U.S. Senate Apologizes for Slavery

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This week, the United States Senate passed a resolution that apologizes for slavery. It’s pretty sad that it took well over one-hundred years to get to this point, but at least it’s something. It should be noted that Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both co-sponsored the resolution.

To be sure, a Senate resolution can’t under the reality of dehumanization and oppression–or the legacy of slavery’s contemporary manifestations–a fact that the Senate recognizes:

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African- Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States;

The Senate resolution apologizes for both slavery and Jim Crow:

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the sense of the Congress is the following:

(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.

The Congress–

(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws;

(B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and

(C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

Of course, the kicker:

(2) DISCLAIMER.–Nothing in this resolution–

(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

It’s disappointing that the resolution excludes the prospect of reparations, but that is likely to be an ongoing battle that needs to be waged by progressives and radicals.

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Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict

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Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on the private mercenary industry and the use of military contractors in the so-called “War on Terror.” Most often, these books have focused on one or two companies–for example Blackwater–and used them to draw conclusions about the industry as a whole.

Rolf Uesseler’s Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict takes a different approach and focuses on the industry as a whole and uses short case studies of specific companies in order to illustrate broader points. Instead of focusing solely on the “War on Terror” and the most recent wars of the United States, Uesseler takes a much broader view and looks at private military companies around the world. This may owe to the fact that the book was translated from German, but whatever the reason, it offers a welcome break from the typically U.S.-centered literature on the topic.

Uesseler examines how governments, intelligence agencies, private companies, warlords, drug cartels, and rebel groups have come to rely on private military companies to support a wide variety of activities. Private corporations use them to support resource extraction and to police sweatshops, states use them to prop up weak governments and enforce their rule, and intelligence agencies use them to facilitate illegal arms trades. States also use private military corporations to circumvent national laws. For example, a state can hire a private military contractor to fight a war or support one side in a war without needing to officially enter the conflict.

Through all of these activities, private military companies often operate in a legal gray area. The pursuit of profit is their main goal and all other concerns–including law–are often superseded by this goal. That is why in countries like Iraq we see mercenaries run amok–all the companies really care about is the constant flow of lucrative contracts. In many cases, there are no local laws that govern the conduct of mercenaries–as was initially the case in Iraq when they were granted immunity from prosecution–and the countries that send contractors often have little legal oversight of their activities. Moreover, in many cases private military companies subvert democratic notions and are able to conduct their activities with limited oversight and transparency.

In addition his examination of the contemporary activities of private military corporations, Uesseler also includes a brief overview of the historical evolution of mercenaries. He looks at their origins in Ancient Greece through the French Revolution when they largely went out of favor. However, with the end of the Cold War, they have experienced a resurgence. This resurgence is owed to many factors, among those Uesseler highlights a security vacuum with the collapse of the Cold War, conflicts in the Third World, a national energy policy in the United States that demands access to oil regardless of the cost, the increasingly technological orientation of warfare and militaries’ inability to keep up with the technological advances of the private sector, and similar technological gains in the intelligence sector.

Overall, Servants of War is one of the most comprehensive books on private military corporations. It’s very thorough and well-researched, and while that is good, it does make for reading that is a bit on the dry side of things. You will certainly walk away having learned a lot, but there are sure to be times when you wished the author wrote in a more engaging style. Nevertheless, it’s an important book that deserves to be read, especially by those who consider themselves anti-war.

Rolf Uesseler, Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict, (Soft Skull Press, 2008).

May Day: Celebrate Workers Power

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Today is May Day, a day that around the world is celebrated as a celebration of workers’ rights and the power of collective action. In Europe, protestors celebrated the social and economic gains of the labor movement, while also criticizing the world’s elites over the economic crisis.

In the United States, we’ve largely forgotten that history with May Day’s relationship to workers’ rights being scrubbed in the 1950s hysteria over communism and instead christened “Loyalty Day”.

When we lost that history, working people lost part of an inspiring history of grassroots action. Things like the 8-hour day, the end to child labor, and the right to collectively bargain all came out of the struggles of unionized and non-unionized workers and their allies. Radical historian Howard Zinn said in a recent interview:

“Think back to 1886,” he urged, ” … that last part of the nineteenth century, when corporations were growing more and more powerful … And workers were working ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day in factories, and mills, and mines.” “Particularly in the period, in the 1880s, workers decided they would have to win the eight-hour day by their own efforts, by direct action, by going on strike. And they did, they went on strike all over the country. And the result was, they did win the eight-hour day in many places at that time.”

“It wasn’t written into law … until the 1930s, until the New Deal. But it was the unions, the strikers, who did it first. And so it’s very important to understand that May Day is a symbol of protest against terrible working conditions, and of workers’ solidarity to change that.”

So celebrate today as a day of power, and more importantly, (re)commit yourself to the struggle for social justice. Join a progressive group in West Michigan, call your legislators in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (which would make it easier for workers to form unions), or start a new group or project. History shows us that we have the power to change things–we just need to make the effort.

It’s also worth noting that in recent years, May Day has had a resurgence in the U.S. as a day of protest in support of immigrant rights. Since 2006, massive protests have taken place annually in cities across the United States that have in many cases link immigrant rights and workers rights and forged a broader sense of solidarity across movements.

Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be

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The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be is the latest in a long line of books that make a case that progressive politics–and not conservative politics–have a long history of making positive change in the United States. In it, author Michael Lux–a Democratic strategist and former advisor to Bill Clinton–argues that conservatives have been on the “wrong side” of the issue since the United States’ founding.

In the opening sentence of his introduction, Lux writes that “American history consists of one long battle between the forces of reaction and the defense of wealth and power, on one hand, and the forces of progressivism and community, on the other.” It’s a thesis that makes sense if one looks at the history of the United States and Lux offers a number of examples through which he proves his assertion. He discusses the founding of the country and the discussions over how to organize government, the debate over slavery, the Bill of Rights, the right to vote, and other major debates in the country’s history. In each case, he identifies the “progressives”–for example those wanting to extend the right to vote to women–and the “conservatives”–those who sought to maintain the status quo.

Overall, Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be is a fairly simple book. It offers some basic historical arguments that counter the idea that the United States is and always has been a conservative country. They are the kind of arguments that you might share with your conservative, but somewhat sympathetic relative–nothing too detailed, but just enough to add some weight to what you might argue yourself. Often times, the arguments gloss over complex details and oversimplify, but that’s largely inevitable for any book that aims to cover such a broad period.

Unfortunately, while Lux simplifies history, I’d argue that he also repeatedly emphasizes the actions of politicians and “great thinkers” over those of the folks working on the grassroots to make the changes that he talks about possible. At times he does mention movements–for example the abolitionist movement or the Civil Rights movement–but he tends to over-emphasize the contributions of the leaders. He argues that progressive social change needs both a strong movement and strong progressive political leaders in the final chapter, but the emphasis is clearly on the leaders.

This isn’t too surprising, given that the back of the book contains blurbs by former Democratic Party politicians, strategists, and activists. In the final chapters, Lux makes it clear that he sees the history of progressive politics in the United States to be the history of the Democratic Party. He argues that Democrats have led–or perhaps responded to movements demanding–progressive changes over the years. While this is certainly true to an extent–Democrats are more “progressive” than Republicans–they have hardly been harbingers of radical change. Lux is willing to offer some minor criticisms of Democrats–they are too cautious and they have been unwilling to undertake bold political changes–but he is quite forgiving. He encourages people to support them even after he gives a fairly extensive critique of how they have failed repeatedly in recent years on major issues.

Overall, Lux’s book is pretty basic. Some of the historical arguments are interesting, but I didn’t really get too much out of it. More often than not, I found myself frustrated with the simplicity of the history. Lux’s book–if it was read widely by Democratic politicians and activists–might inspire some to take stronger stands, but I can’t imagine too many outside the party gaining much from his book. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States makes a more convincing case regarding the power of the left to make social change and does so in a far more inspiring manner.

Michael Lux, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, (Wiley, 2009).

The Nation Guide to the Nation

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For anyone that has traveled–or has browsed through bookstores–you’ve likely seen the large number of resources dedicated to publicizing tourist traps and offering the so-called “insider” information about any number of cities. The Nation Guide to the Nation takes that approach and highlights historical sites, projects, bookstores, and other places and events that would interest leftist travelers.

The book is divided into five sections–“Culture,” “The Media Gallery,” “Organize!,” “Goods and Services,” and “Social: Connecting”–that catalog a wide variety things pertaining to “the left” in the United States. In the introduction, the editors write that this book is for:

“People of the left-liberal-radical persuasion (the kind of people who read The Nation) who find themselves in some red state backwater hungering for kindred spirits, for community, for folks who’ll help them organize an antiwar rally or a fund-raiser or a peace march or a discussion group or a food co-op.”

That said–it certainly has the potential to deliver on its goals. Whether you are travelling and want to check out some new and inspiring projects (for example, food cooperatives, radical printers, or independent media centers) or wanting to find people in your own to work with, its resources are helpful. For the most part, they are organized logically using broad categories and then smaller categories to narrow down the listings even more. My only complaint is that it might have been easier to organize resources by state in some sections so that people could find out about new things in their own area. Nevertheless, the breadth of the listings are impressive–it contains projects of different political persuasions including anarchists, socialists, and more traditional liberals. Moreover, these projects cut across a wide variety of areas covering everything from organizing hubs to green architects. I’d say that while there are obviously some things left out that could have been added, the book largely succeeds in being a catalog of the left.

Even if you aren’t planning to go anywhere soon to check out new places, the book can be a helpful resource. It catalogs some of the best of the leftist websites on the Internet, indentifies organizations working for social change, and identifies places where you can purchase goods produced in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Reading about places in far away cities–or even interesting websites–could easily inspire readers to take on new projects in their own areas.

Overall, The Nation Guide to the Nation is a good introduction to left and progressive politics in the United States. From its exploration of art collectives to websites, the book lists a wealth of resources, a number of which are almost sure to be new to any reader who picks up the book regardless of how long they have been involved in leftist politics.

Richard Lingeman and the Editors of The Nation, The Nation Guide to the Nation, (Vintage, 2009).

Che: A Graphic Biography

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I’ve never really read much about Che Guevara, but have always been curious about his life and politics. I’ve been interested due both to his iconic status–his image is everywhere–as well as his influence on the so-called “New Left” in the United States in the 1960s. Spain Rodriguez’s Che: A Graphic Biography provides a quick-and-easy introduction to Guevara’s life that gives biographical details, historical context, and political analysis.

Che: A Graphic Biography helps to explain why Guevara has become a world renowned figure. Ultimately, Rodriguez concludes that Guevara’s celebrity status owes to his life becoming a symbol of standing up to U.S. imperialism. Before presenting that conclusion, Rodriguez describes the important chapters of Guevara’s life, discussing his tour of Latin America and the influence it had on his political development, his involvement in the Cuban revolution, his work spreading revolutionary politics in Africa and Latin America following the Cuban revolution, and his death while attempting to organize a revolution in Bolivia. Throughout this history, the book inevitably discusses the tension between Guevara and Cuba’s Marxism and the free-market capitalist ideology of the United States. It does a good job talking about how the United States sought to suppress revolutionary movements in Cuba and Latin America generally while also touching on Cuba’s attempts to forge alliances with Marxist governments around the world. If there is one downfall of the book, it is that Marxism is receives relatively little detailed exploration and that there is only limited critical assessment of Guevara’s politics.

While the book is short at around 100 pages and can’t get into all of the details of Guevara’s life and times, it more than makes up in it for its readability. For someone not terribly well versed in Latin American politics and history, the book successfully presents enough information to give a sense of what was happening while at the same time keeping the narrative flowing. Moreover, the brilliant illustrations present Guevara in a compelling light, making it easy to follow and breaking up the text for less than frequent readers.

The book also contains an essay by Sarah Seidman and Paul Buhle titled “Che Guevara, Image and Reality” that looks at the commodification of Guevara’s influence and his relationship to revolutionary politics. It looks at how Guevara influenced and was used by a variety of anti-imperialist movements while also providing a critical look at how his image has been used outside of its political context on a range of consumer products.

Overall, Che: A Graphic Biography is well worth reading for those curious about why Guevara has become such an iconic figure and for those interested in learning about revolutionary movements.

Spain Rodriguez, Che: A Graphic Biography, (Verso Books, 2008).

Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography

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This is part of Atlantic Monthly’s series: “Books that Changed the World” in which several different authors write biographies of influential books. I don’t know about the other books in the series, but this book was very short (144 pages). I was able to read through the whole thing in just a few days.

Wheen is also the author of a biography of Marx, and as with his biography of Marx, in his work on Das Kapital Wheen spends a lot of time making fun of Marx’s personality quirks, but ultimately comes down on Marx’s side on most of the issues.

Wheen blows up a lot of the mythology surrounding Marx on both sides by focusing on his all too human foibles (very much similar in tone to Mark Steel’s lectures on Karl Marx–viewable on Youtube here). Far from being a dedicated evil genius or a revolutionary Jesus Christ, Marx had a terrible time writing this book. He procrastinated endlessly, constantly lied to his publisher and his friends and told them it was almost finished when it wasn’t, and generally showed a remarkable inability to just buckle down and finish the thing.

As a result, only volume one out of an intended six volumes was completed during Marx’s lifetime. Therefore, as Wheen emphasizes, despite the tendency of Marx’s disciples to make dogma out of his work, no complete bible of Marx’s theory exists.

Another one of Wheen’s main points is that Marx intended Das Kapital to be a work of art rather than purely a work of economics. Instead of simply writing a straight forward economic text, Marx throws in so a great deal of humor, irony, literary and poetical allusions. I’ve got to say, based on Francis Wheen’s description of it, Das Kapital doesn’t sound half bad as reading material.

Lastly, as you would expect, Wheen spends a significant amount of time analyzing the ideas in Das Kapital.

Wheen believes that although Marx may have failed as a prophet, he was extraordinary as an analyst. That is, although the communist revolutions may not have happened exactly as Marx had predicted, Marx was still able to give an excellent analysis of how capitalism functioned, and what it’s inherent instabilities were.

Wheen goes on to assert that although Marx’s theories have been unfairly maligned in the West, much of Marx’s analysis has been subsequently vouched for by mainstream economists. In fact Wheen argues that Keynesian economics, with it’s belief that capitalism unregulated and left to its own devices is inherently unstable, is very similar to Marx’s own analysis.

Although this book was originally published back in November of 2007, one year ahead of the economic meltdown, recent events have made this subject much more relevant now than it was when it was first published. In fact, Time magazine, of all places, just recently published an article that raises the question: Was Marx’s critique of capitalism right after all? And here in Japan, Marx’s Das Kapital is enjoying renewed popularity as a Manga.

(Also, anyone interested should check out the NPR interview with Francis Wheen about this book.)

Francis Wheen, Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography, (Grove Press, 2007).

Revolutions of 1848: A Social History

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Many books on 1848 tend to be heavily analytical. They focus on the connecting factors and underlying causes of the Revolutions, and thus tend to lose the narrative. Priscilla Robertson, however, fortunately takes the opposite approach. She focuses on a few of the major upheavals during 1848, and retells each of them as a single contained story.

Of course, it would be impossible to cover every single 1848 Revolution in one book. (“No one has ever numbered the revolutions which broke out in Europe in 1848” Robertson writes in the introduction. “…[But] there must have been over 50”.) Robertson therefore narrows her focus to France, Germany, the Austrian Empire (including a subsection on Hungary), Italy, and a short afterward on Britain and Ireland.

Even within these major countries, there were several different cities that experienced different revolutions. Therefore, in the section on Italy, for example, Robertson breaks it up by devoting separate chapters to Milan, to Rome, and to Venice.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Robertson is an excellent story teller, and she’s able to not only make the history come alive, but also to create a lot of suspense in the narrative. On the whole, it makes for enthralling reading.

The disadvantage, however is that every 75 pages or so you get pulled out of one story and have to work at getting yourself immersed into another. If you’re reading the whole thing straight through, it’s a bit jolting to go through the trouble of acquainting yourself with all the circumstances and actors in one revolution, only to find yourself yanked out and transported across the map into another set of circumstances and characters. The stories of the rise and fall of each different revolutionary government can start to feel repetitive after a while.

However, with a little bit of self-discipline, if you stick with the book I did find that I would gradually get immersed into each separate story. And because Robertson works so hard to recreate the feeling of those days, I had the pleasure of feeling like I was transported to several exotic cities in 19th century Europe. The reader of this book gets to spend time in revolutionary Paris, the student government in Vienna, Milan, Rome, Venice, Frankfurt, Dresden, various cities in Hungary, et cetera. (For someone like me who has never been to Europe, it was a great way to visit all of these cities vicariously).

There were a lot of emotions in the 1848 Revolutions, and Robertson does a good job of guiding us through them all. At the outbreak of the revolutions, we can feel the romanticism at each the dream of a utopian republic. “All schools of romantic thought had their day in 1848,” Robertson writes (p. 367).

Once the new governments begin to crumble, this early optimistic feeling all too quickly leads to despair, which Robertson also captures. Of the various people she quotes, perhaps the Russian socialist Herzen describes it most eloquently. “Half of our hopes, half of our beliefs were slain, ideas of skepticism and despair haunted the brain and took route in it. One could never have supposed that, after passing through so many trials, after being schooled by contemporary skepticism, we had so much left in our souls to be destroyed” (p. 96).

As often happens in history, the old order reasserted itself with astonishing brutality, and Robertson records several civilian massacres when the revolution fell.

1848 stands at the crossroads of history in more than one-way, and Robertson explores many of these. For one thing, 1848 represented the split between republicans and socialists. Under the old system, capitalists and workers alike felt themselves constrained by feudalism, causing the industrial class to often be at the forefront of the revolution. “1848 was the last time that business could seem radical” Robertson writes of the Vienna Revolution (p. 206).

Before 1848, most European republicans dreamed of a utopian fusion of the classes under a liberal republican government. “Only after the liberals won power did they discover that they were afraid of the workers; when the workers found this out, they turned to Marxian gospel” (p. 6).

1848 also saw the emergence of nationalism as a popular force. The desire for the various German and Italian states to unite as one country, as well as the desire for the independence among the various ethnic groups in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. As Robertson points out, the failure to resolve these matters in 1848 has been the cause of much of the bloodshed in the 20th century in the former Austria-Hungarian lands.

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Because the action in this book spans across a whole continent, it takes in its scope most of the prominent names of the time: Garibaldi, Mazzini, Bakunin, George Sand, Marx and Engels, Jacob Grimm, Metternich, Richard Wagner, Herzen, and Proudhon all figure prominently in this book (to list some of the bigger names). But there are many, many more names to keep track of. In each country we visit, we are introduced to the figures of the old regime, the moderates, the republicans, and the radicals. It’s a bit daunting keeping track of everyone, and it required a lot of going back to the index for me. Fortunately, the index in this book is excellent. So, if you don’t mind having to flip back and forth occasionally, it’s not a huge problem.

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A lot of popular history books recently are often advertised as having parallels to our current situation, or are recommended for leaders in Washington. But if I was controlling the reading list of Washington, I’d make sure to add this book. It shows the difficulties of creating republics in countries that are not used to democratic traditions, and how fragile those new republican governments can be.

(Of course, it has yet to be seen whether the United States is serious about creating democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or simply establishing client states. But assuming the neo-cons are serious about building new republican governments, I think this book can help illuminate the mine-field they’re getting into.)

Interestingly enough though, this is not a recent book. It was first published in 1952. I’m not sure if any new scholarship on the subject makes it outdated now, but when I last in a major bookstore I saw it was still up on the shelves.

Priscilla Robertson, Revolutions of 1848: A Social History, (Princeton University Press, 1971).

Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair

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Recent US media coverage of the Israeli bombing and occupation of Gaza is a clear indication of how the media is biased in favor of Israel. This biased coverage has tremendous impact on public perception about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Quite often the public sentiment towards the conflict is either pro-Israeli or promotes the idea that the conflict is centuries old and will never be resolved. This attitude places the Israelis and Palestinians on equal footing in the conflict and portrays the US as an outside party trying to broker the peace between the two groups.

Jonathan Cook has written a new book that helps to dispel the idea that the conflict in the Middle East is between two feuding peoples. Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair is an important text that seeks to reframe the discussion on Israel/Palestine by looking not only at the historical record, but recent events.

Cook is the only Western journalist that is based in city of Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel. The author has his own blog with current articles (http://www.jkcook.net/) and his writings have appeared in newspapers worldwide. This is Cook’s third book on Israel and comes at an important time in the public debate about Israel’s motives for the recent bombing and occupation of Gaza.

Disappearing Palestine is divided into two sections, with the first section devoted to a review of the historical record of Israel’s acquisition of Palestinian land. Cook chronicles the evolution of Zionism as it relates to the creation of Israel and provides plenty of documentation to reflect the fundamental idea that Israel has always been about the business of “dispossessing Palestinians of their land.” Israel became a state in 1948 and from then on has been committed to expanding its territory at the expense of Palestinians. Even the United Nations was supportive of Israel’s claim of 55% of Palestinian land, but by 1949 Israel had already controlled roughly 78% of Palestine according to Cook.

For Israel, it was not enough to simply displace Palestinians from their land, the land had to be “reclaimed.” Israel made it a practice of changing the names of Palestinian towns, which included the changing of maps. Quite often Palestinian lands were taken for “nationalization projects” such as roads, settlements or military bases and outposts. This certainly the motive for the 1967 war, which saw Israel occupy the West Bank and the Gaza.

Ever since 1967, the international community, minus the US, has been calling for Israel to return to the pre-1967 territories. However, Israel would have nothing to do with giving back land and eventually was able to get support for their occupation with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. This agreement in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was generally viewed as creating two autonomous states. The reality, however, as Cook documents was just another brilliant move by the Israelis to acquire more land and further marginalize the Palestinian people. Cook, and others, refer to the post-1993 land occupations as a form of apartheid, where Israel controls the roads, the water and has left Palestinians in isolated communities with no freedom to move about. This ongoing policy of land occupation is reflected in the Israeli blockade of Gaza that began in 2006 and is what motivates the current Israeli incursions into that area.

The rest of the book is a collection of essays that the author has written in recent years that deal with topics ranging from the use of anti-Semitism, life under occupation, reporting from Israel, and an interesting critique of Israeli writers who have been critical of Israel’s policies. Disappearing Palestine is essential reading for anyone seeking to place the current conflict within a well documented historical context.

Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair, (Zed Books, 2008).

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba

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On January 1, the Cuban revolution celebrated the fifty year anniversary of its toppling of the Batista regime. The US media coverage of that anniversary was limited and when coverage did appear it either presented the revolution as repressive or centered around the personalities of Fidel or Raul Castro.

This kind of US media coverage has been consistent for decades and was reflected in a six-month study that the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy conducted in 2007 on Latin America. This type of media representation of Cuba has contributed greatly to the lack of understanding amongst those living in the US about the reality of life in that Caribbean nation for the past fifty years.

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba is an important new book that can serve as a counter to the biased US media coverage. Author and journalist, Reese Erlich, provides readers with an excellent overview of US policy towards Cuba since 1959. Erlich has traveled to Cuba numerous times since his initial visit in 1968, when he went as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). These visits not only helped the author to develop relationships with Cubans over the past 40 years, it provided him with some insight into the evolution of the revolutionary experiment in Cuba.

Not an Apologist for the Cuban Government

Another important aspect of Dateline Havana is that the author does not act as an apologist for the Cuban government. While Erlich’s investigation of US policy towards Cuba does acknowledge how Washington has punished and marginalized the revolutionary government, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out the many shortcomings. Erlich shares the stories of many Cubans who feel that the Cuban government has not lived up to the stated goals of the revolution, such as providing adequate food, work opportunities, and the right to dissent. Erlich even devotes chapters to the discussion of racism in Cuba, whether or not Cuban women are better off since the revolution, and how the government treats the gay community.

The author’s critique of Cuba is balanced by his ability to present us with information on US policy that will not overwhelm readers. Erlich looks at the harsh realities of US attempts to overthrow the Cuban government, the use of biological warfare, assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, a propaganda war through radio and TV Marti, and the decades long embargo that has attempted to strangle the tiny Caribbean island.

One of the most revealing chapters deals with the issue of artistic expression in Cuba with a focus on the international acclaim of the late 1990’s musical phenomenon known as the Buena Vista Social Club. Erlich interviews several musicians who participated in that project, most of whom have been supporters of the Cuban government. However, the interviews also reveal that many of those same musicians were frustrated with how film maker Wim Wenders depicted Cuba in his highly acclaimed film about the Buena Vista Social Club.

A Good Book for Understanding US-Cuba Relations

Dateline Havana concludes with a look into the future of US/Cuban relations in a post-Castro era. The author raises many questions about the resiliency of the five-decades long revolution and whether or not the US will ever be willing to have open relations with the island nation as long as it maintains a commitment to what was started in 1959. Reese Erlich’s book is an important contribution for anyone who cares about understanding US policy and its future with Cuba.

Reese Erlich, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba, (Polipoint Press, 2008).