Judging from the experiences of the last three administrations, Latin America might well be designated a disaster area for U.S.…
Judging from the experiences of the last three administrations, Latin America might well be designated a disaster area for U.S. policy. During the Eisenhower administration, Fidel Castro came to power. The Bay of Pigs was John F. Kennedy's most humiliating moment. And now President Lyndon Johnson has had his Dominican crisis.
Of the three, the last is in some ways the worst because it was the most gratuitous, the least predetermined. Castro's struggle for power was a protracted, complex, uncertain process. President Kennedy's adventure was somewhat halfhearted; American troops were at least not engaged; and the President knew how to end the misery, without deception or whimpering, in a way that made him seem to grow in defeat. But the present administration's Dominican policy was, if ever there was one, a self-inflicted wound, and a wound that is still open.
In the end, the Dominican aspect of this crisis may appear to be far less depressing than the American aspect. In fact, the Dominican people will probably look back at the past few months with pride and even exaltation. They have not had much to boast about in over a hundred years. For perhaps the second time in their entire history, they have fought for something worth believing in. Lawyers and peasants have been stirred by the same common aspirations and ideals. This is so unprecedented that the price paid for it may in the end seem relatively modest.
But the reverse may be true of the United States. Whatever may be thought of U.S. policy, the way in which it was carried out has made the entire operation disproportionately and excessively expensive. The more I have studied and thought about these recent Dominican events, the more I have come to feel that what was done cannot be separated from how it was done, how it was conceived and executed, how it was justified to the American people and the world at large. For this reason, I will be concerned as much with the how as with the what—not only with the nature of the policy but the way it was managed and rationalized. If, as I believe, the Dominican events were symptomatic of an American crisis, or more exactly, a crisis in the conduct of foreign affairs in this area, the crisis is primarily one of Presidential power and policy, inasmuch as the President and the men around him are almost wholly responsible for the conduct of our foreign affairs.
This does not mean that we know all we need to know to reach anything like a full understanding of the Dominican events. We know far more than our policy-makers seem to have wanted us to know. We owe a great deal of this knowledge to a small group of perceptive and courageous journalists who were faithful to the highest standards of their craft. Two of them, Tad Szulc of the New York Times and Dan Kurzman of the Washington Post, have written books that are indispensable for anyone who wishes to learn what happened in the Dominican Republic before and after April 24 of this year.1 In addition to relating their personal experiences, Szulc and to a lesser extent Kurzman, were able to make use of confidential messages exchanged between Santo Domingo and Washington during the decisive days. Official records had previously been made available to Philip Geyelin, the Washington correspondent of the Wall Street Journal. Other references to hitherto still unpublished official documents and testimony were made by Senator J. William Fulbright in his admirable speech of September 15, 1965, based on the hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee of which he is chairman, and by Senator Joseph Clark of the same committee two days later. When all this material is put together with all other sources, a fairly clear impression of U.S. policy emerges. At times, however, the available material merely enables us to ask the right questions, rather than to give the right answers. Some of the innermost secrets of this affair have not yet been disclosed, and we may get them more quickly only by looking for them in the right place.
We cannot put off asking these questions, because elementary political hygiene in a democracy demands it. But there is more to our interest than an obsession with raking up the past, even the recent past. Nothing of importance has yet been settled in the Dominican Republic. The same forces that made the revolt possible are still locked in combat. The breathing spell may be broken at any moment, and the United States will be confronted with essentially the same problems and pressures. More than that: any one of at least a half dozen Latin American countries could produce a similar crisis at any time. If we are satisfied with our Dominican policy, we are likely to do the same thing all over again. And if we are not satisfied, we must know what was wrong with it.
Most of those who are not satisfied believe that the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo was chiefly or wholly to blame. “The principal reason for the failure of American policy in Santo Domingo,” said Senator Fulbright, “was faulty advice given to the President by his representatives at the time of acute crisis.” Szulc says that the embassy reports “became a key factor in creating a state of mind” in Washington that led to military intervention. Kurzman thinks that Washington acted with the best of intentions but was “stampeded into unfortunate decisions by a panicky, ill-informed embassy.”
How ill-informed—if that is the right word—the embassy was we may leave for later, but the image of a pure, innocent Washington and an incompetent, frightened embassy seems somewhat fanciful. The embassy was staffed with career officers who had been carrying out Washington's instructions before the April 24 revolt and tried to carry on in the same spirit afterward. A Washington that had pursued a different policy before April 24 would have discouraged the kind of advice that came from Santo Domingo.
The crisis of U.S. policy in the Dominican Republic was germinated in the first weeks of the Johnson administration. The late President Kennedy had left a Dominican legacy that might have decisively changed the course of what had been, on the whole, unsavory U.S.-Dominican relations. The Kennedy policy, to be sure, had not always favored the political and social leadership of Juan Bosch. It had previously supported Bosch's opponents, who were obviously expected to stay in power. But when Bosch proved in a free and fair election that his people were overwhelmingly behind him, Mr. Kennedy decided to support him loyally, not merely because they had ideals in common but because it was the only way to demonstrate that the United States really intended to back constitutional democracy and social reform in Latin America. Conversely, Kennedy did not conceal his dismay and disgust with Bosch's overthrow in September 1963, and refused to do business with the coup's strong men and front men. Whatever may have been wrong with U.S.-Dominican relations for over a hundred years, the Kennedy policy was sufficiently different to blot out the past temporarily and to lay the basis for a more hopeful future.
Yet, as Kurzman suggests, even Kennedy's policy was double-edged. It supported Bosch, but it sought to take out reinsurance by simultaneously supporting the old military establishment. In effect the State Department gave aid and comfort to Bosch, and the Pentagon took care of the Dominican armed forces. When the latter decided to stage the coup, this double bookkeeping proved to be the undoing both of Bosch's regime and Kennedy's Dominican policy.
Kurzman notes that Bosch's overthrow dejected the embassy's civilian officials and delighted the military attachés. A U.S. military attachés told him that the then Colonel Elías Wessin y Wessin, one of the coup's ringleaders, was properly “upset” because Bosch was “leading the country to Communism,” the alibi for the coup. The former head of Time magazine's Caribbean Bureau, Sam Halper, who was close to the Dominican situation, has gone even further. The Dominican military decided to oust Bosch, he wrote in the New Leader of May 10, 1965, “as soon as they got a wink from the U.S. Pentagon,” which, he believes, successfully “undercut the State Department.” Other correspondents also heard U.S. military personnel claim credit for the coup. The least that can be said is that the Pentagon, on which the Dominican military establishment depended, was curiously incapable of controlling its protégés.
Bosch heard these rumors but, for lack of proof, did not complain. Far more publicity was given to the gesture made by Ambassador John Bartlow Martin offering to call for the U.S. carrier Boxer to deter the military conspirators. The net result of the Kennedy policy was undoubtedly encouraging to all those who had sympathized with Bosch's cause.
President Johnson waited less than a month after Kennedy's death to embark on his own Dominican policy. The United States recognized Bosch's successors on December 14, 1963. This action coincided with the choice of Thomas C. Mann as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. The President presented Mr. Mann in a way that indicated the new Assistant Secretary was going to have, in his sphere of influence, some unusual assistants: the President and the Secretary of State. “We expect to speak with one voice on all matters affecting the hemisphere,” Mr. Johnson said on December 18. “Mr. Mann, with the support of the Secretary of State and the President, will be that voice.” These words suggest that Mr. Johnson was keenly conscious of his own limitations in Latin American affairs, and had also made a modest appraisal of his Secretary of State's ability to act as his surrogate. Thus came about the extraordinary decision to give the new Assistant Secretary precedence over both of them in this field. To find the Johnson policy, then, we must seek the Mann policy.
For our purposes, Mr. Mann's views on the military overthrow of democratically elected governments hold the greatest interest. The traditional U.S. position went little further than paying lip service to the desirability of constitutional government. On February 5, 1964, for example, Secretary of State Rusk opened the Third Pan American Interparliamentary Conference with a conventional speech extolling “parliamentary government,” which he intimately related to the Alliance for Progress. But four months later, on June 7, in a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Mann chose to emphasize an exception to the rule. After paying his respects to the orthodox U.S. policy of discouraging “any who conspire to overthrow constitutionally elected governments” and encouraging “a return to constitutional procedures,” he went on to strike a distinctly different and disturbing note. He pointed out that the United States could not “put [itself] in a doctrinaire straightjacket of automatic application of sanctions to every unconstitutional regime in the hemisphere” and engage in “unilateral intervention” to restore constitutional government. Then he gave this curious example of what he had in mind:
To illustrate, not long ago, a majority of the Guatemalan people voted in free elections for Arbenz, a candidate for president. Later the Guatemalan people discovered that Arbenz was a Marxist-Leninist. Colonel Castillo led a successful revolt and was widely acclaimed by his people as he marched into Guatemala City. Had we been unconditionally committed to the support of all constitutional governments under all circumstances, we would have been obliged to do everything within our power to bring about the overthrow of Castillo and to restore a Marxist-Leninist power against the will of the Guatemalan people.
The Guatemalan coup of June 1954 had been an important step in Mr. Mann's career; he had had a hand in it and, after it was over, had been appointed deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Guatemala City. I do not wish to re-fight the Guatemalan coup in detail here, but some observations must be made about it because of Mr. Mann's strategic reference to it in 1964 and because it has become the locus classicus of one extreme of U.S. policy. It provided the successful precedent for the Bay of Pigs adventure and was undoubtedly in the minds of those U.S. operatives who inspired or approved of Bosch's overthrow.
The beauty and charm of the 1954 Guatemalan operation was that it had been so cheap and easy. An almost ridiculously small group of soldiers of fortune under Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, aided and abetted by the U.S. Embassy and the C.I.A., had virtually bluffed President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán out of power. The U.S. involvement was later publicized because the proud and pleased Washington authorities decided to make the late John Emil Peurifoy, then U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, a hero of the affair. It had turned out so successfully because Arbenz had not controlled the Guatemalan army, and the army had decided not to fight for him. The notion that the Guatemalan people had discovered Arbenz to be a “Marxist-Leninist,” that most of them had known what a “Marxist-Leninist” was, and that the will of the people had anything to do with Arbenz's overthrow or possible restoration, recalls the Duke of Wellington's legendary reply to the man who had addressed him as Mr. Smith: “Sir, if you can believe that, you can believe anything.”2
The real question raised by the Guatemalan coup was not whether the United States should have restored Arbenz to power but whether it should have conspired to overthrow him. In order to get rid of a minor nuisance who was consorting with the Communists, the United States sacrificed a major principle for which it might have to pay dearly in other situations.3 In effect, Mr. Mann could get around the contradiction only by pretending that Castillo's coup was somehow equivalent to free elections as registering “the will of the Guatemalan people.” Moreover, the Guatemalan operation was the kind of trick that may only work once. It later provided Fidel Castro with his most persuasive argument for totally liquidating the former Cuban army. In retrospect, there was a serious flaw in the great Guatemalan victory: it was too quick and easy. Arbenz was such a pushover that he made thinly camouflaged C.I.A.-managed coups seem to be the answer to “Communist” or “Communist-infiltrated” governments in Latin America. If Arbenz had been able to fight a little harder, it is hardly likely that the C.I.A. would have considered about 1,500 men enough to topple Fidel Castro in 1961. That Mr. Mann should have given such prominence to the Guatemalan coup in his Notre Dame address suggests that it was still central in his thinking ten years later.
But whatever the merits of Mr. Mann's reflections on the Guatemalan coup, the more pressing question is what bearing they may have had on the existing Dominican situation. Was Juan Bosch to be equated with Jacobo Arbenz and did it therefore follow that the United States was not “obliged to do everything within our power” to bring about Bosch's restoration? Mann himself did not explain what deductions might be drawn from his remarks about an event in 1954 for the problems of 1964, but his actions spoke for him.
The 1964 Mann, or Mann-Johnson, policy in the Dominican Republic implicitly sought to prevent the restoration of the constitutional Bosch government. After recognizing the post-Bosch regime, the Johnson administration in February 1964 appointed a new ambassador, W. Tapley Bennett, Jr., who proceeded to establish the closest personal and political ties with the new rulers. The United States poured more money into the country after Bosch's overthrow—about $100,000,000 in direct and guaranteed loans—than had ever been made available to any Dominican regime before. And as the original post-Bosch “triumvirate” more and more developed or degenerated into a one-man operation by a former automobile dealer, Donald Reid Cabral, the Johnson administration did more for him than the Kennedy administration had ever done for Bosch.
The other side of the coin was equally striking. From November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, to May 1, 1965, a week after the recent revolt broke out, the only U.S. official personnel who talked to Juan Bosch were F.B.I. agents who wanted him to inform them about Communists in the Dominican Republic4 Otherwise, the Mann-Johnson policy refused to recognize his existence.
In the light of this post-Bosch policy, what was the relevance of Mr. Mann's mid-1964 dictum that the United States should not be expected to bring about the overthrow of military juntas and restore constitutional governments to power? If this had any meaning in Dominican terms, it would conjure up visions of U.S. marines and paratroopers jumping off landing craft and helicopters to oust Reid Cabral and replace him with Juan Bosch. It might have been worth knocking down this proposition if anyone had seriously proposed it. Mr. Mann at best gave the right answer to the wrong question. It would have been more profitable if he had tried to tackle two other questions: Should the United States show a special affinity for a regime that owed its existence to a military coup? And should the United States treat with such conspicuous and callous disregard the constitutional victims of the coup?
In effect, Mr. Mann had set up the straw man of a U.S. policy which punished military coups and rewarded constitutional governments in order to justify a real policy, at least as practiced in the Dominican Republic, of rewarding a military coup and punishing a constitutional government. One wonders to what real situation Mr. Mann thought he was addressing himself in his Notre Dame address.
The only thing that could have made the Mann reasoning relevant to the Dominican Republic was the implicit assumption that the overthrow of Bosch's government was somehow similar to the overthrow of Arbenz's regime. Mr. Mann never did commit himself publicly as to the degree of consanguinity between them. But the alleged Communist character of Bosch's regime was the very raison d'être of the 1964 Dominican regime, the theme which its supporters and apologists repeated endlessly. What Mr. Mann left unsaid, others said for him.
Nevertheless, life would be much simpler for both the United States's friends and foes if they could count on any U.S. policy to run its course smoothly. Just as the Kennedy policy of maintaining the Dominican armed forces in statu quo contained a time bomb for Bosch, so the Johnson policy contained a time bomb for Reid Cabral. As it became increasingly clear that the money lavished on bolstering his regime was being largely wasted, that the Dominican foreign debt was reaching alarming proportions, that the balance of trade was becoming more and more unfavorable, that a contraband operation run mainly by the military was milking the entire economy, and that even the Dominican press was growing restive, U.S. agencies began to press for “reforms.” Some of these reforms struck at the privileges of the very social and political groups, particularly the armed forces' top leadership, on which the Reid Cabral regime rested. As soon as Reid Cabral threatened to cut down the incredible 38 per cent of the national budget allotted to the armed forces in 1965, his days were numbered. In January of this year, a U.S. mission headed by General Andrew P. O'Meara, head of the U.S. Caribbean Command, arrived in Santo Domingo, and soon thereafter, the Dominican command was shaken up. By exhausting his usefulness to the vested interests created by Trujillo, primarily, but not wholly, military, Reid opened up a political void around himself. If the United States had left well enough alone, Reid Cabral might have lasted a bit longer. Early this year, Ambassador Bennett evidently recognized that Reid was slipping because he wrote to the now Under Secretary of State Mann: “We are almost on the ropes in the Dominican Republic.” From his behavior, one gathers that he considered the Dominican situation desperate but not serious. Despite his apprehensions, the revolt of April 24 caught him by surprise.
One little social note on the eve of the revolt may provide the perfect symbol of U.S. policy. On April 23, the U.S. naval attaché was off dove-shooting with Brigadier General Antonio Imbert Barreras, a mastermind of the anti-Bosch coup.
In order to follow the official U.S. reaction to the April 24 revolt, it is necessary to move on two levels: what U.S. officials publicly said, and what U.S. officials privately did.
On the public level, we have the following statements:
President Johnson: The revolt of Saturday, April 24 “began as a popular democratic revolution, committed to democracy and social justice.” From Saturday afternoon onward, U.S. officials in Washington and Santo Domingo urged and worked for a cease-fire. (This was President Johnson's version on May 2. He added one more important piece of information on June 17, which we will discuss later.)
Under Secretary of State Mann: Available information suggested that the uprising “began as a democratic revolution.” U.S. intelligence from the very beginning reported that “the revolutionary movement was probably led by elements in the Dominican Revolutionary [pro-Bosch] party” (interview with Max Frankel in the New York Times, May 9, 1965).
Ambassador Adlai Stevenson: The PRD, Bosch's party, “planned and during its first hours led the revolutionary movement against the Government of Reid Cabral” (at the UN, May 3, 1965).
These statements would suggest that the highest U.S. officials reacted to the news of the outbreak with the sympathy owing to a virtuous, democratic revolution.
Now let us try to reconstruct what actually happened in the first days in Washington and Santo Domingo.
Reid Cabral has claimed that he knew a rebellion was coming fifteen days before the actual outbreak.5 It was to have been launched, I have been informed by Juan Bosch, on Monday, April 26, It started two days prematurely because Reid tried to head it off by ordering the arrest of some of the officers implicated in it. In the early morning hours of Saturday, April 24, these officers were arrested by General Marcos Rivera Cuesta, who had been promoted to the post of Chief of Staff the previous February in the shake-up that had followed the arrival of the O'Meara mission. Alarmed at the apparent miscarriage of the plan, one of its leading spirits, Captain Mario Peña Taberas, and a group of sergeants and corporals burst in on General Rivera Cuesta, took him and other officers into custody, and liberated the arrested pro-Bosch officers. Then Captain Peña Taberas telephoned a Bosch civilian leader, José Francisco Peña Gómez, the PRD's cultural and propaganda secretary, who immediately announced the news of the revolt over a radio station for which he frequently spoke. Another group also succeeded in making the announcement over the official Radio Santo Domingo, with the result that other members of the conspiracy immediately sprang into action to carry out the plans made for the later date. The revolution was on.6
Thus the first and subsequent stages of the revolt were largely determined by the character of the officers who took part in the plot. The ringleaders were younger officers whose fathers had almost all been leading military henchmen of the former dictator Trujillo. Among the former were Col. Rafael Fernández Domínguez, the chief military organizer, Col. Miguel Angel Hernando Ramírez, who had been appointed to lead the revolt, Col. Francisco Caamaño Deñó, who took over the leadership after Col. Hernando Ramírez sought asylum in a foreign embassy on April 27, and Lt. Col. Manuel Ramón Monte Araches, whose naval “frogmen” gave the revolution a highly trained assault force. These key figures, backed by numerous lesser commissioned and noncommissioned officers, had worked with PRD civilian political leaders, such as Peña Gómez, to undo the anti-Bosch coup of September 1963 and restore the former constitutional government to power. Szulc notes that Ambassador Bennett, in one of the latter's more lucid moments, commented that “many of the Dominican problems stemmed from a cleavage between the older and the younger generation, with the latter trying to atone for the guilt of their parents who had sold out to Trujillo.” If the ambassador and his Washington superiors had only held on to this thought, they might have had a guiding thread to lead them through the maze of Dominican politics. This revolt took place because the Dominican people had never really settled accounts with the Trujillo era, and the personalities were much less important than what they symbolized politically. In any event, the premature detonation of the revolt was not fatal. By mid-afternoon of the first day, April 24, two military camps near the capital were in “constitutionalist” hands. But they had not been able to make much headway in the single most important military center at San Isidro, originally an air force base about a dozen miles to the west of Santo Domingo, to which the elder Trujillo's son, Ramfis, had added tank and infantry forces to turn it into a fully self-contained citadel of the former regime. At San Isidro, the main question was what the strong-man of the 1963 anti-Bosch coup, General Elías Wessin y Wessin, would do. In addition, an army regiment commanded by General Montás Guerrero was waiting to make up its mind at San Cristóbal, about a dozen miles to the east of the capital. The air force and navy commanders were also temporarily benumbed, watching for a signal of where, when, and how to jump.
Thus, for about thirty-six hours, the military initiative was wholly with the “rebels.” The difficulty faced by the old guard, which the press soon dubbed “loyalist,” was that it did not know whom to be loyal to. Wessin and his breed did not want Reid Cabral to stay in power, and they wanted even less for Bosch to get back in power. In effect, Reid was too good for them, and he was not good enough for the younger Boschists. To the unreconstructed Trujillo holdovers, who had never seen anything wrong with the vicious old dictator until he was safely dead (as one of them, General Miguel Atila Luna, the air force chief who had assisted at Bosch's overthrow in 1963, once put it to Kurzman), the ideal solution was a “military junta,” dominated, of course, by themselves, and followed, of course, by “free elections,” held under their benevolent auspices. A military conference on Sunday morning broke up into two main groups—those who wanted Bosch back, and those who wanted a military junta. No one, apparently, wanted Reid.
In these approximately thirty-six hours, no one raised the question of a Communist threat or Communist domination. If we may trust the statements of the highest U.S. officials, they were fully aware of the revolution's popular and democratic character. U.S. intelligence, according to Mr. Mann, correctly estimated that the revolutionary movement was probably led by Bosch's party.
But those who have studied the messages exchanged between Washington and Santo Domingo in this period tell another story. It is not at all what one would expect to hear about a popular, democratic revolution, probably led by Bosch's partisans.
In Santo Domingo, the U.S. Embassy was hardly prepared for a crisis. Ambassador Bennett, en route to Washington, had stopped off in Georgia to visit his sick mother. Of the thirteen members of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, eleven had gone off to Panama for a routine conference. The director of the U.S. Economic Mission to the Dominican Republic was attending another conference in Washington. And in Washington, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Jack Hood Vaughn, was listening in on a conference of Western Hemisphere intellectuals in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The point is certainly not that these men were particularly remiss in their duties; it is simply that they cannot have any particular claim on our confidence so far as their knowledge or judgment of the immediate, local situation goes. Many of their later assessments were obviously based on informers, who, however, seem to have been singularly uninformative in the pre-revolt period.
On Saturday, April 24, the head man in the embassy was Chargé d'Affaires William B. Connett, Jr., who had been in Santo Domingo for only five-and-a-half months. The other key figures on the scene at this time were the C.I.A.'s chief agent, Edwin N. Terrell, the air attaché, Lt. Col. Thomas B. Fishburn, the naval attaché, Lt. Col. Ralph A. Heywood, and the army attaché, Lt. Col. Joseph W. Weyrick. The first messages from Connett to Washington on Saturday were not alarming; Connett reported that the unrest did not seem to amount to much. “We thought this would be another revolution,” Under Secretary Mann later told Leonard Gross of Look (June 15, 1965), “that we'd just wait it out like you do all revolutions.”
But by Saturday night, the embassy knew that Reid was in serious trouble. When Reid's ultimatum of surrender was not heeded at 5 P.M., he called on the armed forces to attack—and soon discovered that they had no intention of fighting for him. In desperation, we learn from Senator Fulbright, Reid asked for U.S. intervention on Sunday morning, April 25. The negative response was his coup de grâce.
What did Washington want? As we have seen, President Johnson has said that from Saturday afternoon onward, U.S. officials in Washington and Santo Domingo wanted to get a cease-fire. What he left unsaid, and what we now know from Senator Fulbright, is that in the next four days instructions from Washington called on the embassy to work for the formation of a military junta as well as a cease-fire.
There was one more thing of importance that happened on Saturday. As President Johnson revealed on June 17, he and his advisers began to consider the advisability of U.S. intervention on the very first day of the revolt. By intervention, he meant the massive landing of marines and paratroopers that later took place. But if intervention is interpreted more broadly, the United States did not wait that long.
Sunday, April 25, was a day of decision. The fatal U.S. moves were probably made on that day—not, as the official story would like to have it, three days later. When the United States permitted Reid Cabral to resign without a struggle on Sunday morning, it was left in practice with the option of supporting the Wessin-type generals or the Bosch-converted colonels. Since the political vacuum created by Reid's resignation was at least nominally filled on April 25 by the installation as Provisional President of José Rafael Molina Ureña, the President of the Chamber of Deputies during the Bosch regime, and the old-line generals had not yet countered this move with one of their own, the United States was given the opportunity to support the “popular democratic revolution” before the Communist issue was raised. In this confused situation, the induction of Molina Ureña was the nearest thing to a legitimate succession that Dominican institutions made possible. Oddly, U.S. authorities made light of his accession on Sunday but saw fit to attribute undue importance to his diplomatic asylum two days later.
There is every reason to believe that U.S. backing of Molina Ureña on Sunday would have given the Bosch forces a quick, easy, almost bloodless victory. Wessin and the other generals were still holding their fire, many of them undecided whether to join the rebellion or to crush it. The balance of forces seemed so favorable to the pro-Bosch side on Sunday afternoon that a signal from the United States would in all probability have proved determining.
Instead, at about 4.30 P.M. that Sunday, the Dominican air force and navy opened fire on the Presidential Palace which Molina Ureña and his aides had taken over. This fratricidal strafing and shelling signified that the Wessins had at last made up their minds—to drown the rebellion in blood.
What had led them to make up their minds? The answer to this question may haunt U.S. policy for years to come. If it is not yet possible to be sure of the answer, enough has come out to make possible the question that must be answered.
The question was raised by Philip Geyelin of the Wall Sreet Journal (June 25, 1965), who based himself on official records and conversations with key figures in Washington and Santo Domingo:
What the record reveals, in fact, is that from the very outset of the upheaval there was a concerted U.S. Government effort, if not actually a formal decision, to checkmate the rebel movement by whatever means and whatever cost. Consider these facts:
Item: by Sunday, April 25, just one day after the uprising got under way, while Washington remained openly confused and noncommittal, the Santo Domingo embassy had clearly cast its lot with the “loyalist” military cabal and against the rebellion's original aim: The return of Juan Bosch, who had been deposed by the generals in 1963 after winning the first free election in the republic in 40 years. Restoration of the Bosch regime would be “against U.S. interests,” the embassy counseled. Blocking Bosch could mean further bloodshed, the embassy conceded. Nonetheless, Washington was advised, the embassy military attachés had given “loyalist” leaders a go-ahead to do “everything possible” to prevent what was described as the danger of a “Communist takeover” (my italics, T. D.).
Tad Szulc, on the basis of the same kind of evidence, came to similar conclusions:
Meanwhile the events of the last 24 hours seemed to have convinced the United States embassy in Santo Domingo of two things. One was that a return of Dr. Bosch would mean “Communism in the Dominican Republic in six months.” The second was that U.S. forces would have to be used in support of General Wessins troops if the pro-Bosch rebellion was to be defeated.
These two basic judgments, which the embassy arrived at even before the rebellion could be identified politically in any way, went far to shape subsequent United States attitudes and policies. It was Ambassador Bennett who had long felt that the Bosch influence would be pernicious for the Dominican Republic, and in his absence his staff members apparently shared this view (my italics, T.D.).
Szulc also provides evidence that the embassy began to raise the Communist issue that Sunday. In the absence of Assistant Secretary Vaughn, Thomas Mann, who had been appointed Under Secretary of Economic Affairs earlier in the year, had taken over the State Department's operations center for the Dominican crisis. Late that Sunday, a cablegram from the State Department to the embassy stated: “We are very concerned with your reports of pro-Communist and anti-United States statements.” It seems that Chargé d'Affaires Connett, according to Szulc, was beginning to hint by late Sunday that “the pro-Bosch uprising was a Communist danger.”
Senator Fulbright summed up the change in U.S. attitude that took place from Saturday to Sunday and after as “characterized initially by overtimidity and subsequently by overreaction.” With far more testimony at his disposal, he, too, was struck by the early appearance and tenuous manifestations of the Communist factor in U.S. calculations:
The essential point, however, is that the United States, on the basis of ambiguous evidence, assumed almost from the beginning that the revolution was Communist dominated, or would certainly become so (my italics, T.D.).
So far, we have been mainly concerned with diplomatic messages between Santo Domingo and Washington. We must now turn our attention to another aspect of U.S. policy which is traditionally shrouded in almost impenetrable mystery and secrecy. In some countries, especially where the military dominate politics, diplomats may no longer be the most influential or decisive executors of U.S. policy. In almost every embassy, besides the traditional diplomatic staff, we now have a C.I.A. station, military attachés and missions responsible to the Pentagon, economic delegations, and all the rest. When something goes wrong, we hear about the diplomats but not about the C.I.A. agents or the military attachés. Yet the latter may have a far more interesting and important story to tell. The military masters of some countries in Latin America and elsewhere have learned that what the C.I.A. and Pentagon do may be more important than what the diplomats say. U.S. ambassadors have been known to complain that they did not know what the nominally subordinate C.I.A. agents and military attachés were up to.
In the incalculable mass of words written about the Dominican crisis, very few have been devoted to the military attachés and none to the activities of the C.I.A. agents. Yet the activity of the U.S. military attachés in Santo Domingo in the first two days may get us closer to the real U.S. policy than all the diplomatic messages between Washington and Santo Domingo. While the diplomats may have been trying to make up their minds, the military attachés apparently acted.
It is now impossible to ignore what, according to Juan Bosch, the attachés did in Santo Domingo. Though he was still in Puerto Rico at the time, Bosch was in constant telephonic communication with his supporters in Santo Domingo. The Boschists in the Dominican Republic were easily able to provide him with inside information because they were strategically placed in top Dominican military echelons and because the attachés' messages were apparently sent through the regular air force and naval communications network, as a result of which many air force and naval personnel listened in on them. In fact, there is supposed to be in existence a tape recording of conversations between two U.S. attachés and General Juan de los Santos Céspedes, head of the Dominican air force, and General Wessin y Wessin. By chance, there is also a record of unintentional eavesdropping a few days later. On April 29, U.S. correspondents aboard the Boxer accidentally tuned in a transistor radio on shortwave communications between the U.S. Embassy and the San Isidro base, and then heard conversations between Ambassador Bennett and military junta leaders coming through in the clear from the ships radio. In addition, Szulc reports, U.S. military attachés were stationed at the San Isidro base with the Wessin command and relayed requests for assistance to the embassy as early as Monday, April 26. The only question, then, is what the attachés were doing a day or two earlier.
Bosch's information was made known in part by Homer Bigart in the New York Times of May 7, 1965. On the evening of Saturday, April 24, the first day of the revolt, when the military leaders were still immobilized, Bosch said, the U.S. air attaché had called the San Isidro Air Force Base to talk to General de los Santos Céspedes. The attaché “ordered the Dominican general to have two air squadrons ready to bomb the city early Sunday morning.” But de los Santos Céspedes then refused. In a private letter to me, Bosch has added that both the U.S. air and naval attachés began on Saturday evening to “order” the Dominican air force, navy, and General Wessin to attack the Boschist forces, and that another demand for an air attack on the National Palace was made on Sunday afternoon.
Bosch also told Bigart that the U.S. air attaché had again called General de los Santos Céspedes on Sunday night and had informed him that the U.S. embassy “had intercepted three telephone calls made by [Provisional] President Jose Rafael Molina Ureña to Fidel Castro asking for military aid.” The attaché authorized General de los Santos Céspedes to print handbills to this effect and have planes ready to distribute them from the air throughout the country. In his letter to me, Bosch adds that the air attaché assured de los Santos Céspedes that the intercepted telephone conversation revealed that Castro had agreed to Molina Ureña's request for aid and that the Cubans were going to send some that very night. The leaflet containing this utterly unfounded story, according to Bosch, was dropped by Dominican air force planes the next day, Monday, April 26, especially on military posts. One of these planes landed and was interned in Puerto Rico the following day, with the result that the story leaked out again.
As far as I know, two other sources have referred to this activity of the U.S. military attachés. The first reference appears in the last sentence of the passage already quoted from the article by Philip Geyelin in the Wall Street Journal of June 25, 1965. This sentence, dealing explicitly with the events of Sunday, April 25, is important enough to cite again:
Nonetheless, Washington was advised [by the embassy], the embassy military attachés had given “loyalist” leaders a go-ahead to do “everything possible” to prevent what was described as the danger of a “Communist take-over.”
It appears from the context that Geyelin was able to put forward this assertion, with direct quotations, from the official records made available to him. Whether or not all the details provided by Bosch prove to be accurate, Geyelin's version confirms the essence of the charge. It would go far to explain why the Dominican air force finally attacked the National Palace at about 4:30 P.M. on April 25.
The second reference occurs in Szulc's book, where, however, it is limited to the naval attachés:
Messages between the embassy in Santo Domingo and the State Department in Washington Sunday and Monday had disclosed growing concern over the navy's role and one of the principal functions of the embassy's naval attachés had become to persuade Captain Rivero Caminera [Dominican naval commander] to cast his lot with the loyalist troops or at least remain neutral. To judge from the lobbing of shells into the Presidential Palace area Tuesday morning [April 27], the attachés' effort had proved successful.
It is unclear from this account whether the attachés' persuasion as well as the embassy's concern should be dated Sunday and Monday. But Szulc also seems to be basing himself on material in the State Department's files.
If the intervention of the U.S. military attachés should prove to have been the determining, or even a major, factor in the Dominican air force and navy decision to launch attacks on Sunday and the following days, the verdict of history will be that U.S. pressure contributed to the prevention of an early Boschist victory and helped to plunge the country into a bloody civil war.
The question arises whether the military attachés might have acted on their own or had consulted in advance with their Washington superiors. It is hard to believe that they could have acted on their own because communications between Washington and Santo Domingo were never interrupted. But if they did, they must have done so on the premise that the pre-April 24 policy required it, that Wessin's tanks and de los Santos's planes had to do the job that Reid Cabral had done previously. Either way, there is reason to stress the continuity of the policy before and after April 24.
President Johnson and other U.S. spokesmen have sought to concentrate public attention on the events of April 27 and 28, when U.S. lives were allegedly in immediate danger, the Boschist movement had allegedly collapsed, and the Communists had allegedly taken over, to justify U.S. military intervention. They have been notably reticent about the actual policy in the first two to four days, except to imply that they were initially sympathetic to a popular democratic revolution that went out of control. This claim of initial sympathy has never been very persuasive because it was not matched by any actions that might have been expected to flow from it. The least that might have been expected was some slight effort to make contact with Juan Bosch, the avowed and acknowledged leader of the “popular democratic revolution,” who was, after all, in Río Piedras, a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a telephone call away. The failure to show the slightest interest in Bosch was, however, only a negative reason for suspecting that official U.S. sympathy with the Boschist revolution might have been a literary afterthought to make the actual intervention somewhat more palatable. But now we have more positive reasons for this suspicion—the repeated Washington instructions in favor of a military junta, the increasingly anti-Bosch tenor of the embassy's messages, and above all, the evidence pointing to the military attachés' pressures before April 27 and possibly as early as April 24 for Dominican air and naval attacks on the pro-Bosch forces. The difference between what President Johnson said about the “popular democratic revolution that was committed to democracy and social justice” and what was done about it has become almost incredibly grotesque.
When one comes to consider the direct U.S. military intervention on April 28, one is again struck by two different levels on which the policy operated—the public and the private.
On the public level, President Johnson's statements must be considered the most authoritative. His first statement, on April 28, justified the landing of marines wholly in terms of the protection of American lives. On April 30, he suggested for the first time that there might be something more—“there are signs that people trained outside the Dominican Republic are seeking to gain control.” But “signs” of people “seeking” control seemed to refer to a future danger; this cautious allusion to the still-unnamed Communists did not appear to apply to his decision two days earlier to send the marines. Not until May 2 did President Johnson clear up this point in a speech which will long be debated for what it said and left unsaid.
It said, for example, that the United States had worked for a cease-fire, but it did not say that the United States had four times urged a military junta. It said that “we have also maintained communications with President Bosch, who has chosen to remain in Puerto Rico,” but it did not say that there were no communications with Bosch until he took the initiative and called one of President Johnson's confidants, Abe Fortas, and it did not say that Bosch had vainly asked for U.S. transportation to the Dominican Republic. It told of the two telegrams from Ambassador Bennett on April 28 that had triggered the actual decision to intervene, but, as we shall see, in a highly garbled and tendentious form. And it gave the now familiar official version of the so-called Communist takeover before the marines moved in.
According to this account, U.S. servicemen had “rescued” the Dominican Republic from an “international conspiracy” on April 28. A “tragic turn” had taken place in the revolution whereby the original leadership had been “superseded” by “other evil forces.” The exact transformation was spelled out twice: “And what began as a popular democratic revolution, committed to democracy and social justice, very shortly moved and was taken over and really seized and placed into the hands of a band of Communist conspirators.” A few minutes later, the President repeated: “What began as a popular democratic revolution that was committed to democracy and social justice moved into the hands of a band of Communist conspirators.”
Whatever truth there may have been in this intelligence, it invites two questions. First, why was President Johnson far more cautious and tentative about the Communist takeover on April 30 than on May 2? The apparent answer, which we will explore later, is that something happened between those days which had made him more certain and unqualified in his approach to the problem. But the delay also suggests that his conviction on this point came too late to explain an action which had already taken place on April 28. Second, how “tragic” could the revolution's turn have really been to an administration which had never made the slightest effort to support it in the first place? If words have any meaning, if it was “tragic” that the revolution took a Communist turn, was it not equally “tragic” that the United States did not support—if nothing worse—the revolution before it took that turn?
Nevertheless, one thing emerges from the public Johnsonian interpretation: the good Boschist stage was followed by the bad Communist stage. They were so different that the one had to be “taken over and really seized and placed into the hands of” the other, tragically.
Privately, however, officials of the same administration titillated journalists with quite a different story. Here is a sampling of version No. 2 that came out of Washington and Santo Domingo:
“We can't afford to let Wessin lose,” said one U.S. official. “We're not going to allow Bosch to come back and let the country drift into chaos so that the Communists and pro-Castro elements can take over” (Life, May 7, 1965) .
U.S. intelligence flatly reported that ousted President Bosch had been in contact with several Communist leaders from the Dominican Republic shortly before the rebellion (Time, May 14, 1965).
American officials here are convinced beyond any possible doubt that the man who rose to the top of the Dominican rebellion—Col. Francisco Caamaño Deñó—is only a front for the real conspirators, the Communists behind his movement (U.S. News & World Report, May 17, 1965).
Ambassador Bennett had reports “that Juan Bosch, from his exile in Puerto Rico, was working closely with them [the Communists] in an attempt to regain power” (The National Observer, May 17, 1965).
Certainly, the State Department's middle echelon was aware that Bosch's PRD had entered into a working arrangement with the Moscow-Communist Popular Socialist Party (PSP), the Peiping dominated Dominican Popular Movement (MPD), the Castroite June 14 Party. . . . In the days before the revolt, intelligence sources were aware that a Communist junta had been organized to rule the united front (Ralph de Toledano, King Features Syndicate, May 9, 1965).
Dr. Bosch, in violation of Federal law, directs the activities of the Communist Castroite rebellion by long distance phone from American soil (ibid., May 10, 1965).
Captured documents and highly secret reports in the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency show very clearly that the crisis in the Dominican Republic was merely the first on a long Communist timetable for the takeover of Latin America (ibid., May 19, 1965).
Ambassador W. Tapley Bennett told a group of us on April 29 that the PRD and the Communists had been collaborating. He said: “The Communists worked with Bosch's PRD for months. They were prepared well in advance of Reid's overthrow” (Paul D. Bethel, Washington Daily News, June 21, 1965).
A U.S. government official in Santo Domingo told a news briefing that “the U.S. government has evidence that Caamaño met Tuesday [May 4J with members of three Communist organizations. These Communists, the official said, ‘obtained from Caamaño a solemn promise that if he wins [the Presidency in elections] their Communist parties will have a solid voice in running the government'” (Associated Press, May 5, 1965).
Thus, other official U.S. sources, usually anonymous, were sponsoring a different kind of interpretation of Bosch's relations with the Communists—that they were virtually indistinguishable because they had entered into a pact before the revolt and had sealed it afterward. The U.S. officials and intelligence agencies that fed these stories to the press inferentially cut the ground from under President Johnson's position, which at least recognized a basic difference between the democratic Boschists and the totalitarian Communists, and predicated the Communist takeover on a regrettable Boschist setback. To make matters even more peculiar, one of the primary sources for version No. 2, Ambassador Bennett, was also one of the chief authorities for version No. 1. One hopes to live long enough to read in someone's memoirs the explanation for this strange discrepancy in so notoriously single-minded an administration.
Whatever the reason may prove to be, these different versions of the Bosch-Communist relationship before and after the revolt, both emanating from official sources and neither of them necessarily true, raise a particularly disturbing and insistent question: what and whose was U.S. policy in this crisis? Was it solely embodied in a formal speech by the President? Or was it the product of all the words and actions of all the executive departments and agencies concerned with the problem? Insiders often feel that U.S. policy is made like a stew: many people put various things into the pot, and what comes out may not altogether please any of them. The execution of that policy may also be stew-like.
Government officials and the press play a game of politics and propaganda which has become as stylized as an 18th-century dance. First the officials hand out privileged information to favored journalists (“U.S. intelligence flatly reported that . . .”). Then the journalists pass on the same information, with or without attribution, to their readers. Finally, pro-administration Congressmen fill pages of the Congressional Record with the same articles to prove that the officials were right.
The correspondents whom public officials used as transmission belts for these juicy tidbits about Bosch's tie-up with the Communists were, of course, in no position to check their sources. The deals had allegedly taken place weeks or months before, outside the Dominican Republic. But one of the most sensational stories about Colonel Caamaño's dalliance with the Communists was not so far away in place or time. I refer to the tale told by the usual “U.S. official” at a briefing in the embassy on May 5, which I have cited previously as reported by the Associated Press. Since the Caamaño-Communist meeting had allegedly taken place in Santo Domingo the day before, some correspondents decided to track it down.
This is how Kurzman describes the denouement:
Meanwhile, Caamaño, [Héctor] Aristy, and Peña Gómez, all of whom were listed as being present at the meeting, flatly denied to me that such a meeting had taken place. “American diplomats must be nuts,” Caamaño said, twirling his finger next to his head. “They have Communists on the brain.”
About two weeks later, after Washington decided that the Communist threat had greatly diminished, embassy officials said privately that the information about the meeting had apparently proved to be inaccurate.7
I have looked in the press for a retraction of the story, in vain.
The classic case of contaminated news is undoubtedly Ambassador Bennett's briefing on April 29. It was Bennett's first meeting with the newly arrived correspondents, none of whom could yet circulate freely in the city. The ambassador devoted most of the meeting to the “Communist takeover” and rebel atrocities. The first list of 53 Dominican Communists was passed out. The ambassador horrified the assembled correspondents with some of the reports that he had received: the rebels were shooting people against walls to the accompaniment of the Castroite cry, “Paredón!” (To the wall!); they had severed heads and paraded them on spikes; Colonel Caamaño had machine-gunned Colonel Calderón, the aide-de-camp of Reid Cabral. Szulc tells us that a telegram from Bennett to the State Department that same day reported that Caamaño had “personally killed” Colonel Juan Calderón. The message said that “Caamaño had gone berserk” and had committed numerous atrocities.
This is how Ambassador Bennett's briefing was worked into the story in Time magazine of May 7:
No one had an accurate count of the casualties as frenzied knots of soldiers and civilians roamed the streets, shooting, looting and herding people to their execution with cries of “Paredón! Paredón!” (To the wall! To the Wall!) . . . The rebels executed at least 110 opponents, hacked the head off a police officer and carried it about as a trophy.
Here is the version in the U.S. News & World Report of May 10:
Victims were dragged from their homes and shot down while angry mobs shouted, “To the wall!”—the same cry that marked the mass executions in Cuba in the early days of Fidel Castro. The assassinated Dominicans were dumped into crude graves right at the execution spots.
Other reports from the embassy found their way into President Johnson's speeches: there were “1,000 to 1,500 bodies that are dead in the street” and “six or eight of the embassies have been torn up” (May 4); “some 1,500 innocent people were murdered and shot, and their heads cut off,” and “six Latin American embassies were violated” (June 17). Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker went the President one better and told the O.A.S. he understood that the El Salvador embassy had been sacked and burned.
None of these atrocity stories turned out to be true. When the correspondents were able to see for themselves and talk to Dominicans in the street, they quickly learned that the mass executions and cries of “Paredón!” had never taken place. No one had ever seen heads on spikes. Colonel Calderon was found in a hospital suffering from a slight neck injury and was soon released. Since President Johnson told of 1,0001,500 dead bodies in the street on May 4, the correspondents could go right out to look for them; they found, as Barnard L. Collier later put it, “no more than 6 to 10 bodies in the streets at one time.” There had been no looting in the rebel zone.8 No embassy was torn up, and the El Salvador embassy had not been sacked or burned.
Ambassador Bennett never expressed regret for his horror stories of April 29. Instead, embassy officers have blamed the press for having reported these admittedly unverified “rumors” or “reports received” as if they were “known facts.”9 Whatever sins the press may have committed, this is surely the grossest injustice to a group of hard-pressed correspondents who had just arrived on the scene, were getting their first briefing from the ambassador, and were still totally dependent on him for their information. They were certainly entitled to assume that no responsible and experienced diplomat in these circumstances would stand before them and feed them not one but a succession of atrocity reports implicating by name the main military leaders of the revolt.10 It is also hard to believe that Mr. Bennett was not aware of the dubious journalistic practice of leaving out the source and passing off information as if the correspondent had first-hand knowledge of it himself. As the versions in Time and U.S. News & World Report show, the worst offenders were precisely the “news” organs that most crudely took their lead from the ambassador: not only did they themselves assume responsibility for some of his stories but they never did inform their readers that the stories had started out as unverified rumors and had ended up as verified myths. There must be thousands of readers who depend on Time or U.S. News ir World Report for their news, and still think that “Paredón! Paredón!” was the theme song of the Dominican revolution. After all, President Johnson still brought up the 1,500 people who had been “murdered and shot, and their heads cut off” at a news conference on June 17, over six weeks after he should have known better.
I do not mean to suggest that the correspondents did not find enough death, destruction, and suffering to be appalled. What they found, however, was the result of the civil war, not of a lust for blood peculiar to Colonel Caamaño and his supporters. If there were any true atrocities in the entire struggle, they were committed by the Dominican air force and navy which repeatedly bombed, shelled, and strafed the city. The most reprehensible air attacks came on June 15 and 16 in flagrant violation of the ceasefire. If shooting “innocent people” was so disturbing to President Johnson, it is hard to understand how he was able to resist speaking out against this crime, especially since he chose to recall the 1,500 “innocent people” who had allegedly been murdered and shot and had their heads cut off between April 24 and April 28, on June 17, the day after the utterly indefensible Dominican air force attacks on “its own” defenseless city.
It is difficult, if not impossible, in a country like the United States to separate what anyone, even the President, says U.S. policy is and how that policy is transmitted to and through the press. The way our Dominican policy was transmitted to and through the press in the last week of April 1965 indicates that what this country needs at least as much as anything else is a pure news law.
We may get closer to a fuller understanding of the strange contortions of U.S. policy in the Dominican crisis by observing a peculiar phenomenon—the almost obsessive insistence on the part of the highest U.S. officials that they did not do what they did and that they did what they did not do.
“Let me also make clear tonight that we support no single man or any single group of men in the Dominican Republic,” said President Johnson on May 2. The United States, Thomas Mann told Max Frankel in the New York Times of May 9, did not respond to a request from the military junta formed April 28 to send in U.S. armed forces “because this would have amounted to taking sides in the internal struggle.” Five months later, on October 12 at San Diego, Mr. Mann again insisted that “in the case of the Dominican Republic we refrained, during the first days of violence, from ‘supporting’ the outgoing government or ‘supporting’ either of the factions contending for power.” Throughout, “neutrality,” “non-intervention,” self-imposed abstention from “supporting” anyone or any cause has been an article of faith.
One asks not merely whether this was true, but whether it was fitting. Whatever a great power like the United States did or did not do in the Dominican Republic, it could not help influencing the course of events. Ever since Secretary of State William H. Seward tried to annex the Dominican Republic to the United States a hundred years ago, the United States has partly or wholly determined the Dominicans' fate. A U.S. “receivership” of Dominican finances was imposed in 1905; a U.S. military occupation lasted from 1916 to 1924; Trujillo's tyranny was favored for almost two decades; when the old despot decided to bite the hand that had fed him, the C.I.A. provided the weapons for his assassination; and U.S. official representatives have taken a hand in every succeeding change of government. After all this, it is really too much to promise and pretend and protest that we support no one in the very act of supporting the wrong ones.
We may hold in abeyance the question of whether the military attachés incited the Dominican armed forces to fight the Boschist revolt in the first days. But there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bennett himself soon arranged for matériel support in behalf of the military junta.
The story can be pieced together from several sources. On Monday, April 26, according to Szulc, U.S. military attachés at the San Isidro base, General Wessin's command post, relayed to the embassy requests for communications equipment, particularly for walkie-talkies to coordinate the action of Wessin's tanks. Szulc then refers to a long cablegram from Chargé d'Affaires Connett to the State Department that afternoon, and paraphrases its contents as follows:
that while direct United States intervention in the Dominican civil war might be inadvisable because of Dr. Bosch's popularity, the pro-Bosch movement had to be stopped by other means—or there would be “extremism in six months” in the Dominican Republic. The cablegram implied in effect that at least logistical support should be given the Wessin forces.
And logistical support was given the Wessin forces. Ambassador Bennett returned to Santo Domingo at about noon on Tuesday, April 27. Szulc goes on:
One of the ambassador's first acts after he got behind his desk was to send a cablegram to Washington recommending that walkie-talkies and other communications equipment be flown in for the Wessin forces. He indicated that the availability of such equipment could spell the difference between victory or defeat for Wessin.
Philip Geyelin of the Wall Street Journal (June 25, 1965) had previously derived similar information from the official records:
While Washington continued to proclaim impartiality and to decry continued bloodshed, the Santo Domingo embassy, by Wednesday [April 28], was even more actively laboring in the “loyalist” cause. Communications gear was urgently requested, to help the isolated anti-rebel units maintain closer contact.
Though regretting the necessity for a “military solution for a political crisis,” the embassy went on to warn, in the afternoon of the day marines finally landed [April 28], that denial of communications help could so dishearten the junta forces that U.S. military intervention might well be recommended “in the near future” to protect citizens and possibly for other purposes. Pointedly, Washington was asked to make a choice.
Geyelin, it is clear, had known whereof he had written. Szulc's book gives the exact time and language of Ambassador Bennett's message. As the newly formed three-man military junta headed by Colonel Pedro Bartolomé Benoit of the Dominican air force began to see victory slip from its grasp on the morning of April 28, its desperation became infectious. At 1:48 P.M., Ambassador Bennett cabled the State Department that Wessin's communications problem was “critical.” He reminded the department that “these people are facing leftist forces” and asked the department to realize “what would be the effect on the morale of the air force and others” if their requests were rejected.
Shortly afterward, Ambassador Bennett sent this message to Washington:
I regret that we may have to impose a military solution to a political problem. . . . While leftist propaganda will fuzz this up as a fight between the military and the people, the issue is really between those who want a Castro-type solution and those who oppose it.
I don't want to overdramatize, but if we deny the communications equipment, and if the opposition to the leftists lose heart, we may be asking in the near future for a landing of marines to protect U.S. interests and for other purposes. What does Washington prefer?
It should be remembered that the ambassador had barely been back in Santo Domingo for twenty-four hours. His concern was entirely political, not “humanitarian.” His language was so vague that it seemed designed to take in far more than genuine Communists. “Those who want a Castro-type solution” was a peculiar circumlocution if he meant bona-fide Castroites, and “leftists” might easily have embraced anyone to the left of Reid Cabral or General Wessin. We have here a diplomat who was not necessarily unbalanced by panic or misinformation but rather had been conditioned to take a certain course of action by his general background and previous U.S. policy.
So far in this incident I have cited correspondents who had’ some access to official records. The rest of the story can be told in the words of two leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who undoubtedly know what is in the diplomatic files. On September 15, Senator Fulbright declared:
Ambassador Bennett thereupon [the morning of April 28] urgently recommended that the anti-rebels under Air Force General de los Santos be furnished 50 walkie-talkies from U.S. Defense Department stocks in Puerto Rico. Repeating this recommendation later in the day, Bennett said that the issue was one between Castroism and its opponents.
Another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Clark of Pennsylvania, assured the Senate two days later: “I can testify from my own personal knowledge that the comments of the Senator from Arkansas [Fulbright] are fully and accurately documented by the classified record in the files of the Committee on Foreign Relations.” On the incident in question, Senator Clark went on to say: “Ambassador Bennett requested walkie-talkies for the military junta, and he got them.”
As for the origin of the three-man junta, Senator Clark also lifted the veil a little higher:
At the instance of the C.I.A.—I believe it can be documented—a new junta headed by a certain Colonel Benoit had been formed, although it was pretty well confined to the San Isidro air base.
Thus Ambassador Bennett was under pressure from two directions—from the military attachés stationed with Wessin's forces and from a Dominican military junta behind which was the C.I.A.
One thing, however, may be said in behalf of this episode of the walkie-talkies—it has never been mentioned by President Johnson, Secretary Rusk, Under Secretary Mann, or anyone else in an official position, and so they cannot be accused of having misrepresented it. Unfortunately, the President could not similarly ignore the actual request from Colonel Benoit for U.S. military intervention or tell the whole story. As I have previously mentioned, it appears that he told it in a garbled and tendentious form.
As Mr. Johnson reminisced on May 2 and May 4, he was sitting in his office on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 28, with Secretary of State Rusk, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and Presidential Adviser McGeorge Bundy, and with “no desire to interfere” in the Dominican Republic. Suddenly, shortly after 3 P.M., he received a cable from Ambassador Bennett that the police chief of Santo Domingo and “governmental authorities” had informed him that they “could no longer protect us” (May 2). The same cable also stated that the ambassador was “not prepared at this moment to recommend that you take this action” and merely wished to alert Washington to the necessity of contingency planning (May 4). About two hours later, at 5:14 P.M., another cable from Ambassador Bennett repeated that the Dominican “police and the government” could no longer guarantee American or foreign lives, but this time the ambassador went on to say that “only an immediate landing of American forces could safeguard and protect” them (May 2); or in the later version, a cable at 5:16 P.M. said “there is firing in the streets, there is great danger to all personnel in this area, land the troops immediately to protect our people” (May 4). The same two cables were described in more or less the same way by Secretary Rusk on May 26.
I would recommend the sequence of events on April 28 to a graduate seminar in history as a classical case study of three stages of historical events: what actually happened, what is at first said to have happened, and what later comes out as having really happened.
Our seminar might well start with the events of the previous day, Tuesday, April 27. That morning an incident took place at the Hotel Embajador which later became, in a distorted form, the main exhibit to support the contention that a landing of marines had been necessary to save American lives. Over 1,000 Americans were assembled at the hotel waiting for evacuation. A group of armed “rebels” burst into the lobby obviously looking for someone, lined up the naturally frightened American civilians against the walls, and fired some shots in the air. When they did not find what they were looking for, the intruders left, the evacuation of 1,172 Americans went off on schedule, and except for some frayed nerves, no one was any the worse for the experience.
The class will please note how easy it is, in the heat of defending a policy, to get even the date of a key event wrong. On May 26, a month later, Secretary of State Rusk referred to the Hotel Embajador incident in order to impress his audience with the grave peril to “hundreds” of Americans at the moment the President received the second telegram from Ambassador Bennett at 5:15 P.M. on Wednesday, April 28.11 The Secretary said: “That is, that telegram indicated that there was a most immediate problem on the scene. Hundreds were gathered at the Embajador Hotel, and there were people running around the hotel, shooting it up with tommyguns, and so forth.” This incident had actually happened over twenty-four hours before the telegram was received, but it apparently meant so much to the Secretary that he unwittingly juxtaposed it with the famous “critic” telegram.
If the incident signified anything, however, it was that the rebels had not been bent on harming Americans. With over a thousand Americans at their mercy in the hotel, they could easily have done more than at worst to have given them a good scare. It later transpired that the rebel band had been looking for Rafael Bonilla Aybar, publisher of the newspaper, Prensa Libre, as close to a fascist sheet as has existed in Latin America. In short, the incident was not anti-American in origin; it was a typical, short-lived contretemps in the midst of a civil war; and it had a happy ending.
It is noteworthy that Ambassador Bennett's cable to Washington three or four hours later that same day intimating that the marines might have to be called soon, did not owe its inspiration to the Hotel Embajador incident, as one might have expected if saving U.S. lives had been uppermost in his mind. His entire argument, as we have seen, took off from the urgent need of the Wessin forces for “communications equipment,” the denial of which might so make them “lose heart” that the marines instead of the Dominican armed forces might have to “protect U.S. interests and for other purposes” [my italics, T.D.]. Indeed, from the moment he stepped back into the embassy at about noon on April 27, Ambassador Bennett followed a coldly consistent, ruthlessly rational line. From the first, the ambassador told Washington what it had to do to make possible a military junta victory or, failing that, to frustrate a revolutionary victory. It was not his fault that, for political reasons, Washington decided to “fuzz” the real issue as he saw it and which he stated with tough-minded clarity in his cable of April 27, before there was any reason for him to become panic-stricken.
In fact, soon after Mr. Bennett had sent the plea for walkie-talkies on April 27, he had every reason to believe that Wessin's forces had turned the tables on the revolutionaries and had victory in their grasp. The reason for this shift in favor of the Dominican armed forces on April 27 now seems somewhat clearer. One of the initial advantages of the revolt had been the hesitations and dissensions within the armed forces' command.12 By April 27, however, the vacillators had made up their minds. The Dominican navy as a whole cast in with the old regime. General Montás Guerrero decided to jump off the fence and sent his regiment from San Cristobal into the western sector of the capital, not far from the Hotel Embajador. Wessin's tanks staged a major push to get into the city from the east across the Duarte bridge. In any event, the outlook seemed so unfavorable to the rebel leaders by the late afternoon that a group of them, including Provisional President Molina Ureña and Colonel Caamaño, came to the U.S. Embassy to ask the ambassador to mediate and negotiate a settlement.
This meeting has given rise to such conflicting accounts that there is no way to recapture it to the satisfaction of both sides. In brief, Mr. Bennett says that he refused the request for mediation and negotiation because they would have amounted to “intervention,” for which he lacked authorization. Colonel Caamaño claims that Mr. Bennett told them not to try to negotiate but to surrender outright. The only thing both seem to agree on is that the ambassador refused the request to mediate and negotiate, which is enough for our purposes. Sick at heart, Sr. Molina Ureña and Colonel Hernando Ramírez were persuaded to take asylum in a Latin American embassy.
There was nothing panicky or ill-informed about Mr. Bennett's refusal to mediate. With virtually the whole rebel command in his office asking, in effect, for a face-saving end to the revolt, he had every right to consider it all but over. The only question was whether he would make it easier for them. The reason he has given for telling them to do it the hard way is so unconvincing that one is forced to seek another explanation. He was so little loath to “intervene” that he had spent a good part of that afternoon trying to persuade Washington to save Wessin's forces from possible defeat by giving them what seemed to be desperately needed communications equipment. Instead of similarly seeking authorization from Washington to accede to the request for mediation, he merely rejected it on the ground that he lacked authorization. Given the documentary evidence of the lengths to which the ambassador was willing to go to bring about a rebel defeat, it is hard to believe that fastidiousness in his interpretation of intervention was his real motive. More probably, he did not wish to drag out the apparent rebel defeat by interposing a period of negotiation, and preferred to leave the rebel leaders to the tender mercies of the old trujillista generals without accepting any responsibility for them.
This was the second time in three days that a U.S. action may have served to prolong the conflict. On April 24 and 25, the U.S. military attachés may have kept the war going by egging on the Dominican military leaders. On April 27, Ambassador Bennett almost certainly kept the war going by refusing to arrange what at that moment could only have been an armed forces' victory. On the basis of hindsight, it is easy to accuse the ambassador of misjudgment. It would be nearer the truth to consider him a victim of bad luck. No one could have foreseen that the conflict would take another sharp turn in the next twenty-four hours and transmute his refusal to mediate into the surpassing irony of the entire crisis.
A fully satisfactory account of what happened on the evening of April 27 and morning of April 28 to change the perspective from a collapse of the rebels to a collapse of the armed forces does not yet seem possible. The official U.S. interpretation, as expressed by the President on May 2, is that the collapse of Colonel Caamaño's forces on April 27 enabled the Communists to move in and take over and really seize and place into their hands the originally popular democratic revolution. The implication is that the Communists defeated the armed forces and revived the revolt under their own leadership. On the other hand, it is known that Colonel Caamaño, Colonel Monte Araches, and others of their group, infuriated by what they considered Ambassador Bennett's insulting behavior in rejecting their request for mediation, went back to the Duarte bridge and renewed their resistance to the incursion of General Wessin's tank force. It should be kept in mind that over 1,000 officers and enlisted men fought with Colonel Caamaño to the bitter end.
Other U.S. sources suggest that Colonel Caamaño, now in charge of the revolt as a result of Colonel Hernando Ramírez's having taken asylum. again benefited from cross purposes within the Dominican armed forces. The testimony before Senator Fulbright's committee led him to comment: “Owing to a degree of disorganization and timidity on the part of the anti-rebel forces which no one, including the U.S. Embassy and the rebels themselves, anticipated, the rebels were still fighting on the morning of Wednesday, April 28.”13 And Representative Armistead I. Selden, Jr. of Alabama, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs, and as such also privy to all the documentation, attributed the rebel recovery on April 28 at least in part to the fact that “the armed forces under command of Gen. Wessin y Wessin did not move” and “the Dominican Army was sitting out at San Isidro base doing nothing.”14 Whenever the armed forces met much resistance, it appears, many of the soldiers lost their taste for fighting and deserted en masse. The problem may well be why the overwhelmingly superior Dominican army did not fight harder rather than why their opponents were able to fight so well.
Thus a number of factors other than the alleged Communist push and takeover may explain the armed forces' reversal on April 28. It is certainly reasonable to suppose that Colonel Caamaño did not administer any political tests to anyone who was willing to go out and fight in the darkest hours of April 27-28. But the theory of the Communist “miracle” was never very convincing. If the Communists, with nothing more than Molotov cocktails, some machine-guns and small arms at their disposal, could have overwhelmed at minimum an infantry regiment and tanks from San Isidro, another infantry regiment from San Cristóbal, plus the Dominican air force and navy, all in a matter of hours, they would certainly have been strong and headstrong enough to attack the first few hundred marines who landed on April 28-29. The Communists would have been delighted to exchange them for the Dominican military as their real enemy. One little understands Fidel Castro or the Castroite mentality if one can believe that the Dominican Castroites, flushed with a lightning victory over the entire Dominican military establishment, would have missed a golden opportunity to wage a holy war of national liberation against direct U.S. military intervention.
In any event, Ambassador Bennett woke up on Wednesday, April 28, to an altogether different situation. Instead of the Boschists begging him to intercede, the C.I.A.'s brain child, Colonel Benoit's military junta, was crying for help. This unexpected upset again gave the United States an opportunity to demonstrate how it was not “taking sides in the internal struggle” and not “‘supporting’ either of the factions contending for power.”
We may now take a closer look at the two cables from Ambassador Bennett on the afternoon of April 28, which had supposedly convinced President Johnson that he had to send in the marines for no other purpose than to save American lives. We have been solemnly told by the President and the Secretary of State that the first cable at about 3 P.M. had broken the news to them that the Dominican “governmental authorities” could no longer protect Americans—but that it contained no request from the ambassador for U.S. armed intervention. Then at about 5:15 P.M. came the other cable with more or less the same message from the Dominican “law enforcement and military officials” but now accompanied by the ambassador's urgent appeal for immediate troop landings.
The only deduction that can be drawn from this account is that something had happened in the two-and-a-quarter hours between 3 P.M. and 5:15 P.M. to change the ambassador's mind about the necessity for U.S. armed intervention. In subsequent statements, the President tried to give the impression that what had happened was greater personal danger for American citizens, and even for the ambassador himself. “As we talked to Ambassador Bennett,” the President related somewhat melodramatically six days later, “he said to apparently one of the girls who brought him a cable, he said, please get away from the window, that glass is going to cut your head, because the glass had been shattered, and we heard the bullets coming through the office where he was sitting while talking to us.”15 As time passed, the President's saga of the ambassador's ordeal on April 28 became more and more imaginative, until seven weeks later, he had Mr. Bennett “talking to us from under a desk while bullets were going through his windows.”16
One of those who has read Mr. Bennett's second message, Philip Geyelin, was surprised to find that it was not at all as anguished about the safety of Americans as Mr. Johnson had led him to believe. Geyelin wrote:
Though Mr. Johnson, with the poetic license to which a politician may be entitled, was later to report that he received at 5:16 P.M. on Wednesday [April 28] a cable from Ambassador Bennett, warning that “you must land troops immediately or blood will run in the streets, American blood will run in the streets,” the actual message was considerably more low-key.
It did recommend the landing of marines and did state, in one short sentence, that the lives of U.S. citizens were endangered. But it dwelt at far greater length on the rapid collapse of the anti-rebel drive and on the pathos of the weary, weeping generals in the “loyalist” headquarters at San Isidro air base. And it contained a revealing passage which for security reasons must be paraphrased. If the policy-makers preferred, the embassy said in effect, the troops could be sent in with a mission of covering the evacuation; the clear implication was that the embassy had some other real mission in mind, such as a show of force to hearten the anti-rebel junta.17
There is also some question about the verisimilitude of the details with which the President embellished his telephone conversation with the ambassador (which apparently took place after the arrival of the second cable).18 Tad Szulc looked into the circumstances and found:
There was intermittent sniper fire, apparently by irregulars or plain hoodlums, around the embassy when Mr. Bennett spoke to the President. Somehow the idea was conveyed to the President that the embassy was at that moment under direct and heavy machine-gun fire. As Mr. Johnson later related the episode, Mr. Bennett and his secretary were under their desks as the ambassador spoke to the White House.
But embassy officials said later that at no time had the embassy building been fired upon by machine guns. For that matter, despite many subsequent sniper firings, there were never any bullet marks on the embassy's walls.
If danger to Americans was the controlling factor, there was no good reason why Ambassador Bennett should have made up his mind between about 3 P.M. and about 5:15 P.M. NO less dangerous fighting in the streets and around the embassy had raged intermittently for at least three days, and the single most explosive incident had occurred the day before at the Hotel Embajador without having caused him to lose his aplomb. By conjuring up such a vivid scene of an ambassador who advised him to send in the marines while crouched under a desk ducking bullets flying through his office, the President inadvertently encouraged the impression that Mr. Bennett may have temporarily surrendered to a panicky concern for his own and other Americans' safety. On the contrary, the ambassador had something else on his mind, and he never made any attempt to disguise it.
The plot thickens if we turn our attention to what the Dominican “governmental authorities” had told Mr. Bennett that had impelled him to send these two cables. Fortunately, we have the text of what is supposed to be the key message from Colonel Benoit to Ambassador Bennett. It reads:
Regarding my earlier request I wish to add that American lives are in danger and conditions of public disorder make it impossible to provide adequate protection. I therefore ask you for temporary intervention and assistance in restoring order in this country.19
The reader will note a telltale phrase at the beginning of this message—“Regarding my earlier request.” In effect, Colonel Benoit had sent two messages, but only one has been made public. The missing message is also the missing link in the chain of events that we have been trying to unravel.
We still do not have the text of Colonel Benoit's first message but we have two very authoritative versions of what it conveyed from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Fulbright tells us:
In mid-afternoon of April 28, Col. Pedro Bartolomé Benoit, head of a junta which had been hastily assembled, asked again, this time in writing, for U.S. troops on the ground that this was the only way to prevent a Communist takeover; no mention was made of the junta's inability to protect American lives.20
Senator Clark read the same meaning into Colonel Benoit's first message:
That junta sent word to Ambassador Bennett, “You had better send American troops in because a Communist takeover threatens.”21
The forthrightness of this request was not what the ambassador had bargained for. At this juncture on April 28, the evidence in Washington of a Communist takeover was virtually nonexistent. So Colonel Benoit was instructed what to say in order to get the U.S. troops that he wanted.
Here, according to Senator Fulbright, is what happened next:
This request was denied in Washington, and Benoit was thereupon told that the United States would not intervene unless he said he could not protect American citizens present in the Dominican Republic. Benoit was thus told in effect that if he said American lives were in danger, the United States would intervene. And that is precisely what happened.
Senator Clark, as usual, gives us a more colloquial account of what took place:
Ambassador Bennett sent word back, “I can't get away with bringing Americans in on that ground because the evidence is not clear. If you will change your request and make it in writing, and ask American forces to intervene in order to protect American lives, then I believe that we can persuade Washington to do it.”
So Benoit changed his position and put it on the basis of protecting American lives. Bennett forwarded that post haste to the State Department and to the White House, and troops were sent in.
In effect, Ambassador Bennett first put words into Colonel Benoit's mouth or pen, and then used those words to justify sending in U.S. troops. The rest of the operation in Washington was mainly an effort to cover up the tracks of this rather extraordinary transaction. In a totalitarian country, it would probably have taken years, if not decades, to uncover these tracks. In a free country, it took only a few weeks or months. Senator Fulbright told nothing but the unwanted and unvarnished truth in his speech of September 15, which was informed with a grandeur and integrity that can hardly be matched in recent congressional history:
The United States intervened in the Dominican Republic for the purpose of preventing the victory of a revolutionary force which was judged to be Communist dominated. On the basis of Ambassador Bennett's messages to Washington, there is no doubt that the threat of Communism rather than danger to American lives was his primary reason for recommending military intervention.
One may settle, then, for a minimal interpretation of the Johnson-Mann-Bennett policy. If it was not aimed at obtaining victory for the reactionary military forces, it certainly did not wish to see them lose. Conversely, if it did not do anything to defeat the revolt, it was willing to do almost anything to prevent its success.
This policy also managed to prolong the civil war for the second time certainly and the third time possibly in four days. The fighting might never have flared up but for the putative pressure of the military attachés on April 24 and 25; the revolt would have lost its outstanding military and civilian leaders if Ambassador Bennett had agreed to help them give up on April 27; and only twenty-four hours later, the complete collapse of the other side was admittedly averted by sending in U.S. troops. Fate and a word have rarely played such tricks on a diplomat as befell Mr. Bennett on April 27 and 28; in the name of “non-intervention,” he missed an opportunity to end the conflict successfully for “his” side, and then he non-intervened U.S. marines and paratroops right into a shooting civil war.
The Walkie-Talkies and the non-intervention of the U.S. marines on April 28 do not constitute the only evidence of how the United States “refrained,” during the first violent days, from supporting either of the “factions” struggling for power.
I have previously mentioned the unintentional eavesdropping of U.S. correspondents aboard the Boxer as they approached Santo Domingo on Thursday morning, April 29. To their astonishment, they were able to hear official U.S. communications through both a transistor radio and the ship's radio, evidently because the embassy's messages were being relayed to the San Isidro base via the aircraft carrier. Even more disconcerting was the discovery that the ambassador of their nation which, as far as they still knew, was fiercely protesting its neutrality, was manifestly encouraging and assisting the San Isidro generals. They heard lengthy exchanges about the delivery of U.S. equipment and food to the San Isidro forces. Kurzman and Szuk cite almost the same words in one message from Ambassador Bennett to Colonel Benoit: “. . . Do you need more aid? . . . Believe that with determination your plans will succeed.” Szulc adds that a correspondent asked the ambassador later that day about the radio conversations which had provided the newsmen with their first inkling that something untoward was going on.
“The ambassador looked embarrassed and changed the subject,” Szulc notes.
On this same day, April 29, two other leading characters in the Dominican drama, General Antonio Imbert Barreras and former U.S. Ambassador John Bartlow Martin, moved to the center of the stage. As the Boxer's helicopters landed the first group of correspondents in Santo Domingo, they spotted Imbert, accompanied by a U.S. colonel and a Dominican bishop, getting into another helicopter, obviously on their way to the Boxer. Late that night, Mr. Martin received a telephone call from President Johnson's special assistant, Bill D. Moyers, to come to Washington to consult on the Dominican crisis.
Martin returned to Santo Domingo the next evening, April 30, and one of the first persons he went to see was Antonio Imbert Barreras. Imbert reminds one of the former Cuban strongman, Fulgencio Batista. The two built up their political careers on their association with the military but were not themselves military men; Batista had been an army stenographer and Imbert was given the honorary rank of Brigadier General at the end of 1962. What a U.S. official told Philip Geyelin about Imbert might well have been said about Batista: “Tony Imbert is a hood—but with all the advantages of a hood” (the Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1965). Like Batista, too, Imbert was perfectly capable of working with anyone who happened to serve his interests. Trujillo had once appointed Imbert a provincial governor, and he was one of the two surviving assassins of Trujillo; the Communists had also made themselves useful to Imbert in return for his favors, and now he was making his bid for power to save the country from Communism.22
As Mr. Martin told the story in Life of May 28, he visited Imbert again at the latter's invitation on May 3. “Various people” had asked him to “reconstitute” the three-man military junta headed by Colonel Benoit, Imbert said. He was, they had told him, the only man in the Dominican Republic “strong enough” to force the “old generals” to leave the country. Then ensued this dialogue:
I [Martin] asked, “Do you want to do it?”
He said, “I do it. For my country. Not for myself. Whatta hell I want to get into this mess for? I can sit here quiet.”
I said, “We are not going to support any military dictatorship.”
And I don't think any better of the old generals than you do. Can you get rid of them?
What about the junta?
We leave one of them in, Colonel Benoit. The others resign.
“Su-u-re,” drawing it out, a way he has.
What kind of a government is this going to be? Who'll be in it?
No politicians, you can be sure of that Mr. Martin.
And, as far as the readers of Life could know, this is how Antonio Imbert applied for the job of forming and heading another junta.23 The man who had gotten into the mess of assassinating Trujillo, who had gotten into the mess of the post-Trujillo Council of State as one of its seven members, who had been one of the chief impresarios of the mess that had resulted in the anti-Bosch coup, who had made the mess of the Dominican police his private preserve, had been reluctantly talked into the mess of taking power in May 1965—for his country, not for himself. The old fixer knew in advance who in the existing three-man junta had to stay and who could be counted on to go. He accepted three civilian figureheads who were never heard from again. He was so incorrigibly venal that he did not scruple to betray his former comrades-in-arms. For part of the deal to make Imbert the top man required the expulsion from the country of a number of leading military commanders to give Imbert's junta a new look. Ambassador Bennett candidly informed visitors, according to Szulc, that U.S. officials had made up the list to get rid of those generals whose previous association with Trujillo was considered to have made them politically objectionable. Thus, General Belisario Peguero, whom Imbert had put in charge of the police and whom Reid Cabral had fired in one of the reforms that had brought about his downfall, General Montás Guerrero, who had belatedly brought his San Cristóbal regiment into the capital, General Atila Luna Pérez of the air force, who had worked with Imbert on the anti-Bosch coup, and three or four others were unceremoniously hustled out of the country. To his credit, it must be said that General Wessin refused to play this game, and a resignation, already announced, was repudiated by him.
Mr. martin writes as if he had so much authority that he could tell Imbert to go ahead. Whether or not he should have given a little more credit to Ambassador Bennett and the C.I.A., there is no doubt that General Imbert succeeded Colonel Benoit as the chosen instrument of U.S. policy. On May 26, Secretary of State Rusk blandly told a news conference: “As far as the civilian-military group under General Imbert's leadership is concerned, we did encourage them to form a group that could try to assure the normal processes of the countryside which was not involved in downtown Santo Domingo.” He reiterated: “And so we did encourage these gentlemen to associate themselves and to try to help deal with the problems of those areas of the country that were not directly involved in the violence in Santo Domingo itself.” From these words, one might gather that Imbert was “encouraged” merely to form a “group” to “help” (whom?) to deal with (what?) problems outside the capital. In fact, Imbert set up what he called a “Government of National Reconstruction,” which Mr. Martin says “began to behave surprisingly like a government.” Since by the time Mr. Rusk spoke, it had already appointed a foreign minister and representatives to the United Nations and the O.A.S., and demanded all the rights and privileges accorded to legitimate governments, it is difficult to understand the Secretary's language. One can hardly recall a Secretary of State afflicted with such squeamishness.
Mr. Rusk also cast some doubt on Mr. Martin's credentials. When he was asked to comment on the “ethical question” of Mr. Martin's kiss-and-tell article, the Secretary of State delivered himself as follows: “Mr. Martin was not down there on an official appointment. He was not down there as a salaried employee of the Government.” What was he down there for? Only “to establish contact” with people he had known as ambassador during Bosch's administration. His status had only been that of a “private citizen” to assist Ambassador Bennett. We are asked to believe, then, that two “private citizens,” John Bartlow Martin and Antonio Imbert Barreras, had a private little conversation out of which came a “group” which surprisingly behaved like a government.
No one, of course, was deceived, least of all the forces behind the new junta. Only a week later, when the Bundy mission seemed to be pulling the rug from under it, Imbert's chief of staff, General Jacinto Martínez Araña, protested: “We cannot stop because the present government was selected, you know, by a group of American people, United States people. One of them is the ambassador and some more, you know.”24 And Hal Hendrix, from Imbert's corner, reported heartlessly: “Exactly a week earlier American representatives here had stage-managed the creation of a five-member military-civilian junta government of national reconstruction” (New York World-Telegram and Sun, May 18, 1965). Indeed, if Mr. Bundy had had his way at this time, American representatives would have been able to take credit for having stage-managed the creation of Dominican juntas at the rate of one every ten days.
It would have required some of the greatest flimflam artists of all time to get away with this kind of political legerdemain. Somehow one does not quite see Mr. Rusk or Mr. Mann or Mr. Bennett or Mr. Martin in the role.25
Of all the controversial issues that have arisen in the course of the Dominican crisis, the least necessary to dispute is President Johnson's pronouncement that there was a Communist takeover of the revolt. Seldom has a chief executive been led to take such an extreme position by subordinates who could not hold on to it for more than a week.
The trouble starts as soon as one asks when the Communist takeover took place. One school of U.S. officials, as we have seen, inspired stories to the effect that Bosch had sold out to the Communists before the revolt. One of the State Department's advocates, Adolf A. Berle, assured readers of The Reporter of May 20 that the pro-Bosch forces were “infiltrated and then dominated by the trained Communist elements” within 48 hours, that is, by April 26. Mr. Berle evidently knew better than the President, who had dated the takeover from the temporary Boschist setback on April 27.
Privately, of course, Bennett was indoctrinating Washington to the effect that the conflict was one between Castroism and anti-Castroism by, at latest, the afternoon of April 28. After the marines had landed at about 7 P.M. that evening, Mr. Bennett was evidently afraid that their mission might indeed be limited to protecting Americans, and he went all-out to prevent that unpleasant eventuality. At 8 P.M., he sent what Szulc thinks may have been the most crucial single recommendation from the embassy in the entire crisis: “I recommend that serious thought be given to armed intervention to restore order beyond a mere protection of lives. If the present loyalist efforts fail, the power will go to groups whose aims are identical with those of the Communist Party. We might have to intervene to prevent another Cuba.” And in the famous or notorious briefing of April 29, Mr. Bennett handed out the first list of 53 Communist names, though there seems to be a difference of opinion as to how far he went in characterizing the rebel side as Communist.26
In any event, Ambassador Bennett did not commit himself publicly to the Communist takeover. Mr. Bennett permitted “private citizen” John Bartlow Martin to make the first U.S. announcement that the revolution was Communist-controlled at a joint press conference in the embassy on May 2. Martin is quoted as having said: “This was originally a PRD attempt to restore Bosch's constitutional government, but I am now convinced after having talked to many people on the rebel side that this is Communist-dominated, and moderate elements of the PRD are themselves aware of this fact.”27 He had already sent this advice to the President who that same day went on record in support of the extreme Communist-takeover line.
Previously I raised the question of why the President was far more cautious and tentative about the Communist takeover on April 30 than on May 2. The answer very likely lies in Mr. Martin's role those three days. An open enemy of Juan Bosch could not do what a self-professed friend did. This Brutus-like stab inflicted more harm on Bosch's cause than all Wessin's soldiers were able to do.
For about a week after John Bartlow Martin and President Johnson made the first U.S. statements committing this country to the idea of a Communist takeover of the revolt, it became the U.S. party line, though different and somewhat more equivocal expressions were also used. On May 3, Adlai Stevenson was instructed to say at the U.N. that “Communist leaders, many of them trained in Cuba, have taken increasing control of what was initially a democratic movement.” On May 4, the President declared that “some 58 Communists began to rise on that crock of milk, they carne to the surface and took increased leadership in the movement and the leaders and friends of ex-President Bosch were more or less shoved in the background and stepped aside.” On May 8, Secretary of State Rusk told John Hightower of the Associated Press that the U.S. government had acted on mounting evidence that “the Communists had captured the revolution according to plan.” And on May 9, in the New York Times interview with Max Frankel, Under Secretary Mann said that the democratic revolution had “moved into the hands of a band of Communist agents.”
But then a strange thing happened. U.S. spokesmen began to back away from this extreme position and to cast doubt that the Communists had really succeeded in taking over the revolt. For example, at his news conference on May 26, Secretary Rusk merely talked of a “possibility” and “a very serious threat” that Communists would seize control of armed mobs. On June 9, Leonard C. Meeker, the State Department's Legal Adviser, delivered an address before the Foreign Law Association in which he would go no further than to allege that there had been “a grave risk” and a very real “threat” and an appearance that the Communists had been “in a fair way” to take over. Most curiously of all, in a speech in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 17, Ambassador Bennett himself praised U.S. policy in the Dominican Republic in the following terms: “The Communists were prevented from taking over in a chaotic situation and pushing aside the democratic elements involved in the revolt.”
And thus we have come full circle. First the United States sent in the marines because the Communists had taken over the revolt and now the United States claims credit for having prevented the Communists from taking over the revolt. In fact, the congressional defenders of the administration's policy have argued that the intervention was justified on the basis of the “risk” and “threat” and “possibility” of a Communist takeover, not the accomplished fact.
If we accept something that Under Secretary Mann told Max Frankel, then, there is no longer any need to argue about the original U.S. justification for its military intervention. This is what Mr. Mann said: “But there really is no problem, as far as our policy is concerned, unless and until the Communists succeed in actually capturing and controlling a movement.”
By this criterion, a “risk,” “threat,” or “possibility” is not good enough. That is possibly why President Johnson went as far as he did on May 2, but U.S. spokesmen since then have moved further and further away from that dangerously exposed position to one more easily defensible.
This strategic retreat may also be observed in the strange fate of the various “lists” of Dominican Communists and Castroites.
By chance, the new director of the C.I.A., Admiral William F. Raborn, Jr., was sworn in on April 24, a few hours after the revolt had broken out. At least as late as April 28, according to Senator Clark, he was able to produce the names of only three Communists allegedly implicated in the revolt.28 From 3 P.M. to 7 P.M. on April 28, President Johnson disclosed on May 4, U.S. intelligence indicated that no more than two of the “prime leaders in the rebel forces” were men “with a long history of Communist association and insurrections,” one of whom had allegedly fought in the Spanish civil war. Later reports, the President also said, brought the figure up to eight. Then special “alerts” were sent out for more names. On April 29, as we have seen, Ambassador Bennett upped the ante to 53. This jump was apparently made possible by ransacking old, pre-revolt lists for Dominicans who had been previously reported active in Communist movements. For this reason, the first lists were curiously dated, with much of the data no more recent than 1963. On May 1, a list of 54 was leaked to the press in Washington. By May 3, according to the President, he had “the names and addresses and experience and numbers and background” of 58. When four of these proved to be duplications, only 54 were published in the New York Times of May 6.29 And in mid-June a final list of 77 was released sub rosa in Washington.30
One thing is immediately apparent about these lists. They were all ex post facto jobs, hastily put together to justify an already adopted policy rather than to provide raw material for a policy in gestation. Whatever may have been right or wrong about the lists, they were not available to President Johnson and his small circle of advisers when they had to make up their minds to send the marines to frustrate a reported Communist takeover. In fact, if we may judge from the list published in the New York Times on May 6, the President still did not have much to go by. Only one person on it was allegedly “involved in the direction of the insurrection,” and only one other was classified as a “probable military leader.” Of the 54, only 20 were positively identified as having taken part in the April 1965 revolt. One entry simply reads: “Pro-Castro student leader.” Even the list of 77 a month later contains only six imputed to be in the “top leadership group of the rebel government.”
In fact, we have at least one authoritative testimonial that, on April 28, the President was able to give assurances not that there was a preponderant Communist influence but only a “definite” one. On that day, before taking action, Mr. Johnson telephoned his long-time mentor, Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia, who was then at home. Mr. Russell later told the Senate:
The President was kind enough to ask me what I thought of the situation. I asked him if there were any indications of a definite Communist influence in the so-called rebel forces. He stated that there was little doubt that there was a definite Communist influence there, and I told him that, in my opinion, he had no alternative other than to proceed to send the Armed Forces to San Domingo to avoid another Cuba.31
It is possible to argue that the President was later proven right by the information which the intelligence agencies subsequently gathered. But if we are also interested in what the President had before him at the moment of decision, we can hardly fail to be impressed by the paucity of the data. When it is carefully examined, it is clear that he was largely forced to depend on the judgment of two men, Ambassador Bennett and former Ambassador Martin. Since the list of 77 was put together too late to influence the President's decision, we are here mainly concerned with the lists of 53, 54, and 58.
The trouble with these lists was that they tended to prove what did not need to be proved—that Communists act like Communists. With the two exceptions already noted, the list of 54 merely ascribed such activities to those on it as “armed for action,” “making Molotov cocktails,” and “distributing leaflets.” It was notably weak at the crucial point—whether the Communists had gained control of the rebel leadership. The correspondents to whom Ambassador Bennett gave his list of 53 spotted this weakness immediately, even before they discovered other reasons to find fault with it. The only substantial tie-up between the Communists and Colonel Caamaño at this time was made in a charge that he had appointed “three men of well-established Communist sympathies and associations” to posts in his “provisional government.” On investigation, the correspondents soon learned (a) that they were almost certainly not Communists, and (b) that Caamaño had not appointed them to any cabinet posts. When Kurzman pointed out these blemishes to an embassy official, the latter agreed that a mistake had been made.32As we have seen, the charge that Colonel Caamaño had made a deal with Communist leaders on May 4 similarly boomeranged.
By this time, the correspondents in Santo Domingo were so suspicious that they were primed to pounce on every defect in the ambassador's list. James Nelson Goodsell of the Christian Science Monitor gave it the most thorough going-over. “A good degree of sloppy intelligence work went into the preparation of the lists,” was his verdict on May 19, “for they contain the names of persons in prison at the time of the April 24 revolt, others out of the country at that time, and still others who are not Communists but rather are widely known as Nationalists who agree with Communists on the anti-American issue.” Goodsell found two in prison; six not in the country; four jailed within two days of the outbreak and, therefore, hors de combat when the Communist takeover supposedly took place; at least three others released from jail before the list was promulgated; four and possibly six not in Santo Domingo at the time. If Goodsell was right, from 19 to 21, or almost 40 per cent of the list, could not have played active roles at the time it was issued. This percentage of error may have been too great, but the list-makers themselves admitted to a margin of error of almost 20 per cent. When the list of 77 was given out, 10 of those on the original list of 54 had been removed from it. Goodsell, of course, was not the only enterprising correspondent who refused to take the lists on faith. Mauro Calamandrei of L'Espresso (Rome) and Luis Suárez of Siempre (Mexico City) went looking for the redoubtable Manuel González y Gonzalez, whom President Johnson himself had mentioned as a veteran of the Spanish civil war. Calamandrei had no trouble locating him several times at home, and Suarez talked to him in the street, a pistol in his belt as he fixed a jammed gun for a young rebel fighter. But he hardly impressed them as “the probable military leader in the current insurrection”; the revolt had caught him by surprise as much as anyone else, as he'was seeing off an aunt on a trip; he had never met Colonel Caamaño; and it was his father who had fought in the Spanish civil war when he was still in his teens.
The skepticism of the Christian Science Monitor was bad enough. But who would have expected to find these blasphemous words in the Wall Street Journal of June 25: “What the record also suggests is a sometimes-carefree, sometimes-clumsy tendency toward inconsistency, contradiction and even outright misrepresentation for the sake of expediency”?33
It is not often that journalists can be said to have saved the honor of their country. This was, I believe, one of those very rare occasions. Tad Szulc, Barnard L. Collier, Dan Kurzman, James Nelson Goodsell, Philip Geyelin, Bert Quint of CBS, and others, made one feel proud of and grateful for a free press without which the moral and political disaster would have been infinitely greater. When they were struggling against the greatest odds to get the truth and make it known, no public figure was able or willing to speak out against the inconsistencies, contradictions, and outright misrepresentations. In this Dominican crisis, the best and worst of American journalism was manifested—but the worst is far less a stranger than the best.
It should be remembered that Ambassador Bennett's list of 53 was issued at the same press conference on April 29 at which he regaled the correspondents with a collection of anti-Caamaño atrocity stories. There was no reason why the sources for his list should have been much better than the sources for his stories. Both were quite clearly the products of hastily enlisted informers and material obtained from the Dominican police and military “intelligence” factories. I do not mean to question the practice of using informers by all intelligence agencies, but anyone who has had any experience with this type of information, especially in the heat of an unexpected civil war, knows how treacherous it can be. The informers did very badly tipping off the embassy about the imminence of the revolt; they did very badly with the horror tales; they did very badly with the three alleged Communists in Colonel Caamaño's provisional government; and they lived up to their record in the matter of the first lists. Ambassador Bennett later told Al Burt, Latin American editor of the Miami Herald (August’ 22), that “we had to operate by antenna and by guess.” We can sympathize with Mr. Bennett's plight and respect his candor, but that is not how the matter was originally presented to the American people or the world at large, and too much hinged on his antenna and guesswork.
As for John Bartlow Martin's judgment, it is perhaps the most depressing aspect of this whole calamitous affair. As the ambassador to Bosch's government, of whom Bosch had written that he and the Alliance for Progress director, Newell F. Williams, “did not appear to be agents of the U.S. government but rather two Dominicans as anxious as the best of Dominicans to accomplish the impossible for us,”34 Mr. Martin was the living symbol of U.S. faith in democracy and social justice, whatever his abilities may have been. If there came a time when the U.S. would need to change its policy from what W. Tapley Bennett, Jr. symbolized, Martin would have been an invaluable asset in making it. Instead, he was yanked from home in Connecticut, ulcers and all, to “assist” Mr. Bennett, “open up contact” with the hitherto despised and ignored rebels, and advise the President. He says that he was at first skeptical of reports that the revolt was Communist-led. Only two days later, he was so sure of it that he gave the President the final shove to go overboard on the Communist issue.
In his Life article, Mr. Martin set out to vindicate this judgment. Presumably he tried to make his case as strong as possible. Yet in the entire article, there are exactly two passages in which the author gives any clue to the basis for his conclusion. In the first, he relates a rather boring interview with Colonel Caamaño and his political adviser, Héctor Aristy, on May 1. As Mr. Martin and his aide, Harry Shlaudeman, departed and got into a car, a crowd gathered and cried, “We trust you, Mr. Martin,” and, “We want democracy.” But though Mr. Martin tells us compassionately that the crowd was made up of “the Dominican people, the real sufferers—hungry, penniless, disease-ridden, defenseless,” he immediately changes his tone and calls it a demonstration that had been “well organized to reinforce our sympathies.” Then comes the shocker:
And Shlaudeman noticed something else: a black-shirted young man, whom he recognized as a member of the Castro-Communist terrorist party, had yelled beside the car, “Yankees go home.” Immediately a powerful hand had gripped his shoulder from behind and jerked him away out of sight. He had used the wrong script.
I have cited this scene in Mr. Martin's own words because it is literally the only personal experience that he offers to account for his momentous decision. The entire incident turns on a familiar anti-American slogan uttered by a single young man. It might have been the “wrong script” for more than one reason. The young man might have been jerked away because he had been indiscreet or because the owner of the powerful hand did not agree with him—Mr. Martin had no way of knowing. Even if we accept the worst interpretation and consider this shattering little incident a “Communist demonstration,” as Mr. Martin seems to do, it still constitutes very slight grounds for determining who controlled the entire revolt.
After this, Mr. Martin immediately moves on to May 2 and tells us that he and Shlaudeman “studied the massive evidence assembled by our intelligence agencies” and talked quietly to Dominicans on both sides. From these talks he quotes snatches that are hardly worth repeating. His pièce de résistance is really a selection of eleven “dedicated Communists” from Ambassador Bennett's longer list of those who “almost immediately joined the revolt.” The most that Mr. Martin says of them is that “our intelligence agents saw many of these men at rebel headquarters and rebel strongholds.” What they were seen doing, or what bearing it had on the crucial question of control, deponent doth not say. In any case, Mr. Martin was in no position to evaluate the “massive evidence” put before him, some of which we have already examined. One of his eleven, for example, is Dato Pagán Perdono, no doubt a Communist, but hardly capable of almost immediately joining the revolt because he had been safely tucked away in prison at the time. On one other point, which was open to checking, Mr. Martin committed a more serious indiscretion. During a later meeting with Colonel Caamaño, Mr. Martin conveyed the impression that three of the most respected Latin American leaders, who had been called to Washington to advise the President, had inferentially given up the rebel cause for the same reasons as Mr. Martin and, therefore, had decided against coming to Santo Domingo.35 This revelation was supposed to break down Colonel Caamaño's resistance to Mr. Martin's viewpoint, and the latter intimates that it hit home: “Caamaño looked shocked” and “Caamaño realized instantly the significance of their decision.”
Colonel caamano should have been shocked that Mr. Martin would tell him a cock-and-bull story and then publish it in a national magazine. In Life of June 18, the three Latin American statesmen in question—Rómolo Betancourt, former President of Venezuela, José Figueres, former President of Costa Rica, and Luis Muñoz Marín, former Governor of Puerto Rico—were forced to protest against Mr. Martin's “variance with the truth.” They made known that the O.A.S. was responsible for their failure to go to Santo Domingo and that they had at all times been “ready to serve.” I do not mean to suggest that Mr. Martin deliberately misled Colonel Caamaño. I do think that this misunderstanding on his part, and the uses to which he put it, suggest how poorly prepared he was for his difficult assignment.
I am not sure, however, whether Mr. Martin can be absolved of more serious misrepresentation in his treatment of Juan Bosch. When he saw the Dominican leader in Puerto Rico on May 2 and 3, he had already committed himself publicly to the notion of a Communist takeover of Bosch's movement. After an interval of nineteen months, it was not an auspicious introduction. Instead of making their reunion an effort to reach a new understanding, Mr. Martin was merely bent on persuading Sr. Bosch to accept the U.S. thesis and to support it. To imagine that Sr. Bosch, who had already publicly rejected the thesis and who had been in constant touch with his adherents in Santo Domingo long before Mr. Martin had come on the scene, would be likely to accede to such an appeal was at best naive. Once Mr. Martin had committed himself openly to the U.S. thesis, he was no longer capable of carrying out that portion of his mission which had envisaged him as the friendly untarnished go-between who might pave the way for better Bosch-U.S. relations. There was no point in sending Mr. Martin to Puerto Rico if he were not going to play a somewhat different role from Mr. Bennett; two Bennetts were hardly an improvement over one.
Even if Mr. Martin's mission to Puerto Rico was doomed, however, his subsequent betrayal of confidence in Life was indefensible. He had, after all, been entrusted with an exceedingly delicate diplomatic mission. When his article appeared, things were more confused than ever. Even according to U.S. sources, the Communist tide had receded or was about to, and the Boschists were again a force to be reckoned with. Yet Mr. Martin describes their leader and his former friend as if he were a blood-crazed psychopath, so incapable of discussing the issues rationally that Mr. Martin “seldom felt more helpless.” I cannot recall a diplomatic envoy, whether or not he was technically a “private citizen,” who rushed into print with such an indecent breach of good faith. One can only conjecture whether the administration was so anxious to discredit Sr. Bosch that it put him up to it or whether Martin, the journalist, got the better of Martin, the diplomat.
But this is not all. There is reason to believe that the Life article committed a far more serious transgression. On this point, we have not only Sr. Bosch's recollection but the word of a man of unquestionable integrity at whose home Mr. Martin and Sr. Bosch met—Chancellor Jaime Benítez of the University of Puerto Rico. Here is Mr. Martin's version of the discussion about Sr. Bosch's possible return to Santo Domingo:
I asked if he himself did not intend to return.
“No,” putting up one hand, “I cannot. I am—how do you say it?—burned.”
Would you return to advise and assist in rebuilding the country?
No. I cannot. If I return, I am the President.
This seems reasonably clear: Mr. Martin gave Sr. Bosch an opportunity to say that he wanted to return home and the latter categorically refused.
According to Sr. Bosch, however, the subject came up twice. The first time, on the night of May 2, Bosch wrote in the New Leader (June 21), he had asked Martin for a plane to take him to Santo Domingo.
“No, impossible. They'll kill you,” he answered.
“But if so many Dominicans are dying, it matters little whether I die,” I said.
Mr. President, you don't understand the situation. Your men, Wessin y Wessin's men, even the Marines have fired at me. The place is in chaos. If you go they will kill you, and you are the leader; you must not die.
Bosch says that the subject came up again the following day. After he had suggested that the constitutional issue might be solved by getting Sr. Molina Ureña out of the Colombian embassy and reinstalling him as provisional president, Mr. Martin telephoned Washington. When he returned, he again asked whether Bosch would return “to advise and assist.” This time, Bosch understood that the question of his return was bound up with his own proposal to restore Sr. Molina Ureña to the provisional Presidency. He therefore replied: “No, I cannot. If I return, I would be the President.”
In an interview with Homer Bigart in The New York Times of May 6, 1965, Chancellor Benítez recalled: “Twice, Bosch said he'd be willing to go if that would avoid a frontal clash, but Martin said that he would only get himself killed.”
According to Bosch and Benitez, who were the only other ones present, then, Martin's account was the kind of half-truth that results in a total falsehood. Also, Bosch emphasizes, he had already, forty-eight hours earlier, asked Abe Fortas to arrange for a plane to transport him to Santo Domingo without having received a reply. In his mind, the United States clearly did not wish him to go back, and an anti-Bosch compaign in the United States was attributing to him all sorts of unworthy reasons for not wishing to go back. A difficult political decision was transformed into a simple failure of nerve.36
After the second exchange about Bosch's possible return, the Dominican leader says that Mr. Martin received a telephone call from Washington. When he came back, according to Bosch, he attempted to get Bosch to issue a message to the Dominican people which would acknowledge that the revolution had fallen into Communist hands and accept this as justification for the landing of U.S. troops. Bosch says he was so astonished that he did not hear the other points Martin went on to dictate to him. Bosch heatedly told the U.S. emissary that he was “not an American functionary and Washington cannot dictate what I must do.” Bosch states that Chancellor Benítez intervened and succeeded in convincing the former ambassador that Bosch was right.
Nothing of this found its way into Mr. Martin's article. Eventually, no doubt, the three participants will give their versions of the full story. Whatever Mr. Martin may add in his forthcoming book, his article must be judged on its own merits, and its political effect viewed in its contemporaneous setting. For my part, I find it hard to decide whether it was worse as journalism or as diplomacy.
The odd thing is that one might very well criticize U.S. policy makers both for exaggerating the Dominican Communist influence and for minimizing it. A devout believer in the theory that every U.S. weakness and mistake must be attributed to a Communist conspiracy might well be suspicious on both counts.
In the Saturday Review of August 7, 1965, Juan Bosch estimated that there were 700 to 800 Communists and 3,000 to 3,500 Communist sympathizers in the Dominican Republic two years ago. Our devout believer might easily demand an investigation of the C.I.A. on the ground that any intelligence agency which could do no better than 10 per cent of the card-carrying Communists or only 2 per cent of Communists-cum-sympathizers is clearly a matter of the gravest national concern.
The best minds of the Johnson administration went through three stages in their efforts to make the idea of a Communist takeover of the pro-Bosch revolt convincing. At first, the numerical tendency was upward—from 3 to 8 to 53 to 58, back to 54, and finally to an altitude of 77. We have it from the President that, when only eight Communists were reported to him, apparently on April 28, “alerts were set up, and our men continued to ferret out and study the organization” for more names, addresses, experience, numbers, and backgrounds. Presumably the authorities would not have gone to all this trouble if they had not believed that numbers were important. But only about a month later, the holes punctured in the lists by the newsmen and the gradual realization that the numbers game was defeating its own end set the numerical machinery in reverse.
In the second stage, the numbers began to move downward. Instead of trying to prove how dangerous a large number of Communists could be, the best minds labored to demonstrate how dangerous a very few Communists could be.
On May 26, Secretary of State Rusk hit back at critics of the administration's policy as follows:
I am not impressed by the remark that there were several dozen known Communist leaders and that therefore this was not a very serious matter. There was a time when Hitler sat in a beer hall in Munich with seven people. And I just don't believe that one underestimates what can be done in chaos, in a situation of violence and chaos, by a few highly organized, highly trained people who know what they are about and know what they want to bring about.
Analogies soon became contagious. On the CBS program of April 31, Ambassador Bennett brought up Castro:
I don't think it's so important the actual number when one recalls that Fidel Castro first took to the hills with only twelve men. I think it's a question of training, of determined objectives and of being able to influence others who, for very legitimate motives, may be in the fight.
The Castro analogy was so appealing that Under Secretary Mann used it on Leonard Gross in Look of June 15: “Look at Cuba. There were only twelve people in the beginning, and yet they took it over.”37
When the administration's friends in the press began to work on this argument, the numbers proceeded to diminish almost to the vanishing point.
Raymond Moley in Newsweek of June 7 took the line that numbers did not count at all: “Another gripe is that there were only a ‘few’ Communists involved in the fighting. It was irrelevant whether there were 60 or 600 Communists involved.”
In The Reporter of July 15, Selden Rodman got down to as low as two. In Santo Domingo, he relates, he flung this crushing question at Héctor Aristy. “Did it take more than Raúl Castro and Che Guevara to guide the Cuban revolution into the Soviet fold?”
But if I were awarding a grand prize, it would undoubtedly go to Eric Sevareid. In his column of May 30, he promulgated what may henceforth be known as “Sevareid's Law,” which might be summed up as follows: the fewer Communists there are in a country, the more dangerous they are. Lest the reader think that I am being unfair to Mr. Sevareid, I hasten to quote his exact words:
I fail to understand the editorialist who points out with disdain that after all, there were only a few handsful of Communists present. In a very real sense their lack of numbers is their strength. It was because they were few that President Bosch had not bothered to deal severely with them. It was because they were few that they could do much of their work undetected. It was because they were few that they could act with rapidity when the explosion came. It was because they were few that foreign opinion makers could make the Americans seem ridiculous and give us a propaganda defeat.
And so Mr. Sevareid has discovered a new and most dangerous form of the Communist conspiracy—to keep the number of Communists as low as possible. Conversely, the more there are, the more likely they are to be dealt with severely, to be detected in their work, to act less rapidly, and to make it more difficult for foreign opinion-makers to make the Americans seem ridiculous. This line of reasoning clearly establishes Mr. Sevareid as the winner over Mr. Rodman by at least one point, downward.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the crisis, then, is not merely what the policy was, but how it was defended intellectually. When a Secretary of State thinks that he is justifying something as serious as U.S. military intervention in Latin America by reference to Hitler's “seven” and both the under secretary and the ambassador try to make the same point by evoking Castro's “twelve,” it is necessary to ask: Is this the proper way to educate the American people to the real danger of Communism?
I suppose that Secretary Rusk was alluding to the fact that Adolf Hitler became member No. 7 of a committee of the German Workers' party in September 1919, usually considered the birth of the National Socialist movement.38 It was an obscure little group at the time, that is true, but it was only one manifestation of a postwar German disease that was neither obscure nor little. Except for the somewhat ludicrous “beer hall Putsch” of 1923, Hitlerism did not become a serious menace until the world economic crisis of 1929, the increasing support given to Hitler's party by leading industrialists, and the sensational upsurge of the Nazi party in the election of September 1930.
As for Castro, the legend of his “twelve” is equally dubious historically. There were 82 with Castro aboard the yacht, Granma, when it completed its voyage to Cuba from Mexico in December 1956. After the disastrous landing, only a handful came together again in the Sierra Maestra. Castroite propaganda used to cite the number twelve, possibly to evoke the memory of twelve earlier disciples, but Castro himself a few months ago reduced it to seven. In any event, almost half of the original contingent gradually reassembled in the Sierra Maestra and were joined by others. The anti-Batista struggle had already been going on for over four years, and many different groups had taken part in it. To think of the seven or the twelve as having represented “the beginning” merely perpetuates the myth of Castro's monopoly of the struggle.
I do not think that this is sheer pedantry. Hitler's and Castro's rise to power should be well enough known to leading officials of the State Department to make them wary of such vulgarized and misleading popularizations.
But of course, the deeper issue is what the numbers mean, not how large they are. If Mr. Rusk, Mr. Mann, and Mr. Bennett had sought to get across the idea that great and dangerous movements may begin with a few people and that they bear careful watching from the outset, there could be no objection. Yet many movements start with a handful and never change the course of history. Why do some succeed and others fail? The answer obviously does not lie in the prepotency of the few but in the social conditions which enable the few to become the many. If Hitler's “seven” or Castro's “twelve,” to use the examples that have been given to us, remained seven and twelve, there would have been nothing more to worry about. But Hitler gained almost six-and-a-half million votes in 1930, and Castro capitalized on what became a truly national revulsion against the Batista regime.
Unfortunately, the purpose of these analogies with Hitler in 1919 and Castro in 1956 was not to warn against the future potentialities of such charismatic, demagogic figures. In the present context, the analogies were rather intended to convey the idea that Hitler with seven men and Castro with twelve men were able to take over Germany and Cuba, even as a few Communists were allegedly able to take over the Dominican Republic. Something on the order of the U.S. landings in the Dominican Republic, it was suggested, should have taken place against Hitler's “seven” and Castro's “twelve.” If we must trust Selden Rodman, moreover, not even Fidel was necessary; Raúl and Che had done it all by themselves.
At this late date, it really should not be necessary to restate the A.B.C. of Castro's victory: Batista was overthrown because the people turned against him and his own henchmen deserted him, not because he was “defeated” by Castro's 12 men or 1200 men.
The reductio ad absurdum of these intellectual monstrosities is that the administration's defenders were forced to flaunt the specter of Communist supermen. If a few Communists could take over a revolt that had failed and in a few hours vanquish the entire Dominican military establishment, they were obviously a superior breed. In fact, in all Communist history, there had never been so few who had done so much so quickly against so many. At his press conference on May 26, Secretary Rusk emphasized that it was not the numbers of the Dominican Communists that had counted but their organization and training. On the CBS program of May 31, Under Secretary Mann reiterated that the actual number of Communists was not important—“it's a question of training, of determined objectives, and of being able to influence.” Senator Lausche put it this way on September 17: “By skilled manipulation, propaganda, by assertion of leadership in proper points, in street fighting, by aggressive activity, these Communists take hold. That is what they did in the Dominican Republic. A few skilled people can do this in the proper circumstances.”
For a while, as I read these words, I wondered where I had seen them in somewhat different form before. Suddenly I realized that some of our foremost U.S. spokesmen had on this point become the faithful disciples of Ernesto Che Guevara. For more than any other Communist ideologist, Guevera has popularized the idea that a few revolutionists can take power, though even he has never gone so far as his epigoni in the State Department and U.S. Senate. Guevara has taught that a few revolutionists could begin the armed struggle for power, not that they could in a few hours or days successfully end it. The fact is that U.S. officials had and may still have a very vague notion of what happened in Santo Domingo on April 27 and 28 to cause the collapse of the Dominican armed forces, and they seized on this vulgarized form of “Guevara-ism” to give some credibility to the story that a few Communists had been responsible for both the collapse and the subsequent takeover of the revolt. The same U.S. sources, however, did not even make an effort to explain how victory-flushed Communist leaders could have decided to “withdraw from the scene” a week later without making a single effort to embroil the marines in a real battle.39
On at least two occasions, moreover, Under Secretary Mann has suggested that the combined forces of the Soviet Union and Communist China were behind the Dominican Communists. In his interview with Max Frankel, Mr. Mann pointed out that “members of the Communist apparatus” are really an “instrument of Sino-Soviet military power.” And on the CBS program, he again argued that U.S. passivity would have resulted in “a takeover of another island by the Sino-Soviet military bloc.”
Can it be that no one has told the Under Secretary about the little discourtesies that have made the “Sino-Soviet military bloc,” if it ever existed, a thing of the past?
Finally, there came the third and last stage in the rationalization of U.S. policy. Instead of inflating the numbers of Dominican Communist supermen or insisting how strong a few could be, the new line sought to emphasize the weakness of the opposition. This stage was neatly put in one sentence by Professor John N. Plank, a former State Department official, in Foreign Affairs (October 1965):
It should be noted, however, that President Johnson's intervention course was decided upon, not because of a judgment that the Communists in the Dominican Republic were strong, but rather because of a conclusion that non-Communist elements were too weak, too lacking in political sophistication, and too little skilled in the arts of governance, to withstand Communist infiltration and subsequent control.
On the face of it, this is a far more sensible and moderate position. It seems to avoid making the Dominican Communists too big or too small and introduces a seemingly more thoughtful element of relativity into the discussion. Nevertheless, it is, I think, only a variation on the original theme and it also brings out in bolder relief some of the most disagreeable aspects of U.S. policy.
I do not wish to go over already familiar ground—how weak the non-Communist elements really were, how much of their weakness was caused by U.S. policy, how much and for how long the Communists actually exercised “control.” But have we earned the pretension of a superior “political sophistication”? It is assumed with disarming candor that President Johnson's intervention was justified because he and his advisers on Latin American affairs are endowed with a “political sophistication” denied to Juan Bosch and his supporters. I doubt whether anyone would care to dispute Mr. Johnson's “sophistication” in U.S. domestic politics, but I also doubt whether this sophistication has carried over to his conduct of foreign affairs in general and Latin American affairs in particular. Indeed, the U.S. handling of this Dominican crisis has been marked by such bungling and blundering that only the strongest power in the world could afford them. Political sophistication, like the strength of the Dominican Communists, is relative, but I question whether one student in a hundred of Latin American affairs believes that the United States has the political sophistication to carry off such tricky enterprises. I know that Professor Plank referred only to the Dominicans' lack of political sophistication; but he implied that we must be able to give them what they lack.
In the “arts of governance,” for example, have we given them what they lack?
On the “Meet the Press” program of May 30, Secretary of State Rusk was asked about the re-establishment of the last Dominican constitution. The Secretary answered in part: “As you know, there is a very high controversy at the moment as between the constitution of 1963 and the constitution of 1962. In those circumstances, why not ask the Dominicans?”
From this, one might have gathered that there was a 1962 Dominican constitution comparable to the 1963 constitution and that both somehow enjoyed the same status. Any Dominican could have given the Secretary a lesson in Dominican constitutional history.
It was in December 1960 that Trujillo promulgated his last constitution. It remained in force for the next two years, except for modifications by decree. These changes were mainly designed, after Trujillo's death the following year, to remove articles dealing with the former dictator's special privileges and to enable the 1962 “Council of State” to rule and hold elections. The Council at first promised to convene a Constituent Assembly in August 1962 and to call general elections in December 1962. But it later changed its mind and decided to hold the elections first. As a result, the pro-Bosch landslide enabled an overwhelmingly pro-Bosch Congress to draw up the new constitution, something which the Council had not planned on.
Thus, in Dominican terms, the “constitution of 1962” was basically a relic of the Trujillo era. The “constitution of 1963” was the first democratically enacted document in almost forty years. This is what the “very high controversy” was essentially about.
But Max Frankel of the New York Times would not let the matter rest. He asked, “Why don't we now simply go back, since we are shooting for elections, to the only government that has been elected in that country within the past three years, actually?”
Mr. Rusk then gave the Dominicans more free tutelage in the “arts of governance”: “That government lasted seven months, Mr. Frankel. What is important about a constitution in the government is that it have the consent of the people at the time, of the day.”
According to this principle, whenever a democratically elected government and a democratically enacted constitution are overthrown by force, the slate is wiped clean and the golpistas have the right to demand “consent” to a new constitution. Every coup, in effect, automatically voids the “consent” given to the previous constitution, however democratically enacted.
Nothing, to my mind, reveals the abyss that separates the U.S. official mind from the national aspirations of the Dominican people as much as this insensitivity to the meaning of the 1963 constitution.
For most of its history, the Dominican Republic has been a nation in name only. No sooner was it liberated from Spain in 1844 than it became the plaything of one caudillo after another, one junta after another. Insurrection after insurrection, assassination after assassination, frustrated hope after frustrated hope—these were its lot. I know of no nation in Latin America, with the possible exception of its neighbor, Haiti, which has had such a disastrous past. From 1930, for thirty-one endless, remorseless, monstrous years, it was one man's chattel—a private fief, not a nation. In all this time, sophisticated American politicians paid homage to and demeaned themselves before the aging tyrant. His paid Washington lobbyist, Joseph E. Davies, was appointed U.S. ambassador to another tyrant in Moscow.
Trujillo's assassination in 1961 was, then, a unique moment in the decades-long agony of this people. For whatever reason, the door had opened on a new and better future. Were they to go through it to escape from the accursed cycle of coups, insurrections, juntas, despots, and “benefactors”? Or were they to fall back into the old pattern of self-appointed saviors who invariably became their exploiters and executioners?
This explains why the finest minds of Latin America have been filled with such a deep yearning for a constitutional solution to the still tormenting problem of political power and succession. Constitutional democracy is not merely the only way out of periodic bloodletting and dictatorship in all its forms; it is also the end of chatteldom, a reawakening of national consciousness, a rediscovery by a people of itself, and in the case of the Dominican Republic, the very beginning of a process of political self-realization that should have started over a hundred years ago.
For such a country and such a people, the free democratic elections of December 1962 and the democratically enacted constitution of April 1963 were promises, above all, of a new national destiny. It did not matter so much that the constitution was not perfect (which is?) or that the President had his share of human defects (which one has not?). The constitution provided for its own amendment, and the President could be changed every four years. That is why the reaffirmation of the 1963 constitution was the banner and symbol of this revolt, why it was not a step backward but a step forward.
And now to tell the Dominican people that a tyrant's constitution enjoys the same status as a democratically-enacted constitution, that the first democratic constitution they have had in almost forty years is simply voided by a coup, that there must be an infernal rhythm of coup and “consent,” coup and “consent,” that the provisions of a constitution are not binding if they are “highly controversial”—is this the way to teach the “arts of governance” to the poor natives too little skilled in them?
I have, in these pages, tried to find out how we got into the Dominican morass. It is too early to tell how we are going to get out of it. But one thing is already clear: we have successfully disappointed everyone.
The United States thought well enough of Donald Reid Cabral to invest a great deal of treasure and prestige in him. When he asked for U.S. intervention on the morning of April 25, he was permitted to fade away without a word of condolence. Nor did the new Provisional President, José Rafael Molina Ureña, get any U.S. sympathy on April 25 and 26; he was snubbed as a usurper or brushed off as a Communist front. Instead, our first hero was General Wessin y Wessin. Time magazine, which huckstered every twist and turn of the U.S. line most shamelessly, gave him its de luxe build-up (May 7). No secret was made of the fact that General Wessin was the strong man behind the three-man junta headed by Colonel Benoit, which the C.I.A. accredited on April 28.
But in Washington, a different solution of the Dominican crisis was soon in the making. On April 29, three Latin American advisers, former Costa Rican President José Figueres, former Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt, and former Puerto Rican Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, were brought to the White House. They were encouraged to act as an “informal committee” to consult with the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), the U.S. government, and Juan Bosch. Sr. Figueres seems to have been particularly close to the Dominican situation because he relates that he had received a letter from Bosch in February 1965, three months before the outbreak, in which the latter had forewarned: “The Dominican situation is frightening. While the United States is economically at its best, my poor country, which is in its orbit, is going through a crisis that is nearing the stage of a revolution with jet-like speed. We are at the brink of the explosion.”
Now Sr. Figueres got in touch with Bosch in Puerto Rico and in conversations lasting two days they began to work out a new understanding. After two more weeks of these telephone negotiations, they arrived, in Figueres's words, at the following formula: “constitutional government, without Communism and without Trujilloism.” The White House, Figueres says, “agreed with the objectives.”40
After April 29, therefore, a struggle went on in Washington for the conscience and comprehension of President Johnson and those closest to him. If they had not been deeply disturbed by the events and their own part in them, they would not have gone to the trouble of bringing three of the most respected and most progressive Latin American elder statesmen to advise them. In effect, one arm of U.S. policy was working against Bosch and one arm was working with him. On the night of May 2, as we have already seen, special Presidential emissary John Bartlow Martin told Juan Bosch that “his party had fallen under the domination of adventurers and Castro-Communists,” and Martin went off the following day to concoct a new junta with Antonio Imbert at the head of it. It was inducted on May 7, and the benediction was given by Time (May 14)—”a Dominican national hero, Antonio Imbert Barreras.”
But from various quarters—the news corresdents in the Dominican Republic, the three Latin American consultants, and probably its own intelligence sources—Washington began to hear that perhaps Tony Imbert was not quite the right man for the job. He was not such a national hero, despite his part in the assassination of Trujillo, after all; politically he was trusted by no one; socially his base was just as narrow as Wessin's or Benoit's. Thus the Figueres-Bosch telephone negotiations were not discouraged, and within days after Imbert had been set up in business, the last thing that one would have expected to happen, considering the foregoing, happened—a decision was made in Washington to dump Imbert and to go back to an understanding with Bosch.
The President's homme de confiance, Abe Fortas, according to Tad Szulc, arrived incognito in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 13. He met with Chancellor Jaime Benítez, after which they went to see Juan Bosch. Former Governor Muñoz Marín, who had returned home, was also active in these secret discussions. The basic formula had already been worked out in the Figueres-Bosch telephone negotations: a “constitutional government, without Communism and without Trujilloism.” Bosch himself was eliminated from consideration as the head of such a government, but the problem arose whether it should not, in some sense, derive from Bosch's 1963 government. According to Szulc, Bosch proposed as head of the new government his former Minister of Agriculture and a successful Dominican businessman, Silvestre Antonio Guzmán. Mr. Fortas, soon to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice by President Johnson, allegedly made no commitments and flew back to Washington to report to the President.
Within about twenty-four hours, the President acted on Mr. Fortas's report. He appointed a team of four—a team that could hardly have been more impressive—to go to San Juan and Santo Domingo. They were Special Assistant on National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy (who had to cancel his announced appearance at a Vietnam “teach-in”), Under Secretary of State Thomas Mann, Assistant Secretary of State Jack Hood Vaughn, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus R. Vance. Mann and Vaughn apparently did no more than stop in Puerto Rico en route to the Dominican Republic. Vance remained at the air force base in Puerto Rico. The negotiations with Sr. Bosch were conducted entirely by Mr. Bundy. I have been assured by a person who was present at all the discussions between them that Sr. Guzmán had been agreed upon in advance. Colonel Fernández Domínguez, who was Bosch's chief military adviser in Puerto Rico and who was slated to become the Minister of Public Works and Police in the proposed Guzmán cabinet, had previously been sent to Santo Domingo to confer with Colonel Caamaño and, with his agreement, to arrange for Sr. Guzmán's presence in Puerto Rico. Sr. Guzmán had been flown to San Juan in a U.S. military plane earlier in the day, and he as well as Bosch and Benítez were present at the discussions with Bundy. (Colonel Fernández returned to Santo Domingo on May 19 and was shot to death by U.S. soldiers in a tragic, still controversial incident.)
Sr. Guzmán, I have been informed, was a “compromise” as far as Washington and Bosch were concerned. Bosch and Bundy, it appears, quickly learned to respect each other's qualities and good faith. Guzmán was also flown to Washington for consultations. Bundy and Vance left for Santo Domingo on May 16, expressing confidence in the Guzmán plan's success. If ever the United States seemed committed to a course of action, this was it.
The Guzmán plan was presented to the top Dominican air force, navy, and army commanders on May 18. As might have been expected, they were not happy with it and saw no reason to replace Imbert's set-up. Under Secretary Mann flew back to Washington that day. Bundy, Vaughn, and Vance carried on in Santo Domingo. By May 19, the Dominican military were virtually accusing the Bundy mission of a sellout to the Communists. Hal Hendrix quoted them as saying that the United States wanted “to turn this country over to Communism” and was putting pressure on them to accept “persons of Communist affiliation or sympathizers.”41 At the same time, Imbert saw fit to push a military offensive against Caamaño's forces in the northern sector of the capital. In telephone calls to Washington, Szulc states, Bundy referred to Imbert first as “Napoleon” and then as “Frankenstein.” This incredible imbroglio was slightly mad, inasmuch as the Imbert junta's employees and military forces were utterly dependent on U.S. funds, the bill for May and June alone coming to about $21,000,000.
This struggle over the Bundy mission in Santo Domingo was both a factor in, and a reflection of, a similar struggle that was going on in Washington. On Sunday, May 23, Mr. Bundy received a message from Washington which torpedoed his entire mission, 42 This message was the result of influences brought to bear on President Johnson, who was finally swayed by another of Secretary of State Rusk's incongruous historical analogies. Mr. Rusk apparently succeeded in talking Mr. Johnson out of the Guzmán plan by dredging up the unfortunate consequences of Sumner Welles's efforts to make and unmake governments in Cuba back in 1933. A lengthy memorandum, according to Tad Szulc, was drawn up in the State Department on these Cuban events of thirty-two years ago; it must be the first repudiation of Sumner Welles's activities in an official document. After the C.I.A.'s role in giving birth to the Benoit junta and John Bartlow Martin's vaunted midwifery of the Imbert junta, the persuasiveness of this argument against Antonio Guzmán is surely of psychological as well as of historical interest. In any event, the only one on the U.S. side who seems to have come out of this particular affair with dignity and honor is McGeorge Bundy.
At the time, the exact sequence of these events was confused by what was probably the most outrageous journalistic scandal of them all. On May 24, the Washington Daily News and New York World-Telegram and Sun appeared with an article by the former's editor, John O'Rourke, accusing Antonio Guzmán of financial malfeasance as director of a government bank and, therefore, obviously unfit to be the head of a new Dominican government. When reporters asked the State Department for comment on the story, the spokesman cryptically replied that “it is up to Mr. Guzmán to explain his role in the bank.” The least that can be said of this answer is that it did not suggest any undue confidence on the part of the State Department in the probity of the man whom it had approached to become the next Dominican President. Since Guzmán's candidacy was obviously cooling off in Washington at this very time, the charge of financial “irregularities” seemed to be linked with it. Within forty-eight hours, the bank's auditors and everyone concerned with the alleged misconduct had denied that there was any truth in it. The story had been planted by a paid agent of the Dominican Embassy in Washington during Reid Cabral's regime. It had been knocking around the State Department for some time, as had the audit of the bank's books. At his press conference on May 26, Secretary of State Rusk came forth with one of his masterly understatements: “We have no information ourselves indicating irregularities on Mr. Guzmán's part.” It is hard to believe that the editor of a Washington newspaper would not have consulted someone in the State Department's top echelon before signing his name to a story which, if without foundation, was bound to blow up in his face. The story behind the story will indeed be worth waiting for.
At the same news conference, Mr. Rusk also led the press to believe that the State Department had been talking with Sr. Guzmán “about the possibilities of a coalition government.” Such a coalition, the Secretary explained, had to be based “upon a broad agreement among different political elements.” Thereafter, the newspapers attributed the failure of the Guzmán plan to the fact that the Imbert group had refused to accept it.
The trouble with this explanation was that it assumed the Washington policy-makers to be just as naive and gullible as newspaper readers. If Tony Imbert and his crowd were supposed to have had a veto power on the Guzmán plan, the Bundy mission was doomed from the outset, and the only problem is how anyone in the White House or the State Department could have thought otherwise. In fact, the Guzmán government was never intended to include the neo-trujillista elements tied up with Imbert, and the “broadly-based coalition” was not the policy Guzmán was supposed to represent but a totally new policy predicated on the failure of the Guzmán plan.
The “broadly-based coalition,” which the State Department began to promote toward the end of May, was another in an already long list of political and diplomatic abortions. In effect, it envisaged the bringing together of both the Caamaño and the Imbert forces, or of the “moderate” elements in both camps, together with others not directly implicated in the struggle, into a working harmony of interests. The idea was launched at the worst possible time, in the wake of what the Boschists considered to be an odious betrayal of the Guzmán plan and in the midst of the Imbert forces' successful offensive against Caamaño's northern sector. While Secretary Rusk was talking about the “broadly-based coalition,” Colonel Caamaño's territory was cut in half with either the connivance or toleration of U.S. troops, and the clean-up in the northern sector of the city made Imbert more determined than ever to finish off the now besieged Caamaño garrison with another violent blow.
Politically, however, the “coalition” concept was most revealing. It might have made sense in the United States, with a solemn, centuries-tested constitution providing both first principles and rules for organic change. In such a system, deals and combinations by nominal political rivals may serve a useful purpose or at least may avoid any fatal disaster in times of stress, however they may ruffle political purists. But in the Dominican Republic, the constitutional first principles and rules for organic change were lacking. These were precisely what the revolt was about. In such circumstances, the “broadly-based coalition” was a purely mechanical device, bereft of moral principle and the rule of law. It demonstrated once again how much greater the political distance between the United States and the Dominican Republic is than the geographical distance.
The struggle between contending forces and views in Washington and the mixed ideas and feelings of individual officials, prevented anything like a clear-cut decision. If there had been a consistent, unanimous pro-Bosch line in Washington, the Benoit and Imbert juntas would never have been set up; and if there had been a consistent, unanimous anti-Bosch line, the Guzmán formula would never have been entertained. Imbert's offensive against the northern sector of Caamaño's front was, to say the least, tolerated, but his planned follow-up against the southern sector was not. The “coalition” plan at first implied some kind of accommodation between Imbert and Caamaño and then turned into a search for someone outside either camp who could presumably draw some strength from both.
Thus, by June, a new Dominican politician was given the Washington buildup. He was Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, whose political career tells all one needs to know about him. A well-known jurist, educator and historian, Balaguer had served the Trujillo dictatorship for almost thirty years as its most respectable intellectual front and had in return been rewarded with just about every honor it was in the power of the regime to bestow. He became Trujillo's vice-president in 1957, and was promoted to the Presidency in August 1960 to take some of the sting out of the O.A.S.'s investigation of the Trujillo regime. When Trujillo was assassinated in May 1961, Balaguer continued as President, but he realized much sooner than the other trujillistas that an epoch had come to an end. In the next year, Balaguer tried to ride out the post-Trujillo storm by making concessions to leftist demands and preparing the way for constitutional reform. Juan Bosch relates that Balaguer offered to turn over the presidency to him in December 1961.43 This was not Bosch's idea of a democratic solution, and Balaguer instead formed a “Council of State,” with himself as President and Antonio Imbert as one of its seven members. But penances and payoffs could not save Balaguer; the then dominant opposition, organized as the Unión Cívica Nacional, and backed by the United States, saw power in its grasp if it could destroy him politically. The UCN therefore waged a demagogically bitter campaign against him as the very incarnation of trujillismo and as Trujillo's political heir. Balaguer's military chieftain, General Pedro Rodriguez Echavarria, tried to save him by staging a military coup in January 1962, but the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires, John Calvin Hill, helped to break it up in 48 hours by threatening economic and possibly military sanctions. The “Council of State” was reorganized with the former Trujillo cabinet member and now UCN leader, Rafael F. Bonnelly, as the new President, and Donald Reid Cabral as Balaguer's replacement. Balaguer was literally driven into exile in March 1962 as an unreconstructed trujillista, and he was not able to return until July of this year. The man who could not live down his past in 1962 had become the United States' man of the future in 1965.44
After all this, after the support of Wessin, the instigation of Benoit, the backing of Imbert, the doublecross of Guzmán, and the promotion of Balaguer, it should have been easy to predict whom the United States would in the end settle for—a reactionary puppet of a reactionary power, of course.
Ah, but those who think that U.S. policy is as easy as all that do not know their United States. Lyndon Johnson may not be able to admit a mistake but it is not impossible that he is quite capable of correcting one.
In any event, the man who is today Provisional President of the Dominican Republic is Héctor García Godoy, the former Foreign Minister of the government of Juan Bosch, no puppet and no reactionary. He was able to take office for nine months on September 3 only because the United States decided to withdraw its financial support from Imbert's junta and effectively make known its will to the Dominican military. No doubt the full story of García Godoy's provisional regime will be as full of contradictions and inconsistencies as all the rest, but at least a man of good will and democratic purposes was chosen for the job.
Who would have predicted that Wessin y Wessin would tell a story of having been visited at midnight a week later—“an improper hour to call on a humble Dominican home”—by two U.S. officials, David Phillips of the C.I.A. and the army attaché Lt. Col. Joseph W. Weyrick, who allegedly offered him $50,000 for his modest home and a military attaché post in Paris or Madrid to get him out of the country? That President García Godoy would also offer to make him—the former master of his country's fate—a mere Dominican consul in Miami? That General Hugo Panasco Alvim of Brazil, commander-in-chief of the so-called Inter-American Peace Force, and Lt. Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr., U.S. commander, would tell him that “he had to go”? That they would then escort him to a waiting U.S. plane without, he says, permitting him to go home for his clothes and passport? That General Wessin would later write a letter indignantly rejecting the Miami post, and crying out: “Never would I have imagined that an army officer of my rank would have been taken to the airport in full uniform and tossed out of the country with a bayonet at his back.”45
Who would have imagined that Under Secretary Mann would bring himself to say: “It has been suggested that non-intervention is thought by some to be an obsolete doctrine”? Now who in the world could have thought that? Could it possibly have been Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Thomas Mann who, in two interviews, had criticized both the O.A.S. and the U.N. charters for having been drawn up in “19th-century terms”?46 Could it have been that elder statesman Averell Harriman who was sent to Latin America to explain U.S. policy in the Dominican Republic and who told an audience in Montevideo that the principle of non-intervention was becoming “obsolete”?47 Might President Johnson have had that thought in mind when he observed on May 28: “The first reality is that old concepts and old labels are largely obsolete”? Or could it perchance have occurred to Representative Armistead I. Selden, Jr., the administration's most ardent defender in the House, whose resolution justifying the unilateral use of force by any nation which considers itself threatened by “international Communism, directly or indirectly” in another nation was passed on September 20 by the overwhelming majority of 312-52? The State Department did not object to the Selden Resolution before it was passed, but on October 12, in San Diego, Under Secretary Mann tried to reassure the Latin American states that had protested against it. He knew of no Washington official who thought that the doctrine of non-intervention was obsolete, he said. In fact, he himself believed that it was the “keystone” of the inter-American system. That is why, he went on, the United States had refrained, in the first days of the revolt, from supporting either side in the Dominican Republic. If I were of a more skeptical mind, and Mr. Mann's reputation for gravity were not so well established, I would almost be tempted to suspect that this allusion to the way we refrained from taking sides was some sort of private joke for those who have read all the messages among the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, the State Department, and the White House from, say, April 24 to May 1, 1965.48
We have now come close to the present phase of the still unfinished Dominican crisis. I do not wish to pursue it any further because we know far more about the earlier phases than about the later ones. But enough has been disclosed, I think, to see the past six months or so of U.S. policy in the Dominican Republic as a kind of political phantasmagoria that would make anyone dizzy, actors as well as onlookers.
Non-Americans are always likely to interpret this kind of extravaganza as a manifestation of diabolical malevolence; Americans are more likely to regard it as an exhibition of monumental incompetence. Every move was cancelled out by another move; every rationale was inferentially disavowed by a later one. The Guzmán formula was not acceptable in May, but the essentially similar García Godoy formula was put through in September. General Wessin y Wessin was a hero in April and a villain in September, though his Dominican version of the John Birch Society mentality had not changed at all and he was just as apt to accuse Donald Reid Cabral and U.S. officials of serving the Communist cause as Juan Bosch and Héctor García Godoy. It may be argued that this overabundance of disappointed suitors proves that the United States never played anyone's game and strictly maintained the neutrality which it pretended to observe; I rather think it merely proves that at different times the United States played everyone's game and was always unneutral to someone. A succession of inconsistencies does not add up to consistency any more than a collection of falsehoods is equivalent to the truth. U.S. policy has been so contradictory and erratic that no one trusts it, or even on occasion understands it, and an Imbert may follow a García Godoy just as a García Godoy followed an Imbert.
It has mattered little, indeed, who has represented the democratic alternative to the Imberts and the Wessins. The particular personality or political style of Juan Bosch was never the real issue. When Antonio Guzmán was proposed for the Presidency, he immediately received the same treatment Bosch had received, and now it is the turn of García Godoy—all very different personalities with different backgrounds and different styles. If one can imagine García Godoy followed by a Dominican counterpart of Lyndon Johnson, and the Johsonian achievement in domestic legislation translated into Dominican terms, there is no doubt the air would again ring with the same charges of “Communist influences.” After all, the August 1965 issue of the organ of the John Birch Society has mathematically determined that the Communists now influence or control 60 to 80 per cent of economic and political affairs in the United States and that the landing of the U.S. marines in Santo Domingo was directed by “what often seems to be Communist headquarters in Washington—officially called the State Department.” If this is lunacy, it is not, unfortunately, restricted to the United States.
In a deeper sense, then, the Dominican crisis is an expression of a crisis in the use and abuse of anti-Communism. Only some aspects of this larger problem can be touched on here.
It is no longer quite as clear as it used to be what Communism is. Nevertheless, in all its exist forms, it is still a system of political, intellectual, and social repression, based on a single dogma, sometimes arbitrary, sometimes ambiguous, and a single source of power, at best a party dictatorship, at worst a personal dictatorship. It has proven its ability to debauch the noblest ideals and to commit the most monstrous crimes. Yet, whatever form it still takes, Communism has its sacred books, its recognized national and international chiefs, and its tradition of faith and discipline.
Anti-Communism is not like that. It is merely a negation of Communism. The Communist world, however transitional it may be, is still a relatively restricted, prescribed order. The anti-Communist world is, by comparison, unlimited and non-uniform. It has no sacred dogmas or too many, no leaders or too many, no causes or too many. It takes in the best and worst of humanity. The anti-Communism of a Hitler or a Trujillo is just as evil and repulsive as the Communism of a Stalin or an Ulbricht. As a result, anti-Communism by itself tells us nothing about whether a cause is worth fighting for. The Stalins always tell us that we need to fight with them against the Hitlers, and the Hitlers always tell us that we need to fight with them against the Stalins. Thus arises the ordeal and the grandeur of humane anti-Communism—that it must usually fight on more than one front. What we must always ask is: What kind of anti-Communism do you stand for?
The problem of anti-Communism is bedevilled by an even more disturbing factor. There is no Chinese Wall between Communism and anti-Communism; almost every form of anti-Communism believes that other forms wittingly or unwittingly play into the Communists' hands. Hitlerism, to cite an extreme example, was not merely an evil in itself; it was the form of anti-Communism on which Stalinism fed the most: once the choice could be reduced to Hitler or Stalin, thousands who might have chosen neither felt that they had to choose Stalin. Conservatives think that liberal anti-Communism is really the anteroom to Communism; liberals think that conservatives seek to perpetuate the injustices and inequalities on which Communism thrives. There are those who thought that the late Senator Joseph McCarthy was the scourge of Communism; and those who were almost convinced that only a secret agent of Moscow could have sought to destroy trust in the U.S. Army's top leadership. The National Review thinks that the John Birch Society is causing grave damage to the anti-Communist cause; and the John Birch Society accuses everyone outside its orbit of selling out to the Communists.
Thus, many anti-Communists think that other anti-Communists are not serving the anti-Communist cause effectively enough: they may also believe that this ineffectiveness positively helps the Communist cause or is even an integral part of an all-embracing “Communist conspiracy.”
It is necessary to make these distinctions, in a consideration of the Dominican crisis, because many who were willing to admit that Juan Bosch was no Communist were also unwilling to see the pro-Bosch revolt succeed on the ground that Bosch's anti-Communism was too “soft.” An editorial in Life (May 14) expressed this idea in a relatively genteel fashion: “The moment the rebel leadership was infiltrated by Castroite Communists, the return of former President Juan Bosch to the office he lost in a military coup two years ago ceased to be an acceptable solution to the crisis. Under fidelista auspices, Bosch's brand of liberalism and ineffectual, if well-meant, anti-Communism, would have lasted about as long as an icicle on the Avenida Independencia.” Of course, this implied that the return of Bosch would have been an acceptable solution before the alleged infiltration of the Castroite Communists. And what “infiltration” meant, the editorial never made clear. But the general idea was clear enough and was repeated, in far more vulgar and offensive terms, in hundreds of other editorials.49
And so actual Communism and “softness on Communism” imperceptibly tend to melt into each other or, in practice, are virtually reduced to the same thing. The only question, then, is: who is to decide who else is “soft on Communism”? A recent book by the late deLesseps S. Morrison devotes pages to the proposition that the “democratic Left” in Latin America is vulnerable to “Communist infiltration,” becomes an “easy target” for the Communists, or “opens the door” to the Communists. Mr. Morrison gives Bosch's 1963 regime as the horrible example of this “democratic Left” infirmity. He cites former Costa Rican President José Figueres as the organizer of the tendency and includes in it, besides Bosch, such diverse figures as former Guatemalan President Juan José Arevalo, former Puerto Rican Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, former Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt, Peru's Victór Haya de la Torre, Costa Rican President Francisco J. Orlich, former Bolivian President Victór Paz Estenssoro, former Honduran President Ramón Villeda Morales, and the earlier Fidel Castro. Obviously, the problem extends far beyond Bosch personally, and any one of these figures, lumped together so indiscriminately, might have found himself in the same position and have been subjected to the same kind of treatment. Mr. Morrison was not, to be sure, one of the brightest stars in the U.S. diplomatic firmament—but he was U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States from 1961 to 1964. The views that he and his “editor,” Gerold Frank, put into his book were, and are, common currency in U.S. diplomatic and political circles.50 Another former and far more distinguished U.S. diplomat, Ellis Briggs, used the same technique to justify the ouster of Premier George Papandreou in the recent Greek crisis. Papandreou is no Communist, he wrote, but he is “incompetent, does not answer his doorbell,” and “has never learned not to play with Communists, “51 Mr. Briggs was U.S. Ambassador to Greece from 1959 to 1962. Indeed, there were startling similarities between the Greek crisis and the Dominican crisis.
I do not wish to oversimplify the problem. I believe that there is a sense in which it is right and natural that some anti-Communists may question the effectiveness of other anti-Communists and even conscientiously believe that some anti-Communism does more harm than good. Nor do I think that it is necessary to equate our Dominican policy with our Vietnam policy or pass judgment on the entire Johnson administration as if it had accomplished nothing else.
But I am convinced that the anti-Communism which has made a paranoid cliché or a political racket of the terms “infiltration” and “softness” has led us onto the path of disgrace and disaster. The concept of “infiltration” is obviously far from simple. Communists do not bother to “infiltrate” their own organizations or governments; it must mean that they seek to gain influence in, or take over, non-Communist or anti-Communist movements. It also makes a difference whether they come in anonymously or openly, in the rank and file or in the top leadership. How much “infiltration” is unavoidable, how much dangerous, how much intolerable? To what extent can a democratic organization inhibit or prohibit such tactics? Are the Communists the only political group that uses them? Questions such as these might well occupy some of the time and energy of political scientists.
But when the term “Communist-infiltrated” is flung about wantonly, irresponsibly, indiscriminately, it is nothing but a swindle, blackmail, or an incantation. I have seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of references to Juan Bosch's “Communist-infiltrated government,” and I have yet to see a single member of that government identified as a Communist. The line between “Communist,” “Communist-controlled,” “Communist-infiltrated,” and “Communist-influenced,” has been all but obliterated in what has become very common usage, and repetition has given these terms a social sanction which is not only undeserved but which may wreak social havoc if improperly employed. Anyone can play this game of “hardness” and “softness” on Communism until everyone is outbid by the John Birch Society and madness emerges the only winner.
If an anti-Communist policy is shortsighted or stupid, it matters little whether it is “hard” or “soft.” A great deal would be gained if the problem were attacked in different terms. Conservatives and liberals might well ponder the words of Professor Russell Kirk in a letter to Robert Welch, the founder and master of the John Birch Society:
“Cry wolf often enough and everyone takes you for an imbecile or a knave, when after all there are wolves in this world.”52
1 Tad Szulc, Dominican Diary (Delacorte Press, 306 pp., $6.00), and Dan Kurzman, Santo Domingo: Revolt of the Damned (Putnam's, 310 pp., $5.95). A third book, by Barnard Law Collier, to be published shortly, was not available to me at the time of writing.
2 In an interview on October 14, 1965, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower reminisced about the Guatemalan coup in a way that seemed to reflect adversely on former President Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs operation. Eisenhower took credit for ordering the replacement of some planes, provided by the C.I.A. and flown by U.S. pilots, which had been lost in action. Since Castillo Armas and his “army” of all of about 150 did not fight and merely waited at the Guatemalan-Honduran frontier for the planes to frighten Arbenz out of office, the replacement of the planes and more strafing of Guatemala City were crucial to the success of the plan. This depressingly hilarious story—an essential detail of which the former President has now helpfully corroborated—has been told in The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross. It would have been more to the point if (a) Castillo Armas's men had actually fought and been defeated in battle as was the Cuban Brigade at the Playa Girón, (b) Eisenhower had been called on to send in an overwhelmingly superior U.S. air and ground force, and (c) a victorious U.S. invasion had almost inevitably resulted in a long-term U.S. occupation of the country. The magnitude of President Eisenhower's decision was so derisory that it hardly bears comparison with President Kennedy's. Indeed, one now wonders why President Eisenhower did not carry out the invasion of Cuba, with U.S. troops if necessary, in 1960, instead of preferring to hand on the unpleasant task to his successor. The crucial importance of a handful of planes, operated by the C.I.A., in the Guatemalan coup, suggests how much “the will of the Guatemalan people” was in-involved in Arbenz's overthrow or restoration.
3 Mr. Mann and Secretary of State Rusk have evidently never synchronized their views on this point. On the “Meet the Press” program of May 30, 1965, Mr. Rusk was asked about the danger of Communists coming to power through the proposed “broadly based government” in the Dominican Republic. Mr. Rusk replied: “I don't know of any case in history where Communists have come to power through free elections.” Yet it was precisely Mr. Mann's point that a “Marxist-Leninist” had come to power in Guatemala through free elections.
4 Not that official U.S. personnel made contact with Bosch on May 1 or afterward. On May 1, Bosch spoke with Abe Fortas, an unofficial intermediary, and on May 2 and 3 he spoke with John Bartlow Martin, a “private citizen,” as Secretary Rusk later described him.
5 El Tiempo (New York), July 23, 1965. In an interview with Jules Dubois, General Wessin said that he “had reported the conspiracy to President Reid for 15 or 20 consecutive days but he did not pay any attention to me” (Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1965).
6 This sequence of events is based on a letter to me from Juan Bosch. Kurzman has a somewhat different but essentially similar version.
7 In his book, Szulc mentions the embassy briefing on the Caamaño-Communist deal but does not report the follow-up. On the “Open End” television program, however, Szulc told the whole story, including the ending: “Several days later we went back to Ambassador Bennett, I think quite a few of us did, and said, could we have a few more details because we cannot check it out. And we were told at the embassy rather sheepishly, well, it seems that we were misinformed about the alleged meeting between Colonel Caamaño and the five top Communists. This was never mentioned again.”
8 “The widespread looting that U.S. officials have described in the past simply did not occur there, and a broken display window in the rebel area is a striking exception ratrer than the routine” (Lee Winfrey, Miami Herald, May 11, 1965). I cite Mr. Winfrey because he can hardly be accused of having had a pro-Bosch bias.
9 This belated admission that the ambassador's information was made up of nothing better than unverified “rumors” and “reports,” and the criticism of the press for presenting them as “known facts,” were made through Selden Rodman in The Reporter July 15, 1965. Mr. Rodman communicated the embassy's complaint as if it were so self-evident or well-founded that nothing more needed to be said about it.
10 There is reason to believe that Mr. Bennett did not present his atrocity stories as merely unverified “rumors” or “reports received’ but that he related them as if he gave them full credence and based his attitude toward Colonel Caamaño on them. Lee Winfrey writes: “My own notes from U.S. Ambassador W. Tapley Bennett's April 30  press conference in Santo Domingo show him telling of 12 people executed by rebel firing squads in one incident eye-witnessed by one of our own employees,’ of a Dominican woman gang-raped by 12 rebels, of an anti-rebel man beheaded and his head carried around on a pole. Other than Bennett's assertions, no evidence of any of these incidents has ever been found” (Miami Herald, July 25, 1965) . The contemporaneous report by Barnard L. Collier quoted the ambassador directly: “Mr. Bennett said Col. Francisco Caamaño, the apparent military leader of the rebels, personally was going blood berserk. He is busy working off his grudges with a pistol,’ the ambassador said. The rebel colonel was responsible for at least 12 shootings yesterday as he lined up opposing troops against a wall in a downtown square and ordered them all machine-gunned. The dead included. . . Col. Juan Calderón . . . ‘This is collective madness,” the ambassador said. ‘I don't know where we go from here.’” (New York Herald Tribune, April 30, 1965). In a later article, Collier cited Bennett's words about Caamaño: “He has gone berserk, blood-crazy” (ibid., May 18, 1965) . Szulc and Kurzman tell essentially the same stories, though minor details vary.
11 This is, of course, the same telegram that the President said was received at 5:14 P.M. on May 2 and 5:16 P.M. on May 4. Since the Department of State Bulletin of May 17, May 24 and June 14, 1965, contains the official texts with the three slightly different times of arrival, I have thought it best to cite them in the same way.
12 In an interview with the U.S. journalist closest to him, Jules Dubois of the Chicago Tribune (April 30, 1965), General Wessin complained rancorously about the other Dominican commanders. He had “bitter words about” General Marco Rivera Cuesta, whom he accused of having been “lax about the conspiracy.” When asked by Dubois why he had not attacked on Sunday morning as ordered to do by Reid Cabral, Wessin replied: “The navy started in this with us and then decided to be neutral. The same happened with the air force. Then a group of officers of the air force were ready to surrender and accept the conditions of the rebels.” General Wessin asserted that “had he failed to convince the reluctant air force and army chiefs to attack the Communists at 6 A.M. Monday, the Reds would have been in power that night.” These complaints suggest that a great deal of pressure must have been necessary to get the air force, navy, and army chiefs to fight.
13 Congressional Record, Senate, September 15, 1965, pp. 23000-01.
14 Ibid., House of Representatives, September 23, 1965, p. 24075.
15 Department of State Bulletin, May 24, 1965, p. 821.
16 Ibid., July 5, 1965, p. 20.
17 The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 1965.
18 Senator Smathers said that it occurred during the President's consultation with congressional leaders after the decision to send in the marines had been made (Congressional Record, Senate, September 15, 1965, p. 23007) . Thus the decision had had nothing to do with these sound effects. Senator Stephen M. Young of Ohio later tried to explain away the under-the-desk story as a “theatrical touch” for which the President should not be blamed inasmuch as he was relying on the ambassador's statements (ibid., September 22, 1965, p. 23846) .
19 This note was first made public on May 7, 1965, in the report of the first O.A.S. investigating committee.
20 Congressional Record, Senate, September 15, 1965, p. 23001.
21 Ibid., September 17, 1965, p. 23366.
22 For Imbert's dealings with the Communists in 1962, see Virginia Prewett, the Washington Daily News, June 16, 1965, and Norman Gall, the Washington Post, June 17, 1965. Both articles are based on depositions by Imbert's go betweens, the originals of which I have seen. The stories seem entirely in character with the man.
23 On another occasion, Mr. Martin explicitly stated that he was personally responsible for giving Imbert the green light. Here is some of the dialogue on the CBS program, “Santo Domingo—Why Are We There?” of May 31, 1965:
Marvin Kalb: Mr. Martin, the question comes up, why General Imbert? Did we find him, or did he find us?
John Bartlow Martin: He found us, specifically me.
Kalb: What happened?
Martin: Well, he called me and asked me to come and see him. And he told me that he had been approached by a number of Dominicans. He told them that they could not support either the rebel government or the San Isidro junta, which represented the military elements that the rebellion had begun against. These people, the Dominicans, had asked Imbert to form a third force, a new government. And I told him, “Go ahead.”
24 General Martínez Araña on the CBS program, “Santo Domingo—Why Are We There?”, May 31, 1965.
25 have chosen here to ignore the deleterious effects on the revolt of the strictly military action by the U.S. force. It cut the rebel zone in two and later permitted the regrouped pro-Imbert troops to wipe out the northern rebel-held sector. Inasmuch as I am not trying to deal with every phase of the revolt, and the military actions raise a whole set of different problems, I have limited myself to behind-the-scenes political actions and decisions which go directly to the heart of U.S. policy.
26 According to Kurzman, the ambassador said that “the Communists had completely taken over the revolution.” Szulc reports him as merely saying that “he personally was concerned about the Communist inroads in the rebel movement.”
27 This is Szulc's version. Kurzman quotes Martin as having said that the revolution had “fallen under the domination of Castro Communists” and “they are now in control.” In his Life article, Mr. Martin alludes to the fact that “I had said publicly that in my judgment his [Bosch's] party had fallen under the domination of adventurers and Castro-Communists.”
28 Congressional Record, Senate, September 17, 1965, p. 23366. Senator Clark did not give the exact date for the three but said that they had been produced 72 hours before the 58.
29 An early edition carried 55 names but, owing to a duplication, the number was reduced to 54 in the later edition.
30 This list may be found in the Congressional Record, House, September 23, 1965, pp. 24079-81.
31 Congressional Record, Senate, September 21, 1965, p., 23667.
32 The best treatment of this mix-up is in Kurzman's book, pp. 197-98. The original charges against the three appeared in the New York Times story on May 6, 1965. Unfortunately, no one told Senator Frank J. Lausche of Ohio that he no longer had to worry about them. More than four months later, Mr. Lausche rose in the Senate and indignantly proclaimed that “the most ardent Communist of the whole group” had been put in charge of the “investigative forces” of a “temporary government” formed in April (Congressional Record, Senate, September 17, 1965, p. 23345). The Senator was referring to Luis Hómero Lajara Burgos, who had been appointed Director General of Security in the two day Molina Ureña provisional government but had not been reappointed by Colonel Caamaño Sr. Lajara Burgos had also been a Rear Admiral (ret.) and Chief of Staff of the Dominican Navy, Chief of the Dominican National Police, member of the General Staff of the Inter-American Defense Board, and Naval Attaché, Dominican Embassy, Washington, D.C. Norman Thomas included a contribution by Luis Hómero Lajara Burgos in the recent pamphlet, Dominican Republic: A Study in the New Imperialism. Kurzman writes of Lajara Burgos: “A naval officer, he was, I found, regarded even by conservative Dominicans as anti-Communist.”
33 Later, Szulc, Collier, and Kurzman became the favorite whipping boys of pro-administration congressmen. For some reason, Goodsell and Geyelin did not receive the same treatment, possibly because the very names of their papers might have caused some wonderment, though there is very little of importance in the first three that cannot be found in the last two.
34 Juan Bosch, Crisis de la Democracia de America en la Republica Dominicana (Mexico: Centro de Estudios y Documentación, 1964) p. 155. This book has just been issued in. an English translation by Praeger (The Unfinished Experiment, 239 pp., §5.95).
35 This is the only interpretation that I can draw from Mr. Martin's own account. He tells how he was pressing Colonel Caamaño to admit that there were Communists in the rebel leadership. Colonel Caamaño allegedly acknowledged that there were individual Communists around but not in the leadership. Then Mr. Martin comments: “I was far from sure. And I think he was, too.” This is the prelude to his reference to the three Latin American leaders: “I said, ‘I have something to tell you. Time is running out. We have been trying to get Betancourt, Figueres and Muñoz Marín to come here under the O.A.S., but they are not coming'.” This is what reputedly shocked Colonel Caamaño and made him instantly realize the significance of their decision.
36 The best explanation that I have seen for Bosch's decision at this time appeared in a letter to the San Juan Star of July 21, 1965, by Chancellor Benítez: “The issue is not one of courage as has been invidiously suggested elsewhere. In many ways Mr. Bosch is much more courageous than any one of us. His personal life fully supports this. It is rather a matter of intimate outlook, of emotional and intellectual reactions to dead-end situations which our tragic times force upon many of us. In Mr. Bosch's estimation he could only return during his unexpired term to the Dominican Republic as President or not at all. In 1963 he had chosen exile rather than precipitate a blood bath in Santo Domingo. He could not discard the possibility that his presence in themidst of conflict might intensify one now. Furthermore, Bosch resents bitterly American occupation, broods over his anticipation that it may last several years, and often says it is not within himself to deal personally and constructively with such an occupation. At the same time he cannot seal himself off from what is happening, for it is happening to his country, his people and himself.” It should be noted that Dr. Benítez did not by any means see eye to eye with Bosch on everything. Of all the attacks on Bosch, however, the dregs were reached by William F. Buckley, Jr. In his column of June 1, he wrote that Bosch's “enormous personal weaknesses” suggested “even the possibility of dysphasia, or senility.”
37 As usual, these historical references get mangled even more by the time they get to the Senate. Senator George Smathers improved on Mr. Mann as follows: “It has been admitted that there were only about 12 known Communist leaders in Cuba with Castro when he started his revolution” (Congressional Record Senate, September 15, 1965, p. 23006) . And to think that I have written two books that attempt to demonstrate (a) that Castro was a Castroite and not a Communist in 1956, (b) that the “twelve” were also Castroites and not “known Communists,” and (c) that the official Communists disapproved of Castro's tactics before 1958!
38 As No. 7, Hitler must have sat in the Munich beer hall with only six people. Alan Bullock says that Hitler attended his first party meeting in a Munich beer-cellar with twenty or twenty-five people present (Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 64) .
39 As put together later, an official U.S. day-by-day account of events in the Dominican Republic from April 24 to May 5 now alleges that two of the Communist groups discussed the advisability of withdrawing their top leaders from open activity on May 4 and that the leaders of all three groups decided to withdraw on May 5 (Congressional Record, Senate, September 16, 1965, pp. 23311-14) .
40 An English translation of Sr. Figueres's account may be found in the pamphlet, Dominican Republic: A Study in the New Imperialism,” pp. 43-56. It is a particularly thoughtful and penetrating analysis of the Dominican problem. On May 2, President Johnson said: “We are in contact with such distinguished Latin American statesmen as Rómulo Betancourt and José Figueres. We are seeking their wisdom and their counsel and their advice.”
41 It should be noted that Chancellor Jaime Benítez went along with the Bundy mission to Santo Domingo. On this point, he later wrote: “This tragedy is much different from the previous one in Cuba with which—because of thoughtlessness, or obsession, or faulty information—it was at first confused” (Saturday Review, July 17, 1965). It is hard to think of anyone who is less of an innocent in these matters.
42 This message apparently contained three demands which Washington knew in advance were unacceptable. Sr. Guzmán had agreed to base his government on anti-Communism and anti-Trujilloism, and to make both clear in his first address. But one of the points demanded that he should also agree to the expulsion from the country of a number of Communists in express violation of the 1968 constitution which forbade the Trujillo practice of exiling opponents for political reasons. Article 66 of the 1963 constitution stated: “No Dominican can be expelled from the country. The deportation or expulsion of any foreigner from Dominican territory can only take place as a result of a sentence handed down by a competent tribunal with the observance of legal formalities and procedures.” The Dominicans were dumbfounded, of course, to be confronted by U.S. “conditions,” which, if meant in good faith, should have been presented to them at a much earlier stage of the negotiations. In addition, the proposed Guzmán government was expected to do the United States' bidding even before it was formed, while the United States was still protesting publicly that it did not, could not, and would not interfere in Dominican affairs. The circumstances leading up to the May 23 message make clear that it was intended to torpedo the Bundy mission, and it was so interpreted by Dr. Benítez, who was with Mr. Bundy during this period.
43 Juan Bosch, Crisis de la Democracia de América en la Republica Dominicana, p. 52.
44 Before going home, Balaguer gave an interview to the pro-Batista Cuban organ in Miami, Patria, of June 25, 1965, in which he said that only future generations could pass judgment on Trujillo. “What can be said now,” Balaguer declared, “is that, whatever his errors, a portion of his work will not perish and will rather become greater in the course of years.” What would one say of a German politician who today spoke this way of Adolf Hitler? As for the Cuban exile organ in which Balaguer chose to express these sentiments, it is the only one that has managed to survive for the past six years. It is the only Cuban exile weekly regularly available to the Florida community. For Patria, President Eduardo Frei of Chile is as much of a Communist agent as Juan Bosch. Anti-Batista and anti-Castro Cuban exiles have never been able to obtain sufficient financial support to put out a remotely comparable publication, and even relatively modest efforts have been forced to suspend operations for lack of funds.
45 The full text of this extraordinary letter, translated by Jules Dubois, may be found in the Congressional Record, Appendix, September 20, 1965, p. 5314 (reprinted from the Chicago Tribune). Evidently General Wessin meant that he was accompanied by troops with guns and fixed bayonets. Generals Alvim and Palmer were taking no chances.
46 New York Times, May 9, 1965, and Look, June 15, 1965.
47 New York Times, May 7, 1965.
48 It is not possible for me here to go into the role of the O.A.S., and the effect on it of the Dominican crisis. But my favorite editorial comment on the O.A.S. appeared in Life of June 11: “We needed the O.A.S. to validate and internationalize our intervention. In so doing it has demonstrated its own new willingness and ability to face realities.” The whole thing must be extremely confusing to the poor Latins. On the one hand, we keep telling them that we did not “intervene” but merely “landed troops.” On the other hand, they are assured that we need them as yes-men to our intervention. If the O.A.S. faces any more such realities, the only reality about it will be its own unreality.
49 The readers of Time must have been surprised to find the following explanation of the Latin American Communists' “new” tactics in the issue of August 6: “They are best exemplified by the Dominican Republic, where the Communists resorted to the old ‘popular front’ strategy, muscling into a legitimate non-Communist rebel movement with hopes of duping its idealistic leader, Juan Bosch.” But Time's readers had previously been led to believe that the Communists had not merely “hoped” to muscle in but had actually taken over, and that U.S. intelligence had “flatly reported” Bosch's pre-revolt collusion with the Communists. Still, we must be grateful for small favors. By August, at any rate, Time had discovered that the rebel movement had been legitimately non-Communist and that Juan Bosch was an “idealistic leader.”
50 deLesseps S. Morrison (and Gerold Frank), Latin American Mission, Simon & Schuster, especially Ch. 18.
51 New York Times, August 6, 1965.
52 National Review, October 19, 1965.
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The Dominican Crisis
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t can be said that the Book of Samuel launched the American Revolution. Though antagonistic to traditional faith, Thomas Paine understood that it was not Montesquieu, or Locke, who was inscribed on the hearts of his fellow Americans. Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense is a biblical argument against British monarchy, drawing largely on the text of Samuel.
Today, of course, universal biblical literacy no longer exists in America, and sophisticated arguments from Scripture are all too rare. It is therefore all the more distressing when public intellectuals, academics, or religious leaders engage in clumsy acts of exegesis and political argumentation by comparing characters in the Book of Samuel to modern political leaders. The most common victim of this tendency has been the central character in the Book of Samuel: King David.
Most recently, this tendency was made manifest in the writings of Dennis Prager. In a recent defense of his own praise of President Trump, Prager wrote that “as a religious Jew, I learned from the Bible that God himself chose morally compromised individuals to accomplish some greater good. Think of King David, who had a man killed in order to cover up the adultery he committed with the man’s wife.” Prager similarly argued that those who refuse to vote for a politician whose positions are correct but whose personal life is immoral “must think God was pretty flawed in voting for King David.”
Prager’s invocation of King David was presaged on the left two decades ago. The records of the Clinton Presidential Library reveal that at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, an email from Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel made its way into the inbox of an administration policy adviser with a similar comparison: “From the perspective of Jewish history, we have to ask how Jews can condemn President Clinton’s behavior as immoral, when we exalt King David? King David had Batsheva’s husband, Uriah, murdered. While David was condemned and punished, he was never thrown off the throne of Israel. On the contrary, he is exalted in our Jewish memory as the unifier of Israel.”
One can make the case for supporting politicians who have significant moral flaws. Indeed, America’s political system is founded on an awareness of the profound tendency to sinfulness not only of its citizens but also of its statesmen. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison informs us in the Federalist. At the same time, anyone who compares King David to the flawed leaders of our own age reveals a profound misunderstanding of the essential nature of David’s greatness. David was not chosen by God despite his moral failings; rather, David’s failings are the lens that reveal his true greatness. It is in the wake of his sins that David emerges as the paradigmatic penitent, whose quest for atonement is utterly unlike that of any other character in the Bible, and perhaps in the history of the world.
While the precise nature of David’s sins is debated in the Talmud, there is no question that they are profound. Yet it is in comparing David to other faltering figures—in the Bible or today—that the comparison falls flat. This point is stressed by the very Jewish tradition in whose name Prager claimed to speak.
It is the rabbis who note that David’s predecessor, Saul, lost the kingship when he failed to fulfill God’s command to destroy the egregiously evil nation of Amalek, whereas David commits more severe sins and yet remains king. The answer, the rabbis suggest, lies not in the sin itself but in the response. Saul, when confronted by the prophet Samuel, offers obfuscations and defensiveness. David, meanwhile, is similarly confronted by the prophet Nathan: “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” David’s immediate response is clear and complete contrition: “I have sinned against the Lord.” David’s penitence, Jewish tradition suggests, sets him apart from Saul. Soon after, David gave voice to what was in his heart at the moment, and gave the world one of the most stirring of the Psalms:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
. . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
The tendency to link David to our current age lies in the fact that we know more about David than any other biblical figure. The author Thomas Cahill has noted that in a certain literary sense, David is the only biblical figure that is like us at all. Prior to the humanist autobiographies of the Renaissance, he notes, “we can count only a few isolated instances of this use of ‘I’ to mean the interior self. But David’s psalms are full of I’s.” In David’s Psalms, Cahill writes, we “find a unique early roadmap to the inner spirit—previously mute—of ancient humanity.”
At the same time, a study of the Book of Samuel and of the Psalms reveals how utterly incomparable David is to anyone alive today. Haym Soloveitchik has noted that even the most observant of Jews today fail to feel a constant intimacy with God that the simplest Jew of the premodern age might have felt, that “while there are always those whose spirituality is one apart from that of their time, nevertheless I think it safe to say that the perception of God as a daily, natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious.” Yet for David, such intimacy with the divine was central to his existence, and the Book of Samuel and the Psalms are an eternal testament to this fact. This is why simple comparisons between David and ourselves, as tempting as they are, must be resisted. David Wolpe, in his book about David, attempts to make the case as to why King David’s life speaks to us today: “So versatile and enduring is David in our culture that rare is the week that passes without some public allusion to his life…We need to understand David better because we use his life to comprehend our own.”
The truth may be the opposite. We need to understand David better because we can use his life to comprehend what we are missing, and how utterly unlike our lives are to his own. For even the most religious among us have lost the profound faith and intimacy with God that David had. It is therefore incorrect to assume that because of David’s flaws it would have been, as Amos Oz has written, “fitting for him to reign in Tel Aviv.” The modern State of Israel was blessed with brilliant leaders, but to which of its modern warriors or statesmen should David be compared? To Ben Gurion, who stripped any explicit invocation of the Divine from Israel’s Declaration of Independence? To Moshe Dayan, who oversaw the reconquest of Jerusalem, and then immediately handed back the Temple Mount, the locus of King David’s dreams and desires, to the administration of the enemies of Israel? David’s complex humanity inspires comparison to modern figures, but his faith, contrition, and repentance—which lie at the heart of his story and success—defy any such engagement.
And so, to those who seek comparisons to modern leaders from the Bible, the best rule may be: Leave King David out of it.
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Three attacks in Britain highlight the West’s inability to see the threat clearly
This lack of seriousness manifests itself in several ways. It’s perhaps most obvious in the failure to reform Britain’s chaotic immigration and dysfunctional asylum systems. But it’s also abundantly clear from the grotesque underfunding and under-resourcing of domestic intelligence. In MI5, Britain has an internal security service that is simply too small to do its job effectively, even if it were not handicapped by an institutional culture that can seem willfully blind to the ideological roots of the current terrorism problem.
In 2009, Jonathan Evans, then head of MI5, confessed at a parliamentary hearing about the London bus and subway attacks of 2005 that his organization only had sufficient resources to “hit the crocodiles close to the boat.” It was an extraordinary metaphor to use, not least because of the impression of relative impotence that it conveys. MI5 had by then doubled in size since 2001, but it still boasted a staff of only 3,500. Today it’s said to employ between 4,000 and 5,000, an astonishingly, even laughably, small number given a UK population of 65 million and the scale of the security challenges Britain now faces. (To be fair, the major British police forces all have intelligence units devoted to terrorism, and the UK government’s overall counterterrorism strategy involves a great many people, including social workers and schoolteachers.)
You can also see that unseriousness at work in the abject failure to coerce Britain’s often remarkably sedentary police officers out of their cars and stations and back onto the streets. Most of Britain’s big-city police forces have adopted a reactive model of policing (consciously rejecting both the New York Compstat model and British “bobby on the beat” traditions) that cripples intelligence-gathering and frustrates good community relations.
If that weren’t bad enough, Britain’s judiciary is led by jurists who came of age in the 1960s, and who have been inclined since 2001 to treat terrorism as an ordinary criminal problem being exploited by malign officials and politicians to make assaults on individual rights and to take part in “illegal” foreign wars. It has long been almost impossible to extradite ISIS or al-Qaeda–linked Islamists from the UK. This is partly because today’s English judges believe that few if any foreign countries—apart from perhaps Sweden and Norway—are likely to give terrorist suspects a fair trial, or able to guarantee that such suspects will be spared torture and abuse.
We have a progressive metropolitan media elite whose primary, reflexive response to every terrorist attack, even before the blood on the pavement is dry, is to express worry about an imminent violent anti-Muslim “backlash” on the part of a presumptively bigoted and ignorant indigenous working class. Never mind that no such “backlash” has yet occurred, not even when the young off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight on a South London street in 2013.
Another sign of this lack of seriousness is the choice by successive British governments to deal with the problem of internal terrorism with marketing and “branding.” You can see this in the catchy consultant-created acronyms and pseudo-strategies that are deployed in place of considered thought and action. After every atrocity, the prime minister calls a meeting of the COBRA unit—an acronym that merely stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A but sounds like a secret organization of government superheroes. The government’s counterterrorism strategy is called CONTEST, which has four “work streams”: “Prevent,” “Pursue,” “Protect,” and “Prepare.”
Perhaps the ultimate sign of unseriousness is the fact that police, politicians, and government officials have all displayed more fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” than of any carnage that actual terror attacks might cause. Few are aware that this short-term, cowardly, and trivial tendency may ultimately foment genuine, dangerous popular Islamophobia, especially if attacks continue.R
ecently, three murderous Islamist terror attacks in the UK took place in less than a month. The first and third were relatively primitive improvised attacks using vehicles and/or knives. The second was a suicide bombing that probably required relatively sophisticated planning, technological know-how, and the assistance of a terrorist infrastructure. As they were the first such attacks in the UK, the vehicle and knife killings came as a particular shock to the British press, public, and political class, despite the fact that non-explosive and non-firearm terror attacks have become common in Europe and are almost routine in Israel.
The success of all three plots indicates troubling problems in British law-enforcement practice and culture, quite apart from any other failings on the parts of the state in charge of intelligence, border control, and the prevention of radicalization. At the time of writing, the British media have been full of encomia to police courage and skill, not least because it took “only” eight minutes for an armed Metropolitan Police team to respond to and confront the bloody mayhem being wrought by the three Islamist terrorists (who had ploughed their rented van into people on London Bridge before jumping out to attack passersby with knives). But the difficult truth is that all three attacks would be much harder to pull off in Manhattan, not just because all NYPD cops are armed, but also because there are always police officers visibly on patrol at the New York equivalents of London’s Borough Market on a Saturday night. By contrast, London’s Metropolitan police is a largely vehicle-borne, reactive force; rather than use a physical presence to deter crime and terrorism, it chooses to monitor closed-circuit street cameras and social-media postings.
Since the attacks in London and Manchester, we have learned that several of the perpetrators were “known” to the police and security agencies that are tasked with monitoring potential terror threats. That these individuals were nevertheless able to carry out their atrocities is evidence that the monitoring regime is insufficient.
It also seems clear that there were failures on the part of those institutions that come under the leadership of the Home Office and are supposed to be in charge of the UK’s border, migration, and asylum systems. Journalists and think tanks like Policy Exchange and Migration Watch have for years pointed out that these systems are “unfit for purpose,” but successive governments have done little to take responsible control of Britain’s borders. When she was home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May did little more than jazz up the name, logo, and uniforms of what is now called the “Border Force,” and she notably failed to put in place long-promised passport checks for people flying out of the country. This dereliction means that it is impossible for the British authorities to know who has overstayed a visa or whether individuals who have been denied asylum have actually left the country.
It seems astonishing that Youssef Zaghba, one of the three London Bridge attackers, was allowed back into the country. The Moroccan-born Italian citizen (his mother is Italian) had been arrested by Italian police in Bologna, apparently on his way to Syria via Istanbul to join ISIS. When questioned by the Italians about the ISIS decapitation videos on his mobile phone, he declared that he was “going to be a terrorist.” The Italians lacked sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime but put him under 24-hour surveillance, and when he traveled to London, they passed on information about him to MI5. Nevertheless, he was not stopped or questioned on arrival and had not become one of the 3,000 official terrorism “subjects of interest” for MI5 or the police when he carried out his attack. One reason Zaghba was not questioned on arrival may have been that he used one of the new self-service passport machines installed in UK airports in place of human staff after May’s cuts to the border force. Apparently, the machines are not yet linked to any government watch lists, thanks to the general chaos and ineptitude of the Home Office’s efforts to use information technology.
The presence in the country of Zaghba’s accomplice Rachid Redouane is also an indictment of the incompetence and disorganization of the UK’s border and migration authorities. He had been refused asylum in 2009, but as is so often the case, Britain’s Home Office never got around to removing him. Three years later, he married a British woman and was therefore able to stay in the UK.
But it is the failure of the authorities to monitor ringleader Khuram Butt that is the most baffling. He was a known and open associate of Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious terrorist supporter, ideologue, and recruiter (he was finally imprisoned in 2016 after 15 years of campaigning on behalf of al-Qaeda and ISIS). Butt even appeared in a 2016 TV documentary about ISIS supporters called The Jihadist Next Door. In the same year, he assaulted a moderate imam at a public festival, after calling him a “murtad” or apostate. The imam reported the incident to the police—who took six months to track him down and then let him off with a caution. It is not clear if Butt was one of the 3,000 “subjects of interest” or the additional 20,000 former subjects of interest who continue to be the subject of limited monitoring. If he was not, it raises the question of what a person has to do to get British security services to take him seriously as a terrorist threat; if he was in fact on the list of “subjects of interest,” one has to wonder if being so designated is any barrier at all to carrying out terrorist atrocities. It’s worth remembering, as few do here in the UK, that terrorists who carried out previous attacks were also known to the police and security services and nevertheless enjoyed sufficient liberty to go at it again.B
ut the most important reason for the British state’s ineffectiveness in monitoring terror threats, which May addressed immediately after the London Bridge attack, is a deeply rooted institutional refusal to deal with or accept the key role played by Islamist ideology. For more than 15 years, the security services and police have chosen to take note only of people and bodies that explicitly espouse terrorist violence or have contacts with known terrorist groups. The fact that a person, school, imam, or mosque endorses the establishment of a caliphate, the stoning of adulterers, or the murder of apostates has not been considered a reason to monitor them.
This seems to be why Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was not being watched by the authorities as a terror risk, even though he had punched a girl in the face for wearing a short skirt while at university, had attended the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Didsbury Mosque, was the son of a Libyan man whose militia is banned in the UK, had himself fought against the Qaddafi regime in Libya, had adopted the Islamist clothing style (trousers worn above the ankle, beard but no moustache), was part of a druggy gang subculture that often feeds individuals into Islamist terrorism, and had been banned from a mosque after confronting an imam who had criticized ISIS.
It was telling that the day after the Manchester Arena suicide-bomb attack, you could hear security officials informing radio and TV audiences of the BBC’s flagship morning-radio news show that it’s almost impossible to predict and stop such attacks because the perpetrators “don’t care who they kill.” They just want to kill as many people as possible, he said.
Surely, anyone with even a basic familiarity with Islamist terror attacks over the last 15 or so years and a nodding acquaintance with Islamist ideology could see that the terrorist hadn’t just chosen the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena because a lot of random people would be crowded into a conveniently small area. Since the Bali bombings of 2002, nightclubs, discotheques, and pop concerts attended by shameless unveiled women and girls have been routinely targeted by fundamentalist terrorists, including in Britain. Among the worrying things about the opinion offered on the radio show was that it suggests that even in the wake of the horrific Bataclan attack in Paris during a November 2015 concert, British authorities may not have been keeping an appropriately protective eye on music venues and other places where our young people hang out in their decadent Western way. Such dereliction would make perfect sense given the resistance on the part of the British security establishment to examining, confronting, or extrapolating from Islamist ideology.
The same phenomenon may explain why authorities did not follow up on community complaints about Abedi. All too often when people living in Britain’s many and diverse Muslim communities want to report suspicious behavior, they have to do so through offices and organizations set up and paid for by the authorities as part of the overall “Prevent” strategy. Although criticized by the left as “Islamophobic” and inherently stigmatizing, Prevent has often brought the government into cooperative relationships with organizations even further to the Islamic right than the Muslim Brotherhood. This means that if you are a relatively secular Libyan émigré who wants to report an Abedi and you go to your local police station, you are likely to find yourself speaking to a bearded Islamist.
From its outset in 2003, the Prevent strategy was flawed. Its practitioners, in their zeal to find and fund key allies in “the Muslim community” (as if there were just one), routinely made alliances with self-appointed community leaders who represented the most extreme and intolerant tendencies in British Islam. Both the Home Office and MI5 seemed to believe that only radical Muslims were “authentic” and would therefore be able to influence young potential terrorists. Moderate, modern, liberal Muslims who are arguably more representative of British Islam as a whole (not to mention sundry Shiites, Sufis, Ahmmadis, and Ismailis) have too often found it hard to get a hearing.
Sunni organizations that openly supported suicide-bomb attacks in Israel and India and that justified attacks on British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless received government subsidies as part of Prevent. The hope was that in return, they would alert the authorities if they knew of individuals planning attacks in the UK itself.
It was a gamble reminiscent of British colonial practice in India’s northwest frontier and elsewhere. Not only were there financial inducements in return for grudging cooperation; the British state offered other, symbolically powerful concessions. These included turning a blind eye to certain crimes and antisocial practices such as female genital mutilation (there have been no successful prosecutions relating to the practice, though thousands of cases are reported every year), forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, the mass removal of girls from school soon after they reach puberty, and the epidemic of racially and religiously motivated “grooming” rapes in cities like Rotherham. (At the same time, foreign jihadists—including men wanted for crimes in Algeria and France—were allowed to remain in the UK as long as their plots did not include British targets.)
This approach, simultaneously cynical and naive, was never as successful as its proponents hoped. Again and again, Muslim chaplains who were approved to work in prisons and other institutions have sometimes turned out to be Islamist extremists whose words have inspired inmates to join terrorist organizations.
Much to his credit, former Prime Minister David Cameron fought hard to change this approach, even though it meant difficult confrontations with his home secretary (Theresa May), as well as police and the intelligence agencies. However, Cameron’s efforts had little effect on the permanent personnel carrying out the Prevent strategy, and cooperation with Islamist but currently nonviolent organizations remains the default setting within the institutions on which the United Kingdom depends for security.
The failure to understand the role of ideology is one of imagination as well as education. Very few of those who make government policy or write about home-grown terrorism seem able to escape the limitations of what used to be called “bourgeois” experience. They assume that anyone willing to become an Islamist terrorist must perforce be materially deprived, or traumatized by the experience of prejudice, or provoked to murderous fury by oppression abroad. They have no sense of the emotional and psychic benefits of joining a secret terror outfit: the excitement and glamor of becoming a kind of Islamic James Bond, bravely defying the forces of an entire modern state. They don’t get how satisfying or empowering the vengeful misogyny of ISIS-style fundamentalism might seem for geeky, frustrated young men. Nor can they appreciate the appeal to the adolescent mind of apocalyptic fantasies of power and sacrifice (mainstream British society does not have much room for warrior dreams, given that its tone is set by liberal pacifists). Finally, they have no sense of why the discipline and self-discipline of fundamentalist Islam might appeal so strongly to incarcerated lumpen youth who have never experienced boundaries or real belonging. Their understanding is an understanding only of themselves, not of the people who want to kill them.
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Review of 'White Working Class' By Joan C. Williams
Williams is a prominent feminist legal scholar with degrees from Yale, MIT, and Harvard. Unbending Gender, her best-known book, is the sort of tract you’d expect to find at an intersectionality conference or a Portlandia bookstore. This is why her insightful, empathic book comes as such a surprise.
Books and essays on the topic have accumulated into a highly visible genre since Donald Trump came on the American political scene; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy planted itself at the top of bestseller lists almost a year ago and still isn’t budging. As with Vance, Williams’s interest in the topic is personal. She fell “madly in love with” and eventually married a Harvard Law School graduate who had grown up in an Italian neighborhood in pre-gentrification Brook-lyn. Williams, on the other hand, is a “silver-spoon girl.” Her father’s family was moneyed, and her maternal grandfather was a prominent Reform rabbi.
The author’s affection for her “class-migrant” spouse and respect for his family’s hardships—“My father-in-law grew up on blood soup,” she announces in her opening sentence—adds considerable warmth to what is at bottom a political pamphlet. Williams believes that elite condescension and “cluelessness” played a big role in Trump’s unexpected and dreaded victory. Enlightening her fellow elites is essential to the task of returning Trump voters to the progressive fold where, she is sure, they rightfully belong.
Liberals were not always so dense about the working class, Williams observes. WPA murals and movies like On the Waterfront showed genuine fellow feeling for the proletariat. In the 1970s, however, the liberal mood changed. Educated boomers shifted their attention to “issues of peace, equal rights, and environmentalism.” Instead of feeling the pain of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck characters, they began sneering at the less enlightened. These days, she notes, elite sympathies are limited to the poor, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ population. Despite clear evidence of suffering—stagnant wages, disappearing manufacturing jobs, declining health and well-being—the working class gets only fly-over snobbery at best and, more often, outright loathing.
Williams divides her chapters into a series of explainers to questions she has heard from her clueless friends and colleagues: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?” “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Just Move to Where the Jobs Are?” “Is the Working Class Just Racist?” She weaves her answers into a compelling picture of a way of life and worldview foreign to her targeted readers. Working-class Americans have had to struggle for whatever stability and comfort they have, she explains. Clocking in for midnight shifts year after year, enduring capricious bosses, plant closures, and layoffs, they’re reliant on tag-team parenting and stressed-out relatives for child care. The campus go-to word “privileged” seems exactly wrong.
Proud of their own self-sufficiency and success, however modest, they don’t begrudge the self-made rich. It’s snooty professionals and the dysfunctional poor who get their goat. From their vantage point, subsidizing the day care for a welfare mother when they themselves struggle to manage care on their own dime mocks both their hard work and their beliefs. And since, unlike most professors, they shop in the same stores as the dependent poor, they’ve seen that some of them game the system. Of course that stings.
White Working Class is especially good at evoking the alternate economic and mental universe experienced by Professional and Managerial Elites, or “PMEs.” PMEs see their non-judgment of the poor, especially those who are “POC,” as a mark of their mature understanding that we live in an unjust, racist system whose victims require compassion regardless of whether they have committed any crime. At any rate, their passions lie elsewhere. They define themselves through their jobs and professional achievements, hence their obsession with glass ceilings.
Williams tells the story of her husband’s faux pas at a high-school reunion. Forgetting his roots for a moment, the Ivy League–educated lawyer asked one of his Brooklyn classmates a question that is the go-to opener in elite social settings: “What do you do?” Angered by what must have seemed like deliberate humiliation by this prodigal son, the man hissed: “I sell toilets.”
Instead of stability and backyard barbecues with family and long-time neighbors and maybe the occasional Olive Garden celebration, PMEs are enamored of novelty: new foods, new restaurants, new friends, new experiences. The working class chooses to spend its leisure in comfortable familiarity; for the elite, social life is a lot like networking. Members of the professional class may view themselves as sophisticated or cosmopolitan, but, Williams shows, to the blue-collar worker their glad-handing is closer to phony social climbing and their abstract, knowledge-economy jobs more like self-important pencil-pushing.
White Working Class has a number of proposals for creating the progressive future Williams would like to see. She wants to get rid of college-for-all dogma and improve training for middle-skill jobs. She envisions a working-class coalition of all races and ethnicities bolstered by civics education with a “distinctly celebratory view of American institutions.” In a saner political environment, some of this would make sense; indeed, she echoes some of Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign themes. It’s little wonder White Working Class has already gotten the stink eye from liberal reviewers for its purported sympathies for racists.
Alas, impressive as Williams’s insights are, they do not always allow her to transcend her own class loyalties. Unsurprisingly, her own PME biases mostly come to light in her chapters on race and gender. She reduces immigration concerns to “fear of brown people,” even as she notes elsewhere that a quarter of Latinos also favor a wall at the southern border. This contrasts startlingly with her succinct observation that “if you don’t want to drive working-class whites to be attracted to the likes of Limbaugh, stop insulting them.” In one particularly obtuse moment, she asserts: “Because I study social inequality, I know that even Malia and Sasha Obama will be disadvantaged by race, advantaged as they are by class.” She relies on dubious gender theories to explain why the majority of white women voted for Trump rather than for his unfairly maligned opponent. That Hillary Clinton epitomized every elite quality Williams has just spent more than a hundred pages explicating escapes her notice. Williams’s own reflexive retreat into identity politics is itself emblematic of our toxic divisions, but it does not invalidate the power of this astute book.
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When music could not transcend evil
he story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, then as now Europe’s two greatest orchestras, were just as willing to do business with Hitler and his henchmen, firing their Jewish members and ceasing to perform the music of Jewish composers. Even after the war, the Vienna Philharmonic was notorious for being the most anti-Semitic orchestra in Europe, and it was well known in the music business (though never publicly discussed) that Helmut Wobisch, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter and its executive director from 1953 to 1968, had been both a member of the SS and a Gestapo spy.
The management of the Berlin Philharmonic made no attempt to cover up the orchestra’s close relationship with the Third Reich, no doubt because the Nazi ties of Karajan, who was its music director from 1956 until shortly before his death in 1989, were a matter of public record. Yet it was not until 2007 that a full-length study of its wartime activities, Misha Aster’s The Reich’s Orchestra: The Berlin Philharmonic 1933–1945, was finally published. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, its managers long sought to quash all discussion of the orchestra’s Nazi past, steadfastly refusing to open its institutional archives to scholars until 2008, when Fritz Trümpi, an Austrian scholar, was given access to its records. Five years later, the Viennese, belatedly following the precedent of the Berlin Philharmonic, added a lengthy section to their website called “The Vienna Philharmonic Under National Socialism (1938–1945),” in which the damning findings of Trümpi and two other independent scholars were made available to the public.
Now Trümpi has published The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich, in which he tells how they came to terms with Nazism, supplying pre- and postwar historical context for their transgressions.1 Written in a stiff mixture of academic jargon and translatorese, The Political Orchestra is ungratifying to read. Even so, the tale that it tells is both compelling and disturbing, especially to anyone who clings to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit.U
nlike the Vienna Philharmonic, which has always doubled as the pit orchestra for the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic started life in 1882 as a fully independent, self-governing entity. Initially unsubsidized by the state, it kept itself afloat by playing a grueling schedule of performances, including “popular” non-subscription concerts for which modest ticket prices were levied. In addition, the orchestra made records and toured internationally at a time when neither was common.
These activities made it possible for the Berlin Philharmonic to develop into an internationally renowned ensemble whose fabled collective virtuosity was widely seen as a symbol of German musical distinction. Furtwängler, the orchestra’s principal conductor, declared in 1932 that the German music in which it specialized was “one of the very few things that actually contribute to elevating [German] prestige.” Hence, he explained, the need for state subsidy, which he saw as “a matter of [national] prestige, that is, to some extent a requirement of national prudence.” By then, though, the orchestra was already heavily subsidized by the city of Berlin, thus paving the way for its takeover by the Nazis.
The Vienna Philharmonic, by contrast, had always been subsidized. Founded in 1842 when the orchestra of what was then the Vienna Court Opera decided to give symphonic concerts on its own, it performed the Austro-German classics for an elite cadre of longtime subscribers. By restricting membership to local players and their pupils, the orchestra cultivated what Furtwängler, who spent as much time conducting in Vienna as in Berlin, described as a “homogeneous and distinct tone quality.” At once dark and sweet, it was as instantly identifiable—and as characteristically Viennese—as the strong, spicy bouquet of a Gewürztraminer wine.
Unlike the Berlin Philharmonic, which played for whoever would pay the tab and programmed new music as a matter of policy, the Vienna Philharmonic chose not to diversify either its haute-bourgeois audience or its conservative repertoire. Instead, it played Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert (and, later, Bruckner and Richard Strauss) in Vienna for the Viennese. Starting in the ’20s, the orchestra’s recordings consolidated its reputation as one of the world’s foremost instrumental ensembles, but its internal culture remained proudly insular.
What the two orchestras had in common was a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism. One of the darkest manifestations of this ethos was their shared reluctance to hire Jews. The Berlin Philharmonic employed only four Jewish players in 1933, while the Vienna Philharmonic contained only 11 Jews at the time of the Anschluss, none of whom was hired after 1920. To be sure, such popular Jewish conductors as Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter continued to work in Vienna for as long as they could. Two months before the Anschluss, Walter led and recorded a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler, his musical mentor and fellow Jew, who from 1897 to 1907 had been the director of the Vienna Court Opera and one of the Philharmonic’s most admired conductors. But many members of both orchestras were open supporters of fascism, and not a few were anti-Semites who ardently backed Hitler. By 1942, 62 of the 123 active members of the Vienna Philharmonic were Nazi party members.
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
With what did they go along? Above all, they agreed to the scrubbing of Jewish music from their programs and the dismissal of their Jewish colleagues. Some Jewish players managed to escape with their lives, but seven of the Vienna Philharmonic’s 11 Jews were either murdered by the Nazis or died as a direct result of official persecution. In addition, both orchestras performed regularly at official government functions and made tours and other public appearances for propaganda purposes, and both were treated as gems in the diadem of Nazi culture.
As for Furtwängler, the most prominent of the Austro-German orchestral conductors who served the Reich, his relationship to Nazism continues to be debated to this day. He had initially resisted the firing of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Jewish members and protected them for as long as he could. But he was also a committed (if woolly-minded) nationalist who believed that German music had “a different meaning for us Germans than for other nations” and notoriously declared in an open letter to Goebbels that “we all welcome with great joy and gratitude . . . the restoration of our national honor.” Thereafter he cooperated with the Nazis, by all accounts uncomfortably but—it must be said—willingly. A monster of egotism, he saw himself as the greatest living exponent of German music and believed it to be his duty to stay behind and serve a cause higher than what he took to be mere party politics. “Human beings are free wherever Wagner and Beethoven are played, and if they are not free at first, they are freed while listening to these works,” he naively assured a horrified Arturo Toscanini in 1937. “Music transports them to regions where the Gestapo can do them no harm.”O
nce the war was over, the U.S. occupation forces decided to enlist the Berlin Philharmonic in the service of a democratic, anti-Soviet Germany. Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, who succeeded him as principal conductor, were officially “de-Nazified” and their orchestra allowed to function largely undisturbed, though six Nazi Party members were fired. The Vienna Philharmonic received similarly privileged treatment.
Needless to say, there was more to this decision than Cold War politics. No one questioned the unique artistic stature of either orchestra. Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic, precisely because of its insularity, was now seen as a living museum piece, a priceless repository of 19th-century musical tradition. Still, many musicians and listeners, Jews above all, looked askance at both orchestras for years to come, believing them to be tainted by Nazism.
Indeed they were, so much so that they treated many of their surviving Jewish ex-members in a way that can only be described as vicious. In the most blatant individual case, the violinist Szymon Goldberg, who had served as the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster under Furtwängler, was not allowed to reassume his post in 1945 and was subsequently denied a pension. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, the fact that it made Helmut Wobisch its executive director says everything about its deep-seated unwillingness to face up to its collective sins.
Be that as it may, scarcely any prominent musicians chose to boycott either orchestra. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war. Upon meeting Herbert von Karajan in 1954, he actually told his wife Felicia that he had become “real good friends with von Karajan, whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.”
At the same time, though, Bernstein understood what he was choosing to overlook. When he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1966, he wrote to his parents:
I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can. There are so many sad memories here; one deals with so many ex-Nazis (and maybe still Nazis); and you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget. The city is so beautiful, and so full of tradition. Everyone here lives for music, especially opera, and I seem to be the new hero.
Did Bernstein sell his soul for the opportunity to work with so justly renowned an orchestra—and did he get his price by insisting that its members perform the symphonies of Mahler, with which he was by then closely identified? It is a fair question, one that does not lend itself to easy answers.
Even more revealing is the case of Bruno Walter, who never forgave Furtwängler for staying behind in Germany, informing him in an angry letter that “your art was used as a conspicuously effective means of propaganda for the regime of the Devil.” Yet Walter’s righteous anger did not stop him from conducting in Vienna after the war. Born in Berlin, he had come to identify with the Philharmonic so closely that it was impossible for him to seriously consider quitting its podium permanently. “Spiritually, I was a Viennese,” he wrote in Theme and Variations, his 1946 autobiography. In 1952, he made a second recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, whose premiere he had conducted in 1911 and which he had recorded in Vienna 15 years earlier. One wonders what Walter, who had converted to Christianity but had been driven out of both his native lands for the crime of being Jewish, made of the text of the last movement: “My friend, / On this earth, fortune has not been kind to me! / Where do I go?”
As for the two great orchestras of the Third Reich, both have finally acknowledged their guilt and been forgiven, at least by those who know little of their past. It would occur to no one to decline on principle to perform with either group today. Such a gesture would surely be condemned as morally ostentatious, an exercise in what we now call virtue-signaling. Yet it is impossible to forget what Samuel Lipman wrote in 1993 in Commentary apropos the wartime conduct of Furtwängler: “The ultimate triumph of totalitarianism, I suppose it can be said, is that under its sway only a martyred death can be truly moral.” For the only martyrs of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were their Jews. The orchestras themselves live on, tainted and beloved.
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He knows what to reveal and what to conceal, understands the importance of keeping the semblance of distance between oneself and the story of the day, and comprehends the ins and outs of anonymous sourcing. Within days of his being fired by President Trump on May 9, for example, little green men and women, known only as his “associates,” began appearing in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post to dispute key points of the president’s account of his dismissal and to promote Comey’s theory of the case.
“In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty,” the New York Times reported on May 11. “Comey Demurred.” The story was a straightforward narrative of events from Comey’s perspective, capped with an obligatory denial from the White House. The next day, the Washington Post reported, “Comey associates dispute Trump’s account of conversations.” The Post did not identify Comey’s associates, other than saying that they were “people who have worked with him.”
Maybe they were the same associates who had gabbed to the Times. Or maybe they were different ones. Who can tell? Regardless, the story these particular associates gave to the Post was readable and gripping. Comey, the Post reported, “was wary of private meetings and discussions with the president and did not offer the assurance, as Trump has claimed, that Trump was not under investigation as part of the probe into Russian interference in last year’s election.”
On May 16, Michael S. Schmidt of the Times published his scoop, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.” Schmidt didn’t see the memo for himself. Parts of it were read to him by—you guessed it—“one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The following day, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. On May 18, the Times, citing “two people briefed” on a call between Comey and the president, reported, “Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance.” And by the end of that week, Comey had agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As his testimony approached, Comey’s people became more aggressive in their criticisms of the president. “Trump Should Be Scared, Comey Friend Says,” read the headline of a CNN interview with Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes. This “Comey friend” said he was “very shocked” when he learned that President Trump had asked Comey for loyalty. “I have no doubt that he regarded the group of people around the president as dishonorable,” Wittes said.
Comey, Wittes added, was so uncomfortable at the White House reception in January honoring law enforcement—the one where Comey lumbered across the room and Trump whispered something in his ear—that, as CNN paraphrased it, he “stood in a position so that his blue blazer would blend in with the room’s blue drapes in an effort for Trump to not notice him.” The integrity, the courage—can you feel it?
On June 6, the day before Comey’s prepared testimony was released, more “associates” told ABC that the director would “not corroborate Trump’s claim that on three separate occasions Comey told the president he was not under investigation.” And a “source with knowledge of Comey’s testimony” told CNN the same thing. In addition, ABC reported that, according to “a source familiar with Comey’s thinking,” the former director would say that Trump’s actions stopped short of obstruction of justice.
Maybe those sources weren’t as “familiar with Comey’s thinking” as they thought or hoped? To maximize the press coverage he already dominated, Comey had authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to release his testimony ahead of his personal interview. That testimony told a different story than what had been reported by CNN and ABC (and by the Post on May 12). Comey had in fact told Trump the president was not under investigation—on January 6, January 27, and March 30. Moreover, the word “obstruction” did not appear at all in his written text. The senators asked Comey if he felt Trump obstructed justice. He declined to answer either way.
My guess is that Comey’s associates lacked Comey’s scalpel-like, almost Jesuitical ability to make distinctions, and therefore misunderstood what he was telling them to say to the press. Because it’s obvious Comey was the one behind the stories of Trump’s dishonesty and bad behavior. He admitted as much in front of the cameras in a remarkable exchange with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Comey said that, after Trump tweeted on May 12 that he’d better hope there aren’t “tapes” of their conversations, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
Collins asked whether that friend had been Wittes, known to cable news junkies as Comey’s bestie. Comey said no. The source for the New York Times article was “a good friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia Law School,” Daniel Richman.
Every time I watch or read that exchange, I am amazed. Here is the former director of the FBI just flat-out admitting that, for months, he wrote down every interaction he had with the president of the United States because he wanted a written record in case the president ever fired or lied about him. And when the president did fire and lie about him, that director set in motion a series of public disclosures with the intent of not only embarrassing the president, but also forcing the appointment of a special counsel who might end up investigating the president for who knows what. And none of this would have happened if the president had not fired Comey or tweeted about him. He told the Senate that if Trump hadn’t dismissed him, he most likely would still be on the job.
Rarely, in my view, are high officials so transparent in describing how Washington works. Comey revealed to the world that he was keeping a file on his boss, that he used go-betweens to get his story into the press, that “investigative journalism” is often just powerful people handing documents to reporters to further their careers or agendas or even to get revenge. And as long as you maintain some distance from the fallout, and stick to the absolute letter of the law, you will come out on top, so long as you have a small army of nightingales singing to reporters on your behalf.
“It’s the end of the Comey era,” A.B. Stoddard said on Special Report with Bret Baier the other day. On the contrary: I have a feeling that, as the Russia investigation proceeds, we will be hearing much more from Comey. And from his “associates.” And his “friends.” And persons “familiar with his thinking.”
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
In April, COMMENTARY asked a wide variety of writers,
thinkers, and broadcasters to respond to this question: Is free speech under threat in the United States? We received twenty-seven responses. We publish them here in alphabetical order.
Floyd AbramsFree expression threatened? By Donald Trump? I guess you could say so.
When a president engages in daily denigration of the press, when he characterizes it as the enemy of the people, when he repeatedly says that the libel laws should be “loosened” so he can personally commence more litigation, when he says that journalists shouldn’t be allowed to use confidential sources, it is difficult even to suggest that he has not threatened free speech. And when he says to the head of the FBI (as former FBI director James Comey has said that he did) that Comey should consider “putting reporters in jail for publishing classified information,” it is difficult not to take those threats seriously.
The harder question, though, is this: How real are the threats? Or, as Michael Gerson put it in the Washington Post: Will Trump “go beyond mere Twitter abuse and move against institutions that limit his power?” Some of the president’s threats against the institution of the press, wittingly or not, have been simply preposterous. Surely someone has told him by now that neither he nor Congress can “loosen” libel laws; while each state has its own libel law, there is no federal libel law and thus nothing for him to loosen. What he obviously takes issue with is the impact that the Supreme Court’s 1964 First Amendment opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan has had on state libel laws. The case determined that public officials who sue for libel may not prevail unless they demonstrate that the statements made about them were false and were made with actual knowledge or suspicion of that falsity. So his objection to the rules governing libel law is to nothing less than the application of the First Amendment itself.
In other areas, however, the Trump administration has far more power to imperil free speech. We live under an Espionage Act, adopted a century ago, which is both broad in its language and uncommonly vague in its meaning. As such, it remains a half-open door through which an administration that is hostile to free speech might walk. Such an administration could initiate criminal proceedings against journalists who write about defense- or intelligence-related topics on the basis that classified information was leaked to them by present or former government employees. No such action has ever been commenced against a journalist. Press lawyers and civil-liberties advocates have strong arguments that the law may not be read so broadly and still be consistent with the First Amendment. But the scope of the Espionage Act and the impact of the First Amendment upon its interpretation remain unknown.
A related area in which the attitude of an administration toward the press may affect the latter’s ability to function as a check on government relates to the ability of journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources. The Obama administration prosecuted more Espionage Act cases against sources of information to journalists than all prior administrations combined. After a good deal of deserved press criticism, it agreed to expand the internal guidelines of the Department of Justice designed to limit the circumstances under which such source revelation is demanded. But the guidelines are none too protective and are, after all, simply guidelines. A new administration is free to change or limit them or, in fact, abandon them altogether. In this area, as in so many others, it is too early to judge the ultimate treatment of free expression by the Trump administration. But the threats are real, and there is good reason to be wary.
Floyd Abrams is the author of The Soul of the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2017).
Ayaan Hirsi AliFreedom of speech is being threatened in the United States by a nascent culture of hostility to different points of view. As political divisions in America have deepened, a conformist mentality of “right thinking” has spread across the country. Increasingly, American universities, where no intellectual doctrine ought to escape critical scrutiny, are some of the most restrictive domains when it comes to asking open-ended questions on subjects such as Islam.
Legally, speech in the United States is protected to a degree unmatched in almost any industrialized country. The U.S. has avoided unpredictable Canadian-style restrictions on speech, for example. I remain optimistic that as long as we have the First Amendment in the U.S., any attempt at formal legal censorship will be vigorously challenged.
Culturally, however, matters are very different in America. The regressive left is the forerunner threatening free speech on any issue that is important to progressives. The current pressure coming from those who call themselves “social-justice warriors” is unlikely to lead to successful legislation to curb the First Amendment. Instead, censorship is spreading in the cultural realm, particularly at institutions of higher learning.
The way activists of the regressive left achieve silence or censorship is by creating a taboo, and one of the most pernicious taboos in operation today is the word “Islamophobia.” Islamists are similarly motivated to rule any critical scrutiny of Islamic doctrine out of order. There is now a university center (funded by Saudi money) in the U.S. dedicated to monitoring and denouncing incidences of “Islamophobia.”
The term “Islamophobia” is used against critics of political Islam, but also against progressive reformers within Islam. The term implies an irrational fear that is tainted by hatred, and it has had a chilling effect on free speech. In fact, “Islamophobia” is a poorly defined term. Islam is not a race, and it is very often perfectly rational to fear some expressions of Islam. No set of ideas should be beyond critical scrutiny.
To push back in this cultural realm—in our universities, in public discourse—those favoring free speech should focus more on the message of dawa, the set of ideas that the Islamists want to promote. If the aims of dawa are sufficiently exposed, ordinary Americans and Muslim Americans will reject it. The Islamist message is a message of divisiveness, misogyny, and hatred. It’s anachronistic and wants people to live by tribal norms dating from the seventh century. The best antidote to Islamic extremism is the revelation of what its primary objective is: a society governed by Sharia. This is the opposite of censorship: It is documenting reality. What is life like in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Northern Nigerian States? What is the true nature of Sharia law?
Islamists want to hide the true meaning of Sharia, Jihad, and the implications for women, gays, religious minorities, and infidels under the veil of “Islamophobia.” Islamists use “Islamophobia” to obfuscate their vision and imply that any scrutiny of political Islam is hatred and bigotry. The antidote to this is more exposure and more speech.
As pressure on freedom of speech increases from the regressive left, we must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islamic doctrines is inherently “racist.”
Instead of contorting Western intellectual traditions so as not to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we need to defend the Muslim dissidents who are risking their lives to promote the human rights we take for granted: equality for women, tolerance of all religions and orientations, our hard-won freedoms of speech and thought.
It is by nurturing and protecting such speech that progressive reforms can emerge within Islam. By accepting the increasingly narrow confines of acceptable discourse on issues such as Islam, we do dissidents and progressive reformers within Islam a grave disservice. For truly progressive reforms within Islam to be possible, full freedom of speech will be required.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the founder of the AHA Foundation.
Lee C. BollingerI know it is too much to expect that political discourse mimic the measured, self-questioning, rational, footnoting standards of the academy, but there is a difference between robust political debate and political debate infected with fear or panic. The latter introduces a state of mind that is visceral and irrational. In the realm of fear, we move beyond the reach of reason and a sense of proportionality. When we fear, we lose the capacity to listen and can become insensitive and mean.
Our Constitution is well aware of this fact about the human mind and of its negative political consequences. In the First Amendment jurisprudence established over the past century, we find many expressions of the problematic state of mind that is produced by fear. Among the most famous and potent is that of Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927, one of the many cases involving aggravated fears of subversive threats from abroad. “It is the function of (free) speech,” he said, “to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” “Men feared witches,” Brandeis continued, “and burned women.”
Today, our “witches” are terrorists, and Brandeis’s metaphorical “women” include the refugees (mostly children) and displaced persons, immigrants, and foreigners whose lives have been thrown into suspension and doubt by policies of exclusion.
The same fears of the foreign that take hold of a population inevitably infect our internal interactions and institutions, yielding suppression of unpopular and dissenting voices, victimization of vulnerable groups, attacks on the media, and the rise of demagoguery, with its disdain for facts, reason, expertise, and tolerance.
All of this poses a very special obligation on those of us within universities. Not only must we make the case in every venue for the values that form the core of who we are and what we do, but we must also live up to our own principles of free inquiry and fearless engagement with all ideas. This is why recent incidents on a handful of college campuses disrupting and effectively censoring speakers is so alarming. Such acts not only betray a basic principle but also inflame a rising prejudice against the academic community, and they feed efforts to delegitimize our work, at the very moment when it’s most needed.
I do not for a second support the view that this generation has an unhealthy aversion to engaging differences of opinion. That is a modern trope of polarization, as is the portrayal of universities as hypocritical about academic freedom and political correctness. But now, in this environment especially, universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to the sort of fearless and spirited debate that we are simultaneously asking of the larger society. Anyone with a voice can shout over a speaker; but being able to listen to and then effectively rebut those with whom we disagree—particularly those who themselves peddle intolerance—is one of the greatest skills our education can bestow. And it is something our democracy desperately needs more of. That is why, I say to you now, if speakers who are being denied access to other campuses come here, I will personally volunteer to introduce them, and listen to them, however much I may disagree with them. But I will also never hesitate to make clear why I disagree with them.
Lee C. Bollinger is the 19th president of Columbia University and the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century. This piece has been excerpted from President Bollinger’s May 17 commencement address.
Richard A. Epstein
Today, the greatest threat to the constitutional protection of freedom of speech comes from campus rabble-rousers who invoke this very protection. In their book, the speech of people like Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald constitutes a form of violence, bordering on genocide, that receives no First Amendment protection. Enlightened protestors are both bound and entitled to shout them down, by force or other disruptive actions, if their universities are so foolish as to extend them an invitation to speak. Any indignant minority may take the law into its own hands to eradicate the intellectual cancer before it spreads on their own campus.
By such tortured logic, a new generation of vigilantes distorts the First Amendment doctrine: Speech becomes violence, and violence becomes heroic acts of self-defense. The standard First Amendment interpretation emphatically rejects that view. Of course, the First Amendment doesn’t let you say what you want when and wherever you want to. Your freedom of speech is subject to the same limitations as your freedom of action. So you have no constitutional license to assault other people, to lie to them, or to form cartels to bilk them in the marketplace. But folks such as Murray, Mac Donald, and even Yiannopoulos do not come close to crossing into that forbidden territory. They are not using, for example, “fighting words,” rightly limited to words or actions calculated to provoke immediate aggression against a known target. Fighting words are worlds apart from speech that provokes a negative reaction in those who find your speech offensive solely because of the content of its message.
This distinction is central to the First Amendment. Fighting words have to be blocked by well-tailored criminal and civil sanctions lest some people gain license to intimidate others from speaking or peaceably assembling. The remedy for mere offense is to speak one’s mind in response. But it never gives anyone the right to block the speech of others, lest everyone be able to unilaterally increase his sphere of action by getting really angry about the beliefs of others. No one has the right to silence others by working himself into a fit of rage.
Obviously, it is intolerable to let mutual animosity generate factional warfare, whereby everyone can use force to silence rivals. To avoid this war of all against all, each side claims that only its actions are privileged. These selective claims quickly degenerate into a form of viewpoint discrimination, which undermines one of the central protections that traditional First Amendment law erects: a wall against each and every group out to destroy the level playing field on which robust political debate rests. Every group should be at risk for having its message fall flat. The new campus radicals want to upend that understanding by shutting down their adversaries if their universities do not. Their aggression must be met, if necessary, by counterforce. Silence in the face of aggression is not an acceptable alternative.
Richard A. Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
David FrenchWe’re living in the midst of a troubling paradox. At the exact same time that First Amendment jurisprudence has arguably never been stronger and more protective of free expression, millions of Americans feel they simply can’t speak freely. Indeed, talk to Americans living and working in the deep-blue confines of the academy, Hollywood, and the tech sector, and you’ll get a sense of palpable fear. They’ll explain that they can’t say what they think and keep their jobs, their friends, and sometimes even their families.
The government isn’t cracking down or censoring; instead, Americans are using free speech to destroy free speech. For example, a social-media shaming campaign is an act of free speech. So is an economic boycott. So is turning one’s back on a public speaker. So is a private corporation firing a dissenting employee for purely political reasons. Each of these actions is largely protected from government interference, and each one represents an expression of the speaker’s ideas and values.
The problem, however, is obvious. The goal of each of these kinds of actions isn’t to persuade; it’s to intimidate. The goal isn’t to foster dialogue but to coerce conformity. The result is a marketplace of ideas that has been emptied of all but the approved ideological vendors—at least in those communities that are dominated by online thugs and corporate bullies. Indeed, this mindset has become so prevalent that in places such as Portland, Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere, the bullies and thugs have crossed the line from protected—albeit abusive—speech into outright shout-downs and mob violence.
But there’s something else going on, something that’s insidious in its own way. While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.
The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.
The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.
David French is a senior writer at National Review.
Pamela GellerThe real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? Not without war, I suspect, as is evidenced by the violence at colleges whenever there’s the shamefully rare event of a conservative speaker on campus.
Free speech is the soul of our nation and the foundation of all our other freedoms. If we can’t speak out against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
With that principle in mind, I organized a free-speech event in Garland, Texas. The world had recently been rocked by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. My version of “Je Suis Charlie” was an event here in America to show that we can still speak freely and draw whatever we like in the Land of the Free. Yet even after jihadists attacked our event, I was blamed—by Donald Trump among others—for provoking Muslims. And if I tried to hold a similar event now, no arena in the country would allow me to do so—not just because of the security risk, but because of the moral cowardice of all intellectual appeasers.
Under what law is it wrong to depict Muhammad? Under Islamic law. But I am not a Muslim, I don’t live under Sharia. America isn’t under Islamic law, yet for standing for free speech, I’ve been:
- Prevented from running our advertisements in every major city in this country. We have won free-speech lawsuits all over the country, which officials circumvent by prohibiting all political ads (while making exceptions for ads from Muslim advocacy groups);
- Shunned by the right, shut out of the Conservative Political Action Conference;
- Shunned by Jewish groups at the behest of terror-linked groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
- Blacklisted from speaking at universities;
- Prevented from publishing books, for security reasons and because publishers fear shaming from the left;
- Banned from Britain.
A Seattle court accused me of trying to shut down free speech after we merely tried to run an FBI poster on global terrorism, because authorities had banned all political ads in other cities to avoid running ours. Seattle blamed us for that, which was like blaming a woman for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt.
This kind of vilification and shunning is key to the left’s plan to shut down all dissent from its agenda—they make legislation restricting speech unnecessary.
The same refusal to allow our point of view to be heard has manifested itself elsewhere. The foundation of my work is individual rights and equality for all before the law. These are the foundational principles of our constitutional republic. That is now considered controversial. Truth is the new hate speech. Truth is going to be criminalized.
The First Amendment doesn’t only protect ideas that are sanctioned by the cultural and political elites. If “hate speech” laws are enacted, who would decide what’s permissible and what’s forbidden? The government? The gunmen in Garland?
There has been an inversion of the founding premise of this nation. No longer is it the subordination of might to right, but right to might. History is repeatedly deformed with the bloody consequences of this transition.
Pamela Geller is the editor in chief of the Geller Report and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
Jonah GoldbergOf course free speech is under threat in America. Frankly, it’s always under threat in America because it’s always under threat everywhere. Ronald Reagan was right when he said in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
This is more than political boilerplate. Reagan identified the source of the threat: human nature. God may have endowed us with a right to liberty, but he didn’t give us all a taste for it. As with most finer things, we must work to acquire a taste for it. That is what civilization—or at least our civilization—is supposed to do: cultivate attachments to certain ideals. “Cultivate” shares the same Latin root as “culture,” cultus, and properly understood they mean the same thing: to grow, nurture, and sustain through labor.
In the past, threats to free speech have taken many forms—nationalist passion, Comstockery (both good and bad), political suppression, etc.—but the threat to free speech today is different. It is less top-down and more bottom-up. We are cultivating a generation of young people to reject free speech as an important value.
One could mark the beginning of the self-esteem movement with Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 paper, “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” which claimed that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” This understandable idea ran amok in our schools and in our culture. When I was a kid, Saturday-morning cartoons were punctuated with public-service announcements telling kids: “The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you!”
The self-esteem craze was just part of the cocktail of educational fads. Other ingredients included multiculturalism, the anti-bullying crusade, and, of course, that broad phenomenon known as “political correctness.” Combined, they’ve produced a generation that rejects the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me” in favor of the notion that “words hurt.” What we call political correctness has been on college campuses for decades. But it lacked a critical mass of young people who were sufficiently receptive to it to make it a fully successful ideology. The campus commissars welcomed the new “snowflakes” with open arms; truly, these are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“Words hurt” is a fashionable concept in psychology today. (See Psychology Today: “Why Words Can Hurt at Least as Much as Sticks and Stones.”) But it’s actually a much older idea than the “sticks and stones” aphorism. For most of human history, it was a crime to say insulting or “injurious” things about aristocrats, rulers, the Church, etc. That tendency didn’t evaporate with the Divine Right of Kings. Jonathan Haidt has written at book length about our natural capacity to create zones of sanctity, immune from reason.
And that is the threat free speech faces today. Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are in reality fighting “heresy speech”—ideas that do “violence” to sacred notions of self-esteem, racial or gender equality, climate change, and so on. Put whatever label you want on it, contemporary “social justice” progressivism acts as a religion, and it has no patience for blasphemy.
When Napoleon’s forces converted churches into stables, the clergy did not object on the grounds that regulations regarding the proper care and feeding of animals had been violated. They complained of sacrilege and blasphemy. When Charles Murray or Christina Hoff Summers visits college campuses, the protestors are behaving like the zealous acolytes of St. Jerome. Appeals to the First Amendment have as much power over the “antifa” fanatics as appeals to Odin did to champions of the New Faith.
That is the real threat to free speech today.
Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
KC JohnsonIn early May, the Washington Post urged universities to make clear that “racist signs, symbols, and speech are off-limits.” Given the extraordinarily broad definition of what constitutes “racist” speech at most institutions of higher education, this demand would single out most right-of-center (and, in some cases, even centrist and liberal) discourse on issues of race or ethnicity. The editorial provided the highest-profile example of how hostility to free speech, once confined to the ideological fringe on campus, has migrated to the liberal mainstream.
The last few years have seen periodic college protests—featuring claims that significant amounts of political speech constitute “violence,” thereby justifying censorship—followed by even more troubling attempts to appease the protesters. After the mob scene that greeted Charles Murray upon his visit to Middlebury College, for instance, the student government criticized any punishment for the protesters, and several student leaders wanted to require that future speakers conform to the college’s “community standard” on issues of race, gender, and ethnicity. In the last few months, similar attempts to stifle the free exchange of ideas in the name of promoting diversity occurred at Wesleyan, Claremont McKenna, and Duke. Offering an extreme interpretation of this point of view, one CUNY professor recently dismissed dialogue as “inherently conservative,” since it reinforced the “relations of power that presently exist.”
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss campus hostility to free speech as affecting only a small segment of American public life—albeit one that trains the next generation of judges, legislators, and voters. But, as Jonathan Chait observed in 2015, denying “the legitimacy of political pluralism on issues of race and gender” has broad appeal on the left. It is only most apparent on campus because “the academy is one of the few bastions of American life where the political left can muster the strength to impose its political hegemony upon others.” During his time in office, Barack Obama generally urged fellow liberals to support open intellectual debate. But the current campus environment previews the position of free speech in a post-Obama Democratic Party, increasingly oriented around identity politics.
Waning support on one end of the ideological spectrum for this bedrock American principle should provide a political opening for the other side. The Trump administration, however, seems poorly suited to make the case. Throughout his public career, Trump has rarely supported free speech, even in the abstract, and has periodically embraced legal changes to facilitate libel lawsuits. Moreover, the right-wing populism that motivates Trump’s base has a long tradition of ideological hostility to civil liberties of all types. Even in campus contexts, conservatives have defended free speech inconsistently, as seen in recent calls that CUNY disinvite anti-Zionist fanatic Linda Sarsour as a commencement speaker.
In a sharply polarized political environment, awash in dubiously-sourced information, free speech is all the more important. Yet this same environment has seen both sides, most blatantly elements of the left on campuses, demand restrictions on their ideological foes’ free speech in the name of promoting a greater good.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Laura KipnisI find myself with a strange-bedfellows problem lately. Here I am, a left-wing feminist professor invited onto the pages of Commentary—though I’d be thrilled if it were still 1959—while fielding speaking requests from right-wing think tanks and libertarians who oppose child-labor laws.
Somehow I’ve ended up in the middle of the free-speech-on-campus debate. My initial crime was publishing a somewhat contentious essay about campus sexual paranoia that put me on the receiving end of Title IX complaints. Apparently I’d created a “hostile environment” at my university. I was investigated (for 72 days). Then I wrote up what I’d learned about these campus inquisitions in a second essay. Then I wrote about it all some more, in a book exposing the kangaroo-court elements of the Title IX process—and the extra-legal gag orders imposed on everyone caught in its widening snare.
I can’t really comment on whether more charges have been filed against me over the book. I’ll just say that writing about being a Title IX respondent could easily become a life’s work. I learned, shortly after writing this piece, that I and my publisher were being sued for defamation, among other things.
Is free speech under threat on American campuses? Yes. We know all about student activists who wish to shut down talks by people with opposing views. I got smeared with a bit of that myself, after a speaking invitation at Wellesley—some students made a video protesting my visit before I arrived. The talk went fine, though a group of concerned faculty circulated an open letter afterward also protesting the invitation: My views on sexual politics were too heretical, and might have offended students.
I didn’t take any of this too seriously, even as right-wing pundits crowed, with Wellesley as their latest outrage bait. It was another opportunity to mock student activists, and the fact that I was myself a feminist rather than a Charles Murray or a Milo Yiannopoulos, made them positively gleeful.
I do find myself wondering where all my new free-speech pals were when another left-wing professor, Steven Salaita, was fired (or if you prefer euphemism, “his job offer was withdrawn”) from the University of Illinois after he tweeted criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy. Sure the tweets were hyperbolic, but hyperbole and strong opinions are protected speech, too.
I guess free speech is easy to celebrate until it actually challenges something. Funny, I haven’t seen Milo around lately—so beloved by my new friends when he was bashing minorities and transgender kids. Then he mistakenly said something authentic (who knew he was capable of it!), reminiscing about an experience a lot of gay men have shared: teenage sex with older men. He tried walking it back—no, no, he’d been a victim, not a participant—but his fan base was shrieking about pedophilia and fleeing in droves. Gee, they were all so against “political correctness” a few minutes before.
It’s easy to be a free-speech fan when your feathers aren’t being ruffled. No doubt what makes me palatable to the anti-PC crowd is having thus far failed to ruffle them enough. I’m just going to have to work harder.
Laura Kipnis’s latest book is Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.
Eugene KontorovichThe free and open exchange of views—especially politically conservative or traditionally religious ones—is being challenged. This is taking place not just at college campuses but throughout our public spaces and cultural institutions. James Watson was fired from the lab he led since 1968 and could not speak at New York University because of petty, censorious students who would not know DNA from LSD. Our nation’s founders and heroes are being “disappeared” from public commemoration, like Trotsky from a photograph of Soviet rulers.
These attacks on “free speech” are not the result of government action. They are not what the First Amendment protects against. The current methods—professional and social shaming, exclusion, and employment termination—are more inchoate, and their effects are multiplied by self-censorship. A young conservative legal scholar might find himself thinking: “If the late Justice Antonin Scalia can posthumously be deemed a ‘bigot’ by many academics, what chance have I?”
Ironically, artists and intellectuals have long prided themselves on being the first defenders of free speech. Today, it is the institutions of both popular and high culture that are the censors. Is there one poet in the country who would speak out for Ann Coulter?
The inhibition of speech at universities is part of a broader social phenomenon of making longstanding, traditional views and practices sinful overnight. Conservatives have not put up much resistance to this. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous dictum: “First they came for Robert E. Lee, and I said nothing, because Robert E. Lee meant nothing to me.”
The situation with respect to Israel and expressions of support for it deserves separate discussion. Even as university administrators give political power to favored ideologies by letting them create “safe spaces” (safe from opposing views), Jews find themselves and their state at the receiving end of claims of apartheid—modern day blood libels. It is not surprising if Jewish students react by demanding that they get a safe space of their own. It is even less surprising if their parents, paying $65,000 a year, want their children to have a nicer time of it. One hears Jewish groups frequently express concern about Jewish students feeling increasingly isolated and uncomfortable on campus.
But demanding selective protection from the new ideological commissars is unlikely to bring the desired results. First, this new ideology, even if it can be harnessed momentarily to give respite to harassed Jews on campus, is ultimately illiberal and will be controlled by “progressive” forces. Second, it is not so terrible for Jews in the Diaspora to feel a bit uncomfortable. It has been the common condition of Jews throughout the millennia. The social awkwardness that Jews at liberal arts schools might feel in being associated with Israel is of course one of the primary justifications for the Jewish State. Facing the snowflakes incapable of hearing a dissonant view—but who nonetheless, in the grip of intersectional ecstasy, revile Jewish self-determination—Jewish students should toughen up.
Eugene Kontorovich teaches constitutional law at Northwestern University and heads the international law department of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.
Nicholas LemannThere’s an old Tom Wolfe essay in which he describes being on a panel discussion at Princeton in 1965 and provoking the other panelists by announcing that America, rather than being in crisis, is in the middle of a “happiness explosion.” He was arguing that the mass effects of 20 years of post–World War II prosperity made for a larger phenomenon than the Vietnam War, the racial crisis, and the other primary concerns of intellectuals at the time.
In the same spirit, I’d say that we are in the middle of a free-speech explosion, because of 20-plus years of the Internet and 10-plus years of social media. If one understands speech as disseminated individual opinion, then surely we live in the free-speech-est society in the history of the world. Anybody with access to the unimpeded World Wide Web can say anything to a global audience, and anybody can hear anything, too. All threats to free speech should be understood in the context of this overwhelmingly reality.
It is a comforting fantasy that a genuine free-speech regime will empower mainly “good,” but previously repressed, speech. Conversely, repressive regimes that are candid enough to explain their anti-free-speech policies usually say that they’re not against free speech, just “bad” speech. We have to accept that more free speech probably means, in the aggregate, more bad speech, and also a weakening of the power, authority, and economic support for information professionals such as journalists. Welcome to the United States in 2017.
I am lucky enough to live and work on the campus of a university, Columbia, that has been blessedly free of successful attempts to repress free speech. Just in the last few weeks, Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza have spoken here without incident. But, yes, the evidently growing popularity of the idea that “hate speech” shouldn’t be permitted on campuses is a problem, especially, it seems, at small private liberal-arts colleges. We should all do our part, and I do, by frequently and publicly endorsing free-speech principles. Opposing the BDS movement falls squarely into that category.
It’s not just on campuses that free-speech vigilance is needed, though. The number-one threat to free speech, to my mind, is that the wide-open Web has been replaced by privately owned platforms such as Facebook and Google as the way most people experience the public life of the Internet. These companies are committed to banning “hate speech,” and they are eager to operate freely in countries, like China, that don’t permit free political speech. That makes for a far more consequential constrained environment than any campus’s speech code.
Also, Donald Trump regularly engages in presidentially unprecedented rhetoric demonizing people who disagree with him. He seems to think this is all in good fun, but, as we have already seen at his rallies, not everybody hears it that way. The place where Trumpism will endanger free speech isn’t in the center—the White House press room—but at the periphery, for example in the way that local police handle bumptious protestors and the journalists covering them. This is already happening around the country. If Trump were as disciplined and knowledgeable as Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which so far he seems not to be, then free speech could be in even more serious danger from government, which in most places is its usual main enemy.
Nicholas Lemann is a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Michael J. LewisFree speech is a right but it is also a habit, and where the habit shrivels so will the right. If free speech today is in headlong retreat—everywhere threatened by regulation, organized harassment, and even violence—it is in part because our political culture allowed the practice of persuasive oratory to atrophy. The process began in 1973, an unforeseen side effect of Roe v. Wade. Legislators were delighted to learn that by relegating this divisive matter of public policy to the Supreme Court and adopting a merely symbolic position, they could sit all the more safely in their safe seats.
Since then, one crucial question of public policy after another has been punted out of the realm of politics and into the judicial. Issues that might have been debated with all the rhetorical agility of a Lincoln and a Douglas, and then subjected to a process of negotiation, compromise, and voting, have instead been settled by decree: e.g., Chevron, Kelo, Obergefell. The consequences for speech have been pernicious. Since the time of Pericles, deliberative democracy has been predicated on the art of persuasion, which demands the forceful clarity of thought and expression without which no one has ever been persuaded. But a legislature that relegates its authority to judges and regulators will awaken to discover its oratorical culture has been stunted. When politicians, rather than seeking to convince and win over, prefer to project a studied and pleasant vagueness, debate withers into tedious defensive performance. It has been decades since any presidential debate has seen any sustained give and take over a matter of policy. If there is any suspense at all, it is only the possibility that a fatigued or peeved candidate might blurt out that tactless shard of truth known as a gaffe.
A generation accustomed to hearing platitudes smoothly dispensed from behind a teleprompter will find the speech of a fearless extemporaneous speaker to be startling, even disquieting; unfamiliar ideas always are. Unhappily, they have been taught to interpret that disquiet as an injury done to them, rather than as a premise offered to them to consider. All this would not have happened—certainly not to this extent—had not our deliberative democracy decided a generation ago that it preferred the security of incumbency to the risks of unshackled debate. The compulsory contraction of free speech on college campuses is but the logical extension of the voluntary contraction of free speech in our political culture.
Michael J. Lewis’s new book is City of Refuge: Separatists and Utopian Town Planning (Princeton University Press).
Heather Mac DonaldThe answer to the symposium question depends on how powerful the transmission belt is between academia and the rest of the country. On college campuses, violence and brute force are silencing speakers who challenge left-wing campus orthodoxies. These totalitarian outbreaks have been met with listless denunciations by college presidents, followed by . . . virtually nothing. As of mid-May, the only discipline imposed for 2017’s mass attacks on free speech at UC Berkeley, Middlebury, and Clare-mont McKenna College was a letter of reprimand inserted—sometimes only temporarily—into the files of several dozen Middlebury students, accompanied by a brief period of probation. Previous outbreaks of narcis-sistic incivility, such as the screaming-girl fit at Yale and the assaults on attendees of Yale’s Buckley program, were discreetly ignored by college administrators.
Meanwhile, the professoriate unapologetically defends censorship and violence. After the February 1 riot in Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannapoulos from speaking, Déborah Blocker, associate professor of French at UC Berkeley, praised the rioters. They were “very well-organized and very efficient,” Blocker reported admiringly to her fellow professors. “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order for the MY event and making sure no one in the crowd got hurt” (emphasis in original). (In fact, perceived Milo and Donald Trump supporters were sucker-punched and maced; businesses downtown were torched and vandalized.) New York University’s vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, Ulrich Baer, displayed Orwellian logic by claiming in a New York Times op-ed that shutting down speech “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people.”
Will non-academic institutions take up this zeal for outright censorship? Other ideological products of the left-wing academy have been fully absorbed and operationalized. Racial victimology, which drives much of the campus censorship, is now standard in government and business. Corporate diversity trainers counsel that bias is responsible for any lack of proportional racial representation in the corporate ranks. Racial disparities in school discipline and incarceration are universally attributed to racism rather than to behavior. Public figures have lost jobs for violating politically correct taboos.
Yet Americans possess an instinctive commitment to the First Amendment. Federal judges, hardly an extension of the Federalist Society, have overwhelmingly struck down campus speech codes. It is hard to imagine that they would be any more tolerant of the hate-speech legislation so prevalent in Europe. So the question becomes: At what point does the pressure to conform to the elite worldview curtail freedom of thought and expression, even without explicit bans on speech?
Social stigma against conservative viewpoints is not the same as actual censorship. But the line can blur. The Obama administration used regulatory power to impose a behavioral conformity on public and private entities. School administrators may have technically still possessed the right to dissent from novel theories of gender, but they had to behave as if they were fully on board with the transgender revolution when it came to allowing boys to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
Had Hillary Clinton had been elected president, the federal bureaucracy would have mimicked campus diversocrats with even greater zeal. That threat, at least, has been avoided. Heresies against left-wing dogma may still enter the public arena, if only by the back door. The mainstream media have lurched even further left in the Trump era, but the conservative media, however mocked and marginalized, are expanding (though Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of conservative speakers could be a harbinger of more official silencing).
Outside the academy, free speech is still legally protected, but its exercise requires ever greater determination.
Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops.
John McWhorterThere is a certain mendacity, as Brick put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in our discussion of free speech on college campuses. Namely, none of us genuinely wish that absolutely all issues be aired in the name of education and open-mindedness. To insist so is to pretend that civilized humanity makes nothing we could call advancement in philosophical consensus.
I doubt we need “free speech” on issues such as whether slavery and genocide are okay, whether it has been a mistake to view women as men’s equals, or to banish as antique the idea that whites are a master race while other peoples represent a lower rung on the Darwinian scale. With all due reverence of John Stuart Mill’s advocacy for the regular airing of even noxious views in order to reinforce clarity on why they were rejected, we are also human beings with limited time. A commitment to the Enlightenment justifiably will decree that certain views are, indeed, no longer in need of discussion.
However, our modern social-justice warriors are claiming that this no-fly zone of discussion is vaster than any conception of logic or morality justifies. We are being told that questions regarding the modern proposals about cultural appropriation, about whether even passing infelicitous statements constitute racism in the way that formalized segregation and racist disparagement did, or about whether social disparities can be due to cultural legacies rather than structural impediments, are as indisputably egregious, backwards, and abusive as the benighted views of the increasingly distant past.
That is, the new idea is not only that discrimination and inequality still exist, but that to even question the left’s utopian expectation on such matters justifies the same furious, sloganistic and even physically violent resistance that was once levelled against those designated heretics by a Christian hegemony.
Of course the protesters in question do not recognize themselves in a portrait as opponents of something called heresy. They suppose that Galileo’s opponents were clearly wrong but that they, today, are actually correct in a way that no intellectual or moral argument could coherently deny.
As such, we have students allowed to decree college campuses as “racist” when they are the least racist spaces on the planet—because they are, predictably given the imperfection of humans, not perfectly free of passingly unsavory interactions. Thinkers invited to talk for a portion of an hour from the right rather than the left and then have dinner with a few people and fly home are treated as if they were reanimated Hitlers. The student of color who hears a few white students venturing polite questions about the leftist orthodoxy is supported in fashioning these questions as “racist” rhetoric.
The people on college campuses who openly and aggressively spout this new version of Christian (or even Islamist) crusading—ironically justifying it as a barricade against “fascist” muzzling of freedom when the term applies ominously well to the regime they are fostering—are a minority. However, the sawmill spinning blade of their rhetoric has succeeding in rendering opposition as risky as espousing pedophilia, such that only those natively open to violent criticism dare speak out. The latter group is small. The campus consensus thereby becomes, if only at moralistic gunpoint à la the ISIS victim video, a strangled hard-leftism.
Hence freedom of speech is indeed threatened on today’s college campuses. I have lost count of how many of my students, despite being liberal Democrats (many of whom sobbed at Hillary Clinton’s loss last November), have told me that they are afraid to express their opinions about issues that matter, despite the fact that their opinions are ones that any liberal or even leftist person circa 1960 would have considered perfectly acceptable.
Something has shifted of late, and not in a direction we can legitimately consider forwards.
John McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music history at Columbia University and is the author of The Language Hoax, Words on the Move, and Talking Back, Talking Black.
Kate Bachelder OdellIt’s 2021, and Harvard Square has devolved into riots: Some 120 people are injured in protests, and the carnage includes fire-consumed cop cars and smashed-in windows. The police discharge canisters of tear gas, and, after apprehending dozens of protesters, enforce a 1:45 A.M. curfew. Anyone roaming the streets after hours is subject to arrest. About 2,000 National Guardsmen are prepared to intervene. Such violence and disorder is also roiling Berkeley and other elite and educated areas.
Oh, that’s 1970. The details are from the Harvard Crimson’s account of “anti-war” riots that spring. The episode is instructive in considering whether free speech is under threat in the United States. Almost daily, there’s a new YouTube installment of students melting down over viewpoints of speakers invited to one campus or another. Even amid speech threats from government—for example, the IRS’s targeting of political opponents—nothing has captured the public’s attention like the end of free expression at America’s institutions of higher learning.
Yet disruption, confusion, and even violence are not new campus phenomena. And it’s hard to imagine that young adults who deployed brute force in the 1960s and ’70s were deeply committed to the open and peaceful exchange of ideas.
There may also be reason for optimism. The rough and tumble on campus in the 1960s and ’70s produced a more even-tempered ’80s and ’90s, and colleges are probably heading for another course correction. In covering the ruckuses at Yale, Missouri, and elsewhere, I’ve talked to professors and students who are figuring out how to respond to the illiberalism, even if the reaction is delayed. The University of Chicago put out a set of free-speech principles last year, and others schools such as Princeton and Purdue have endorsed them.
The NARPs—Non-Athletic Regular People, as they are sometimes known on campus—still outnumber the social-justice warriors, who appear to be overplaying their hand. Case in point is the University of Missouri, which experienced a precipitous drop in enrollment after instructor Melissa Click and her ilk stoked racial tensions last spring. The college has closed dorms and trimmed budgets. Which brings us to another silver lining: The economic model of higher education (exorbitant tuition to pay ever more administrators) may blow up traditional college before the fascists can.
Note also that the anti-speech movement is run by rich kids. A Brookings Institution analysis from earlier this year discovered that “the average enrollee at a college where students have attempted to restrict free speech comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the average student in America.” Few rank higher in average income than those at Middlebury College, where students evicted scholar Charles Murray in a particularly ugly scene. (The report notes that Murray was received respectfully at Saint Louis University, “where the median income of students’ families is half Middlebury’s.”) The impulses of over-adulated 20-year-olds may soon be tempered by the tyranny of having to show up for work on a daily basis.
None of this is to suggest that free speech is enjoying some renaissance either on campus or in America. But perhaps as the late Wall Street Journal editorial-page editor Robert Bartley put it in his valedictory address: “Things could be worse. Indeed, they have been worse.”
Kate Bachelder Odell is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Jonathan RauchIs free speech under threat? The one-syllable answer is “yes.” The three-syllable answer is: “Yes, of course.” Free speech is always under threat, because it is not only the single most successful social idea in all of human history, it is also the single most counterintuitive. “You mean to say that speech that is offensive, untruthful, malicious, seditious, antisocial, blasphemous, heretical, misguided, or all of the above deserves government protection?” That seemingly bizarre proposition is defensible only on the grounds that the marketplace of ideas turns out to be the most powerful engine of knowledge, prosperity, liberty, social peace, and moral advancement that our species has had the good fortune to discover.
Every new generation of free-speech advocates will need to get up every morning and re-explain the case for free speech and open inquiry—today, tomorrow, and forever. That is our lot in life, and we just need to be cheerful about it. At discouraging moments, it is helpful to remember that the country has made great strides toward free speech since 1798, when the Adams administration arrested and jailed its political critics; and since the 1920s, when the U.S. government banned and burned James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses; and since 1954, when the government banned ONE, a pioneering gay journal. (The cover article was a critique of the government’s indecency censors, who censored it.) None of those things could happen today.
I suppose, then, the interesting question is: What kind of threat is free speech under today? In the present age, direct censorship by government bodies is rare. Instead, two more subtle challenges hold sway, especially, although not only, on college campuses. The first is a version of what I called, in my book Kindly Inquisitors, the humanitarian challenge: the idea that speech that is hateful or hurtful (in someone’s estimation) causes pain and thus violates others’ rights, much as physical violence does. The other is a version of what I called the egalitarian challenge: the idea that speech that denigrates minorities (again, in someone’s estimation) perpetuates social inequality and oppression and thus also is a rights violation. Both arguments call upon administrators and other bureaucrats to defend human rights by regulating speech rights.
Both doctrines are flawed to the core. Censorship harms minorities by enforcing conformity and entrenching majority power, and it no more ameliorates hatred and injustice than smashing thermometers ameliorates global warming. If unwelcome words are the equivalent of bludgeons or bullets, then the free exchange of criticism—science, in other words—is a crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the current challenges are new variations on ancient themes—and they will be followed, in decades and centuries to come, by many, many other variations. Memo to free-speech advocates: Our work is never done, but the really amazing thing, given the proposition we are tasked to defend, is how well we are doing.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.
Nicholas Quinn RosenkranzSpeech is under threat on American campuses as never before. Censorship in various forms is on the rise. And this year, the threat to free speech on campus took an even darker turn, toward actual violence. The prospect of Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at Berkeley provoked riots that caused more than $100,000 worth of property damage on the campus. The prospect of Charles Murray speaking at Middlebury led to a riot that put a liberal professor in the hospital with a concussion. Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley was cancelled after the university determined that none of the appropriate venues could be protected from “known security threats” on the date in question.
The free-speech crisis on campus is caused, at least in part, by a more insidious campus pathology: the almost complete lack of intellectual diversity on elite university faculties. At Yale, for example, the number of registered Republicans in the economics department is zero; in the psychology department, there is one. Overall, there are 4,410 faculty members at Yale, and the total number of those who donated to a Republican candidate during the 2016 primaries was three.
So when today’s students purport to feel “unsafe” at the mere prospect of a conservative speaker on campus, it may be easy to mock them as “delicate snowflakes,” but in one sense, their reaction is understandable: If students are shocked at the prospect of a Republican behind a university podium, perhaps it is because many of them have never before laid eyes on one.
To see the connection between free speech and intellectual diversity, consider the recent commencement speech of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust:
Universities must be places open to the kind of debate that can change ideas….Silencing ideas or basking in intellectual orthodoxy independent of facts and evidence impedes our access to new and better ideas, and it inhibits a full and considered rejection of bad ones. . . . We must work to ensure that universities do not become bubbles isolated from the concerns and discourse of the society that surrounds them. Universities must model a commitment to the notion that truth cannot simply be claimed, but must be established—established through reasoned argument, assessment, and even sometimes uncomfortable challenges that provide the foundation for truth.
Faust is exactly right. But, alas, her commencement audience might be forgiven a certain skepticism. After all, the number of registered Republicans in several departments at Harvard—e.g., history and psychology—is exactly zero. In those departments, the professors themselves may be “basking in intellectual orthodoxy” without ever facing “uncomfortable challenges.” This may help explain why some students will do everything in their power to keep conservative speakers off campus: They notice that faculty hiring committees seem to do exactly the same thing.
In short, it is a promising sign that true liberal academics like Faust have started speaking eloquently about the crucial importance of civil, reasoned disagreement. But they will be more convincing on this point when they hire a few colleagues with whom they actually disagree.
Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz is a professor of law at Georgetown. He serves on the executive committee of Heterodox Academy, which he co-founded, on the board of directors of the Federalist Society, and on the board of directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Ben ShapiroIn February, I spoke at California State University in Los Angeles. Before my arrival, professors informed students that a white supremacist would be descending on the school to preach hate; threats of violence soon prompted the administration to cancel the event. I vowed to show up anyway. One hour before the event, the administration backed down and promised to guarantee that the event could go forward, but police officers were told not to stop the 300 students, faculty, and outside protesters who blocked and assaulted those who attempted to attend the lecture. We ended up trapped in the auditorium, with the authorities telling students not to leave for fear of physical violence. I was rushed from campus under armed police guard.
Is free speech under assault?
Of course it is.
On campus, free speech is under assault thanks to a perverse ideology of intersectionality that claims victim identity is of primary value and that views are a merely secondary concern. As a corollary, if your views offend someone who outranks you on the intersectional hierarchy, your views are treated as violence—threats to identity itself. On campus, statements that offend an individual’s identity have been treated as “microaggressions”–actual aggressions against another, ostensibly worthy of violence. Words, students have been told, may not break bones, but they will prompt sticks and stones, and rightly so.
Thus, protesters around the country—leftists who see verbiage as violence—have, in turn, used violence in response to ideas they hate. Leftist local authorities then use the threat of violence as an excuse to ideologically discriminate against conservatives. This means public intellectuals like Charles Murray being run off of campus and his leftist professorial cohort viciously assaulted; it means Ann Coulter being targeted for violence at Berkeley; it means universities preemptively banning me and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condoleezza Rice and even Jason Riley.
The campus attacks on free speech are merely the most extreme iteration of an ideology that spans from left to right: the notion that your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin. Even Democrats who say that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley say that nobody should be allowed to contribute to a super PAC (unless you’re a union member, naturally).
Meanwhile, on the right, the president’s attacks on the press have convinced many Republicans that restrictions on the press wouldn’t be altogether bad. A Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll in late April found that 36 percent of Americans thought freedom of the press “does more harm than good.” Undoubtedly, some of that is due to the media’s obvious bias. CNN’s Jeff Zucker has targeted the Trump administration for supposedly quashing journalism, but he was silent when the Obama administration’s Department of Justice cracked down on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News, and when hacks like Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes openly sold lies regarding Iran. But for some on the right, the response to press falsities hasn’t been to call for truth, but to instead echo Trumpian falsehoods in the hopes of damaging the media. Free speech is only important when people seek the truth. Leftists traded truth for tribalism long ago; in response, many on the right seem willing to do the same. Until we return to a common standard under which facts matter, free speech will continue to rest on tenuous grounds.
Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of The Daily Wire and the host of The Ben Shapiro Show.
Judith ShulevitzIt’s tempting to blame college and university administrators for the decline of free speech in America, and for years I did just that. If the guardians of higher education won’t inculcate the habits of mind required for serious thinking, I thought, who will? The unfettered but civil exchange of ideas is the basic operation of education, just as addition is the basic operation of arithmetic. And universities have to teach both the unfettered part and the civil part, because arguing in a respectful manner isn’t something anyone does instinctively.
So why change my mind now? Schools still cling to speech codes, and there still aren’t enough deans like the one at the University of Chicago who declared his school a safe-space-free zone. My alma mater just handed out prizes for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” to two students caught on video harassing the dean of their residential college, one screaming at him that he’d created “a space for violence to happen,” the other placing his face inches away from the dean’s and demanding, “Look at me.” All this because they deemed a thoughtful if ill-timed letter about Halloween costumes written by the dean’s wife to be an act of racist aggression. Yale should discipline students who behave like that, even if they’re right on the merits (I don’t think they were, but that’s not the point). They certainly don’t deserve awards. I can’t believe I had to write that sentence.
But in abdicating their responsibilites, the universities have enabled something even worse than an attack on free speech. They’ve unleashed an assault on themselves. There’s plenty of free speech around; we know that because so much bad speech—low-minded nonsense—tests our constitutional tolerance daily, and that’s holding up pretty well. (As Nicholas Lemann observes elsewhere in this symposium, Facebook and Google represent bigger threats to free speech than students and administrators.) What’s endangered is good speech.
Universities were setting themselves up to be used. Provocateurs exploit the atmosphere on campus to goad overwrought students, then gleefully trash the most important bastion of our crumbling civil society. Higher education and everything it stands for—logical argument, the scientific method, epistemological rigor—start to look illegitimate. Voters perceive tenure and research and higher education itself as hopelessly partisan and unworthy of taxpayers’ money.
The press is a secondary victim of this process of delegitimization. If serious inquiry can be waved off as ideology, then facts won’t be facts and reporting can’t be trusted. All journalism will be equal to all other journalism, and all journalists will be reduced to pests you can slam to the ground with near impunity. Politicians will be able to say anything and do just about anything and there will be no countervailing authority to challenge them. I’m pretty sure that that way lies Putinism and Erdoganism. And when we get to that point, I’m going to start worrying about free speech again.
Judith Shulevitz is a critic in New York.
Harvey SilverglateFree speech is, and has always been, threatened. The title of Nat Hentoff’s 1993 book Free Speech for Me – but Not for Thee is no less true today than at any time, even as the Supreme Court has accorded free speech a more absolute degree of protection than in any previous era.
Since the 1980s, the high court has decided most major free-speech cases in favor of speech, with most of the major decisions being unanimous or nearly so.
Women’s-rights advocates were turned back by the high court in 1986 when they sought to ban the sale of printed materials that, because deemed pornographic by some, were alleged to promote violence against women. Censorship in the name of gender–based protection thus failed to gain traction.
Despite the demands of civil-rights activists, the Supreme Court in 1992 declared cross-burning to be a protected form of expression in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, a decision later refined to strengthen a narrow exception for when cross-burning occurs primarily as a physical threat rather than merely an expression of hatred.
Other attempts at First Amendment circumvention have been met with equally decisive rebuff. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt for defamation growing out of a parody depicting Falwell’s first sexual encounter as a drunken tryst with his mother in an outhouse, a unanimous Supreme Court lectured on the history of parody as a constitutionally protected, even if cruel, form of social and political criticism.
When the South Boston Allied War Veterans, sponsor of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, sought to exclude a gay veterans’ group from marching under its own banner, the high court unanimously held that as a private entity, even though marching in public streets, the Veterans could exclude any group marching under a banner conflicting with the parade’s socially conservative message, notwithstanding public-accommodations laws. The gay group could have its own parade but could not rain on that of the conservatives.
Despite such legal clarity, today’s most potent attacks on speech are coming, ironically, from liberal-arts colleges. Ubiquitous “speech codes” limit speech that might insult, embarrass, or “harass,” in particular, members of “historically disadvantaged” groups. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” protect purportedly vulnerable students from hearing words and ideas they might find upsetting. Student demonstrators and threats of violence have forced the cancellation of controversial speakers, left and right.
It remains unclear how much campus censorship results from politically correct faculty, control-obsessed student-life administrators, or students socialized and indoctrinated into intolerance. My experience suggests that the bureaucrats are primarily, although not entirely, to blame. When sued, colleges either lose or settle, pay a modest amount, and then return to their censorious ways.
This trend threatens the heart and soul of liberal education. Eventually it could infect the entire society as these students graduate and assume influential positions. Whether a resulting flood of censorship ultimately overcomes legal protections and weakens democracy remains to be seen.
Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-based lawyer and writer, is the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (Free Press, 1998). He co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 1999 and is on FIRE’s board of directors. He spent some three decades on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts, two of those years as chairman. Silverglate taught at Harvard Law School for a semester during a sabbatical he took in the mid-1980s.
Christina Hoff SommersWhen Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She also hosts The Factual Feminist, a video blog. @Chsommers
John StosselYes, some college students do insane things. Some called police when they saw “Trump 2016” chalked on sidewalks. The vandals at Berkeley and the thugs who assaulted Charles Murray are disgusting. But they are a minority. And these days people fight back.
Someone usually videotapes the craziness. Yale’s “Halloween costume incident” drove away two sensible instructors, but videos mocking Yale’s snowflakes, like “Silence U,” make such abuse less likely. Groups like Young America’s Foundation (YAF) publicize censorship, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sues schools that restrict speech.
Consciousness has been raised. On campus, the worst is over. Free speech has always been fragile. I once took cameras to Seton Hall law school right after a professor gave a lecture on free speech. Students seemed to get the concept. Sean, now a lawyer, said, “Protect freedom for thought we hate; otherwise you never have a society where ideas clash, and we come up with the best idea.” So I asked, “Should there be any limits?” Students listed “fighting words,” “shouting fire in a theater,” malicious libel, etc.— reasonable court-approved exceptions. But then they went further. Several wanted bans on “hate” speech, “No value comes out of hate speech,” said Javier. “It inevitably leads to violence.”
No it doesn’t, I argued, “Also, doesn’t hate speech bring ideas into the open, so you can better argue about them, bringing you to the truth?”
“No,” replied Floyd, “With hate speech, more speech is just violence.”
So I pulled out a big copy of the First Amendment and wrote, “exception: hate speech.”
Two students wanted a ban on flag desecration “to respect those who died to protect it.”
One wanted bans on blasphemy:
“Look at the gravity of the harm versus the value in blasphemy—the harm outweighs the value.”
Several wanted a ban on political speech by corporations because of “the potential for large corporations to improperly influence politicians.”
Finally, Jillian, also now a lawyer, wanted hunting videos banned.
“It encourages harm down the road.”
I asked her, incredulously, “you’re comfortable locking up people who make a hunting film?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It’s unnecessary cruelty to feeling and sentient beings.”
So, I picked up my copy of the Bill of Rights again. After “no law . . . abridging freedom of speech,” I added: “Except hate speech, flag burning, blasphemy, corporate political speech, depictions of hunting . . . ”
That embarrassed them. “We may have gone too far,” said Sean. Others agreed. One said, “Cross out the exceptions.” Free speech survived, but it was a close call. Respect for unpleasant speech will always be thin. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton wanted violent video games banned. John McCain and Russ Feingold tried to ban political speech. Donald Trump wants new libel laws, and if you burn a flag, he tweeted, consequences might be “loss of citizenship or a year in jail!” Courts or popular opinion killed those bad ideas.
Free speech will survive, assuming those of us who appreciate it use it to fight those who would smother it.
John Stossel is a FOX News/FOX Business Network Contributor.
Warren TreadgoldEven citizens of dictatorships are free to praise the regime and to talk about the weather. The only speech likely to be threatened anywhere is the sort that offends an important and intolerant group. What is new in America today is a leftist ideology that threatens speech precisely because it offends certain important and intolerant groups: feminists and supposedly oppressed minorities.
So far this new ideology is clearly dominant only in colleges and universities, where it has become so strong that most controversies concern outside speakers invited by students, not faculty speakers or speakers invited by administrators. Most academic administrators and professors are either leftists or have learned not to oppose leftism; otherwise they would probably never have been hired. Administrators treat even violent leftist protestors with respect and are ready to prevent conservative and moderate outsiders from speaking rather than provoke protests. Most professors who defend conservative or moderate speakers argue that the speakers’ views are indeed noxious but say that students should be exposed to them to learn how to refute them. This is very different from encouraging a free exchange of ideas.
Although the new ideology began on campuses in the ’60s, it gained authority outside them largely by means of several majority decisions of the Supreme Court, from Roe (1973) to Obergefell (2015). The Supreme Court decisions that endanger free speech are based on a presumed consensus of enlightened opinion that certain rights favored by activists have the same legitimacy as rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution—or even more legitimacy, because the rights favored by activists are assumed to be so fundamental that they need no grounding in specific constitutional language. The Court majorities found restricting abortion rights or homosexual marriage, as large numbers of Americans wish to do, to be constitutionally equivalent to restricting black voting rights or interracial marriage. Any denial of such equivalence therefore opposes fundamental constitutional rights and can be considered hate speech, advocating psychological and possibly physical harm to groups like women seeking abortions or homosexuals seeking approval. Such speech may still be constitutionally protected, but acting upon it is not.
This ideology of forbidding allegedly offensive speech has spread to most of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Rather than seeing themselves as taking one side in a free debate, progressives increasingly argue (for example) that opposing abortion is offensive to women and supporting the police is offensive to blacks. Some politicians object so strongly to such speech that despite their interest in winning votes, they attack voters who disagree with them as racists or sexists. Expressing views that allegedly discriminate against women, blacks, homosexuals, and various other minorities can now be grounds for a lawsuit.
Speech that supposedly offends women or minorities has already cost some people their careers, their businesses, and their opportunities to deliver or hear speeches. Such intimidation is the intended result of an ideology that threatens free speech.
Warren Treadgold is a professor of history at Saint Louis University.
Matt WelchLike a sullen zoo elephant rocking back and forth from leg to leg, there is an oversized paradox we’d prefer not to see standing smack in the sightlines of most our policy debates. Day by day, even minute by minute, America simultaneously gets less free in the laboratory, but more free in the field. Individuals are constantly expanding the limits and applications of their own autonomy, even as government transcends prior restraints on how far it can reach into our intimate business.
So it is that the Internal Revenue Service can charge foreign banks with collecting taxes on U.S. citizens (therefore causing global financial institutions to shun many of the estimated 6 million-plus Americans who live abroad), even while block-chain virtuosos make illegal transactions wholly undetectable to authorities. It has never been easier for Americans to travel abroad, and it’s never been harder to enter the U.S. without showing passports, fingerprints, retinal scans, and even social-media passwords.
What’s true for banking and tourism is doubly true for free speech. Social media has given everyone not just a platform but a megaphone (as unreadable as our Facebook timelines have all become since last November). At the same time, the federal government during this unhappy 21st century has continuously ratcheted up prosecutorial pressure against leakers, whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and technology companies.
A hopeful bulwark against government encroachment unique to the free-speech field is the Supreme Court’s very strong First Amendment jurisprudence in the past decade or two. Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton before him, may prattle on about locking up flag-burners, but Antonin Scalia and the rest of SCOTUS protected such expression back in 1990. Barack Obama and John McCain (and Hillary Clinton—she’s as bad as any recent national politician on free speech) may lament the Citizens United decision, but it’s now firmly legal to broadcast unfriendly documentaries about politicians without fear of punishment, no matter the electoral calendar.
But in this very strength lies what might be the First Amendment’s most worrying vulnerability. Barry Friedman, in his 2009 book The Will of the People, made the persuasive argument that the Supreme Court typically ratifies, post facto, where public opinion has already shifted. Today’s culture of free speech could be tomorrow’s legal framework. If so, we’re in trouble.
For evidence of free-speech slippage, just read around you. When both major-party presidential nominees react to terrorist attacks by calling to shut down corners of the Internet, and when their respective supporters are actually debating the propriety of sucker punching protesters they disagree with, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our increasingly shrill partisan sorting is turning the very foundation of post-1800 global prosperity into just another club to be swung in our national street fight.
In the eternal cat-and-mouse game between private initiative and government control, the former is always advantaged by the latter’s fundamental incompetence. But what if the public willingly hands government the power to muzzle? It may take a counter-cultural reformation to protect this most noble of American experiments.
Matt Welch is the editor at large of Reason.
Adam. J. WhiteFree speech is indeed under threat on our university campuses, but the threat did not begin there and it will not end there. Rather, the campus free-speech crisis is a particularly visible symptom of a much more fundamental crisis in American culture.
The problem is not that some students, teachers, and administrators reject traditional American values and institutions, or even that they are willing to menace or censor others who defend those values and institutions. Such critics have always existed, and they can be expected to use the tools and weapons at their disposal. The problem is that our country seems to produce too few students, teachers, and administrators who are willing or able to respond to them.
American families produce children who arrive on campus unprepared for, or uninterested in, defending our values and institutions. For our students who are focused primarily on their career prospects (if on anything at all), “[c]ollege is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement,” as David Brooks observed 16 years ago. “They’re not trying to buck the system; they’re trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent. Hence they are not a disputatious group.”
Meanwhile, parents bear incomprehensible financial burdens to get their kids through college, without a clear sense of precisely what their kids will get out of these institutions in terms of character formation or civic virtue. With so much money at stake, few can afford for their kids to pursue more than career prospects.
Those problems are not created on campus, but they are exacerbated there, as too few college professors and administrators see their institutions as cultivators of American culture and republicanism. Confronted with activists’ rage, they offer no competing vision of higher education—let alone a compelling one.
Ironically, we might borrow a solution from the Left. Where progressives would leverage state power in service of their health-care agenda, we could do the same for education. State legislatures and governors, recognizing the present crisis, should begin to reform and renegotiate the fundamental nature of state universities. By making state universities more affordable, more productive, and more reflective of mainstream American values, they will attract students—and create incentives for competing private universities to follow suit.
Let’s hope they do it soon, for what’s at stake is much more than just free speech on campus, or even free speech writ large. In our time, as in Tocqueville’s, “the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic,” especially “where instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from moral education which amends the heart.” We need our colleges to cultivate—not cut down—civic virtue and our capacity for self-government. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form,” Madison wrote in Federalist 55. If “there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” then “nothing less than the chains of despotism” can restrain us “from destroying and devouring one another.”
Adam J. White is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Cathy YoungA writer gets expelled from the World Science Fiction Convention for criticizing the sci-fi community’s preoccupation with racial and gender “inclusivity” while moderating a panel. An assault on free speech, or an exercise of free association? How about when students demand the disinvitation of a speaker—or disrupt the speech? When a critic of feminism gets banned from a social-media platform for unspecified “abuse”?
Such questions are at the heart of many recent free-speech controversies. There is no censorship by government; but how concerned should we be when private actors effectively suppress unpopular speech? Even in the freest society, some speech will—and should—be considered odious and banished to unsavory fringes. No one weeps for ostracized Holocaust deniers or pedophilia apologists.
But shunned speech needs to remain a narrow exception—or acceptable speech will inexorably shrink. As current Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai cautioned last year, First Amendment protections will be hollowed out unless undergirded by cultural values that support a free marketplace of ideas.
Sometimes, attacks on speech come from the right. In 2003, an Iraq War critic, reporter Chris Hedges, was silenced at Rockford College in Illinois by hecklers who unplugged the microphone and rushed the stage; some conservative pundits defended this as robust protest. Yet the current climate on the left—in universities, on social media, in “progressive” journalism, in intellectual circles—is particularly hostile to free expression. The identity-politics left, fixated on subtle oppressions embedded in everyday attitudes and language, sees speech-policing as the solution.
Is hostility to free-speech values on the rise? New York magazine columnist Jesse Singal argues that support for restrictions on public speech offensive to minorities has remained steady, and fairly high, since the 1970s. Perhaps. But the range of what qualifies as offensive—and which groups are to be shielded—has expanded dramatically. In our time, a leading liberal magazine, the New Republic, can defend calls to destroy a painting of lynching victim Emmett Till because the artist is white and guilty of “cultural appropriation,” and a feminist academic journal can be bullied into apologizing for an article on transgender issues that dares to mention “male genitalia.”
There is also a distinct trend of “bad” speech being squelched by coercion, not just disapproval. That includes the incidents at Middlebury College in Vermont and at Claremont McKenna in California, where mobs not only prevented conservative speakers—Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald—from addressing audiences but physically threatened them as well. It also includes the use of civil-rights legislation to enforce goodthink in the workplace: Businesses may face stiff fines if they don’t force employees to call a “non-binary” co-worker by the singular “they,” even when talking among themselves.
These trends make a mockery of liberalism and enable the kind of backlash we have seen with Donald Trump’s election. But the backlash can bring its own brand of authoritarianism. It’s time to start rebuilding the culture of free speech across political divisions—a project that demands, above all, genuine openness and intellectual consistency. Otherwise it will remain, as the late, great Nat Hentoff put it, a call for “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason.
Robert J. ZimmerFree speech is not a natural feature of human society. Many people are comfortable with free expression for views they agree with but would withhold this privilege for those they deem offensive. People justify such restrictions by various means: the appeal to moral certainty, political agendas, demand for change, opposing change, retaining power, resisting authority, or, more recently, not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Moral certainty about one’s views or a willingness to indulge one’s emotions makes it easy to assert that others are doing true damage or creating unacceptable offense simply by presenting a fundamentally different perspective.
The resulting challenges to free expression may come in the form of laws, threats, pressure (whether societal, group, or organizational), or self-censorship in the face of a prevailing consensus. Specific forms of challenge may be more or less pronounced as circumstances vary. But the widespread temptation to consider the silencing of “objectionable” viewpoints as acceptable implies that the challenge to free expression is always present.
The United States today is no exception. We benefit from the First Amendment, which asserts that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. However, fostering a society supporting free expression involves matters far beyond the law. The ongoing and increasing demonization of one group by another creates a political and social environment conducive to suppressing speech. Even violent acts opposing speech can become acceptable or encouraged. Such behavior is evident at both political rallies and university events. Our greatest current threat to free expression is the emergence of a national culture that accepts the legitimacy of suppression of speech deemed objectionable by a segment of the population.
University and college campuses present a particularly vivid instance of this cultural shift. There have been many well-publicized episodes of speakers being disinvited or prevented from speaking because of their views. However, the problem is much deeper, as there is significant self-censorship on many campuses. Both faculty and students sometimes find themselves silenced by social and institutional pressures to conform to “acceptable” views. Ironically, the very mission of universities and colleges to provide a powerful and deeply enriching education for their students demands that they embrace and protect free expression and open discourse. Failing to do so significantly diminishes the quality of the education they provide.
My own institution, the University of Chicago, through the words and actions of its faculty and leaders since its founding, has asserted the importance of free expression and its essential role in embracing intellectual challenge. We continue to do so today as articulated by the Chicago Principles, which strongly affirm that “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” It is only in such an environment that universities can fulfill their own highest aspirations and provide leadership by demonstrating the value of free speech within society more broadly. A number of universities have joined us in reinforcing these values. But it remains to be seen whether the faculty and leaders of many institutions will truly stand up for these values, and in doing so provide a model for society as a whole.
Robert J. Zimmer is the president of the University of Chicago.