Open thread: decolonization in Canada

Supposedly, Canada is in the midst of a national effort at moving toward reconciliation after centuries of exploiting and oppressing its Indigenous populations. Signs include efforts to protect and investigate crimes against Indigenous women and girls; the renaming of buildings and monuments to people who played a role in Canada’s troubling past; and supposedly efforts to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – though here, as in so many other areas, there is good cause to question the sincerity of the Trudeau government.

Of course, there has been resistance from white supremacists and others.

It’s encouraging to see Halifax taking down Cornwallis monuments (put a bounty on the Mi’kmaq in 1749) and the Langevin block in Ottawa renamed (helped set up Canada’s genocidal residential schools). I would like to see everything named after Columbus renamed, though ultimately renaming is a small and symbolic part of what decolonization will need to include.

In the long term, Canada needs to recognize that its sovereignty has always been illegitimate – based on coerced treaties that Canada has routinely violated or the naked use of force. The path toward reconciliation can’t be seen from beginning to end in advance, but some of the actions we ought to be taking seem pretty clear, starting with providing services in Indigenous communities comparable to those in the rest of Canada, helping Indigenous peoples built toward self-government, and no longer imposing economic and resource projects on them despite their political and legal opposition.

The women’s rights and temperance movements

Americans probably drank more in the nineteenth century than they had in the preceding century, and drunkenness was widespread. In reaction, by midcentury the temperance movement had become strong, much more pervasive than the movements for either blacks’ or women’s rights. Many advocates of temperance did not support blacks’ or women’s rights, but both abolitionists and feminists usually supported temperance. Advocates of women’s rights usually regarded drunkenness as a male practice which victimized women, subjecting them to cruel abuse. Because divorce was virtually impossible, a woman married to an abusive, alcoholic husband had little protection for herself or her children. Therefore, to advocates of women’s rights, the temperance movement was another radical reform, like women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery, for the protection and emancipation of women.

Mabee, Carleton. Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. New York University Press, 1993. p. 194

Fire excluded from U.S. nuclear death estimates

The fact is that the estimate of fatalities, in terms of what was calculated at that time—even before the discovery of nuclear winter—was a fantastic underestimate. More than forty years later, Dr. Lynn Eden, a scholar at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, revealed in Whole World on Fire the bizarre fact that the war planners of SAC and the Joint Chiefs—throughout the nuclear era to the present day—have deliberately omitted entirely from their estimates of the destructive effects of U.S. or Russian nuclear attacks the effects of fire.

Yet even in the sixties the firestorms caused by thermonuclear weapons were known to be predictably the largest producers of fatalities in a nuclear war. Given that for almost all strategic nuclear weapons, the damage radius of the firestorms would be two to five times the radius destroyed by the blast, a more realistic estimate of the fatalities caused directly by the planned U.S. attacks on the Sino-Soviet bloc, even in 1961, would surely have been double the summary in the graph I held in my hand, for a total death toll of a billion or more: a third of the earth’s population, then three billion.

Ellsberg, Daniel. The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Bloomsbury; New York. 2017. p. 140–1 (italics in original)

Ellsberg’s on America’s nuclear posture

The basic elements of American readiness for nuclear war remain today what they were almost sixty years ago: Thousands of nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, aimed mainly at Russian military targets including command and control, many in or near cities. The declared official rationale for such a system has always been primarily the supposed need to deter—or if necessary respond to—an aggressive Russian nuclear first strike against the United States. That widely believed public rationale is a deliberate deception. Deterring a surprise Soviet nuclear attack—or responding to such an attack—has never been the only or even the primary purpose of our nuclear plans and preparations. The nature, scale, and posture of our strategic nuclear forces has always been shaped by the requirements of quite different purposes: to attempt to limit the damage to the United States from Soviet or Russian retaliation to a U.S. first strike against the USSR or Russia. This capability is, in particular, intended to strengthen the credibility of U.S. threats to initiate limited nuclear attacks, or escalate them—U.S. threats of “first use”—to prevail in regional, initially non-nuclear conflicts involving Soviet or Russian forces or their allies.

Ellsberg, Daniel. The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Bloomsbury; New York. 2017. p. 12 (italics in original)

Division among progressives

Truth’s warning that if American women did not get the vote now [in 1866] along with black men, it would be hard to raise the issue of the vote for women later, proved to be prescient, for it was not until 1920 that women finally got the vote nationwide.

Meanwhile it was becoming painfully apparent to Stanton and Anthony that many leaders who had supported suffrage for both blacks and women had decided, as a matter of strategy, to push at present only for suffrage for black men, as in the proposed Fifteenth Amendment. Stanton and Anthony, reacting furiously, refused to support the Fifteenth Amendment. The fiery Stanton declared that giving suffrage to the crude, uneducated, recently freed black slaves without giving it also to educated females would increase prejudice against blacks. In 1869 at a meeting of the American Equal Rights Association, which had supported both blacks’ and women’s right to vote, Stanton, Anthony, and their friends helped to break up the association over this issue, forming the new National Women’s Suffrage Association that was dedicated to working for women’s suffrage only.

In response, late in 1869 Lucy Stone led in forming another new women’s group, called the American Woman Suffrage Association, of a more moderate nature, which favored giving the vote not only to black men, through the Fifteenth Amendment, but also to women, through another amendment. Despite efforts to reunite the two groups, their leaders bitterly attacked each other. They were divided also by other issues that underlined the greater radicalism of Stanton’s group (which was more suspicious of Republicans) and the greater conservatism of Stone’s (which was more willing to work with Republicans). The two groups remained split for twenty years.

Mabee, Carleton. Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. New York University Press, 1993. p. 179

Ham, the first primate astronaut

Then they led him out again, trying to get him near a mockup of a Mercury capsule, where the television networks had set up cameras and tremendous lights. The reporters and photographers surged forward again, yammering, yelling, exploding more camera lights, shoving, groaning, cursing—the usual yahoo sprawl, in short—and the animal came unglued again, ready to twist the noodle off anybody he could get his hands on. This was interpreted by the Gent [the news media] as a manifestation of Ham‘s natural fear upon laying eyes once again on the capsule, which looked precisely like the one that had propelled him into space and subjected him to such severe physical stresses.

The stresses the ape was reacting to were probably of quite another sort. Here he was, back in the compound where they had zapped him through his drills for a solid month. Just two years ago he had been captured in the jungles of Africa, separated from his mother, shipped in a cage to a goddamned desert in New Mexico, kept prisoner, prodded and shocked by a bunch of humans in white smocks, and here he was, back in a compound where they had been zapping him through their fucking drills for a solid month, and suddenly there was a whole new mob of humans on hand! Even worse than the white smocks! Louder! Crazier! Totally out of their gourds! Yammering, roaring, brawling, exploding lights beside their bug-eyed skulls! Suppose they threw him to these assholes! Fuck this—

At some point in the madhouse scene out back of Hanger S, a photograph was taken in which Ham was either grinning or had on a grimace that looked like a grin in the picture. Naturally, this was the picture that went out over the wire services and was printed in newspapers throughout America. Such was the response of the happy chimpanzee to being the first ape in outer space … A fat happy grin… Such was the perfection with which the Proper Gent observed the proprieties.

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; New York. 1979. p. 223–4 (italics and ellipses in original)

The space race as single combat

With the decline of archaic magic, the belief in single combat began to die out. The development of the modern, highly organized army and the concept of “total war” seemed to bury it forever. But then an extraordinary thing happened: the atomic bomb was invented, with the result that the concept of total war was nullified. The incalculable power of the A-bomb and the bombs that followed also encouraged the growth of a new form of superstition founded upon awe not of nature, as archaic magic had been, but of technology. During the Cold War period small-scale competitions again took on the magical aura of a “testing of fate,” of a fateful prediction of what would inevitably happen if total nuclear war did take place. This, of course, was precisely the impact of Sputnik I, launched around the earth by the Soviets’ mighty and mysterious Integral in October 1957. The “space race” became a fateful test and presage of the entire Cold War conflict between the “superpowers,” the Soviet Union and the United States. Surveys showed that people throughout the world looked upon the competition in launching space vehicles in that fashion, i.e., as a preliminary contest proving final and irresistible power to destroy. The ability to launch Sputniks dramatized the ability to launch nuclear warheads on ICBMs. But in these neo-superstitious times it came to dramatize much more than that. It dramatized the entire technological and intellectual capability of the two nations and the strength of the national wills and spirits. Hence … John McCormack rising in the House of Representatives to say that the United States faced “national extinction” if she did not overtake the Soviet Union in the space race.

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; New York. 1979. p. 124–5 (ellipses in original)


Fighter pilots’ hazardous lifestyles

More fighter pilots died in automobiles than in airplanes. Fortunately, there was always some kindly soul up the chain to certify the papers “line of duty,” so that the widow could get a better break on the insurance. That was okay and only proper because somehow the system itself had long ago said Skol! and Quite right! to the military cycle of Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving, as if there were no other way. Every young fighter jock knew the feeling of getting two or three hours’ sleep and then waking up at 5:30 a.m. and having a few cups of coffee, a few cigarettes, and then carting his poor quivering liver out to the field for another day of flying. There were those who arrived not merely hungover but still drunk, slapping oxygen tank cones over their faces and trying to burn the alcohol out of their systems, and then going up, remarking later: “I don’t advise it, you understand, but it can be done.” (Provided you have the right stuff, you miserable pudknocker.)

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; New York. 1979. p. 37 (italics in original)