argued that educators and the broader public should support movements for change initiated by students rather than ignore them. These mobilizations are not signs of immaturity or lack of “grit” but perhaps commitment, passion, and intellect.

I wrote then (“What Gives Me Hope About This ‘Enough is Enough’ Movement,”  Diary of a Heartland Radical, March 25, 2018):

“While I have had bursts of enthusiasm before when women marched for their rights, masses mobilized against war, and many stepped up to say no to police violence and mass incarceration, I was touched emotionally even more this time around. On reflection, I think, my optimism, my interest in being involved, and my sense of purpose has been energized by several features of this new movement.

First, this movement was not organized around “identities.” While the student organizers of the rally purposefully incorporated how people of color, women, and lower income students experience violence differently in their lives, the central focus was on the general issues of guns and gun violence. Individual youth organizers then spoke from their own experiences.

Second, the students, again consciously, avoided all sectarianism. While there were clear messages about profit-making corporations, lobby groups, self-serving elected officials, and the uses to which elections were put, they did not explicitly address the role of capitalism and class, race, and gender. They made it clear that elections matter. They avoided the debate about whether people should support one or the other of the major political parties or build a third party. They had organized in 800 cities and towns to say “Enough is Enough” about gun violence, not to raise issues of theory and practice that often divide older activists.

Third, the students had a direct, immediate issue-oriented agenda; that is the regulation of the ownership, sale, and use of firearms in society. Although spokespersons from Parkland and elsewhere beautifully grounded their advocacy in broader systemic, structural arguments about why they are mobilizing, they presented a modest but significant set of policy goals that they wished to achieve.

Fourth, the young people who organized the marches and rallies presented a practical plan to achieve their immediate goals. They urged those who were old enough to vote, to do so in the 2018 elections. Those who were going to become of voting age, they proposed, should register to vote. And all young people should encourage others to register and vote.

Fifth, all young people were urged to participate in the electoral arena. Activists called on youth to establish litmus tests for each candidate from local to national office on gun issues. And, where possible, participants in rallies were urged to run for office. And young people were advised to reject the argument that “you are just a kid… you don’t have the experience or knowledge to hold public office.”

Sixth, all the emerging youth spokespersons from Parkland, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere made it clear that they were not leaders in the traditional sense but facilitators of an organically charged mass movement. All students from Parkland who were interviewed indicated that they were not speaking for and about themselves. They saw themselves as part of a generation that is demanding the right to be free of the threat of being a target of violent death.

Seventh, spokespersons for this mass mobilization promise that “this is just the beginning.” One gets the sense from the passion, the collective solidarity, the proposed plan of action, and the specific goals articulated all across the country that a new movement has been born. This movement might transform itself from its singular commitment to controlling gun violence to a broad-based social movement for justice and democracy.

These “Generation Zers” will continue to build from their extraordinary uprising. For now they have set themselves and the nation on a new path that should give us hope and direction.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Reconstituting the Military/Industrial/Academic Complex: An Update

Harry Targ

The essay below was originally posted at / The Rag Blog / March 18, 2012 (military spending was updated to fiscal year 2020. Military policies referred to were about the Obama Administration, but not much has changed since.)

The National Defense Industrial Association honored President Daniels on Wednesday (Oct. 30) for his support of the nation’s defense. NDIA presented Daniels the James Forrestal Industry Leadership Award in Washington, D.C., for his leadership advancing STEM at Purdue and supporting hypersonics research. (Purdue Today, November 4, 2019).

The James Forrestal Industry Leadership Award is named in honor of James Forrestal, who has served as secretary of the Navy and of Defense. The Forrestal Award honors his leadership and outspoken advocacy for a robust and responsive defense industrial base during the painful early years of post-World War II demobilization. The Forrestal Award is bestowed annually on a person who best reflects Forrestal's vision, leadership, and staunch support of a strong industrial base (NDIA100,

Poor are paying the price: Military spending and our national priorities

"From Forrestal’s day to the present, semi-warriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost. With the advent of the semi-war, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable 'need to know.' In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid.” -- Andrew Bacevich, reviewing a biography of James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense, in The Nation.

Andrew Bacevich reminds us that a permanent war economy has been part of the political and economic landscape of the United States at least since the end of World War II. The War Resisters League pie chart of total government spending for fiscal year 2020 (see the link above) indicates that 48 percent of all government spending deals with current and past military costs. Despite lower government estimates that mask true military spending, by adding the Social Security Trust Fund to total spending and regarding past military spending -- particularly veteran’s benefits -- as non-military, it is clear that roughly 50 cents of every dollar goes to war, war preparation, covert operations, and military contractors. In addition, “war support” contractors such as KBR have made billions of dollars in the twenty-first century from military spending.

Top producers of military hardware Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing earned 11, 8, and 5 billion dollars in contracts in 2010 alone. Ostensibly non-military corporations such as BP, FedEx, Dell, Kraft, and Pepsi received hundreds of millions of dollars in defense contracts in 2010. Virtually every big corporation is to some degree on the Department of Defense payroll. A recent data-based report, “Don’t Bank on the Bomb,” prepared by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), identified “more than 300 banks, insurance companies, pension funds and asset managers from 30 countries that invest significantly in 20 major nuclear weapons producers.”

The report examined in detail financial connections to 20 major nuclear weapons companies. These 20 included U.S. producers of nuclear weapons components such as Bechtel, Boeing, GenCorp, General Dynamics, Honeywell, and Northrop Grumman. U.S. financial institutions investing in the nuclear weapons producers included Abrams Bison Investments, AIG, American National Insurance Company, Fidelity, Franklin Templeton, JP Morgan Chase, New York Life, and Prudential Financial. Because of the economic crisis which began in 2007, debate about military spending has increased.

In 2010 Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul initiated a study addressing needed cuts. The report prepared for them in 2010, “Debt, Deficits, and Defense,” called for across the board reductions in spending-procurement, research and development, personnel, operations and maintenance, and infrastructure -- of $960 billion over the next decade. The report noted that over the last decade 65 percent of federal discretionary spending went to the military. President Obama last January proposed more modest spending cuts of $480 billion over the next decade (reductions in projected increases, not existing funding). He coupled the announcement about future spending with a firm statement that the world must realize that the United States remains committed to maintaining its military superiority. The President indicated that spending reductions in the future will be tied to greater use of “special operations,” drones, and shifting existent forces from Europe to Asia.

The magnitude of military spending represents what Bacevich referred to as the permanent war economy articulated and defended by the “semi-warriors” dominating U.S. foreign policy in each administration since World War II. These semi-warriors gained influence after the Truman Administration accepted recommendations in National Security Document Number 68 (1950), which recommended that defense spending should always have priority over all other government spending. NSC 5412, approved by President Eisenhower, gave legitimacy to covert operations around the world allowing any president to “plausibly deny” any connections with such operations. Subsequently virtually each president proclaimed a doctrine -- Eisenhower for the Middle East, Carter for the Persian Gulf, Reagan to rollback “the evil empire,” Clinton for “humanitarian interventions” and Bush for “preemptory attacks” -- justifying more and more military spending.

The Obama administration, through speeches and actions, has constructed what might be called “the Obama Doctrine.” First, as the last remaining superpower and the beacon of hope for the world, the United States once again reserves the right and responsibility to intervene militarily to enhance human rights around the world. Second, U.S. humanitarian military interventions will be carried out from time to time with our friends. Third, new technologies such as drones will allow these interventions to occur without “boots on the ground.” They will be cheaper in financial and human cost (mostly for American troops). Finally, assassinations and covert killings have made it clear that the Obama Doctrine overrides recognized judicial proceedings and the sanctity of human life.

Since the establishment of the permanent war economy in the 1940s millions of proclaimed “enemies” have been killed and seriously injured, mostly in the Global South. Permanent physical and psychological damage has been done to U.S soldiers, predominantly poor and minorities as they too are victims of war. In addition, military spending has distorted national priorities and invested U.S. financial resources in expenditures that do not create as many jobs as investments in construction, education, or healthcare. And the permanent war economy has created a culture that celebrates violence, objectifies killing, dehumanizes enemies, and exalts super-patriotism through television, music, video games, and educational institutions. These issues need to be more vigorously related to those raised by the grassroots campaigns that have sprung up to defend worker’s and women’s rights, oppose growing income and wealth inequality, and defend working people’s homes from foreclosures.

A long time ago -- in reference to the massive U.S. war in Southeast Asia and desperate needs of workers at home -- Dr. Martin Luther King described the fundamental connections that peace activists and all progressives must pursue: “I speak of the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

[Harry Targ is a retired professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his recent book which can be found at]