Iraq on Its Own Terms

 Leslie Evans

The dominant American liberal narrative about Iraq is that George Bush lied to drag America into a pointless war that destroyed a stable, secular, if dictatorial, country at the cost of the lives of 4,486 U.S. military personnel and at least 120,000 Iraqis, possibly many more, costing a trillion dollars, and leaving behind a chaotic ruin riven by bloody sectarian rivalries headed into civil war. Marxists would add that the war was a predatory attempt by American imperialism to create a client state and take control of Iraq's oil.


There is a certain amount of truth to these narratives but they are more about America than Iraq. Counting up the dead doesn't tell you what the Iraqis in their various ethnic and religious groupings were themselves fighting for, whether they believe they were better off under Saddam Hussein or not, and tends to treat them as undifferentiated and passive pawns or victims of the United States and its coalition partners. Just maybe most of them don't see it that way. Hate George Bush and Dick Cheney all you like. More power to you. The war was a disaster for America, and the Iraq that exists today is a far cry from the shining pro-West democracy that Bush and the neocons promised. But don't lie to yourselves about the people of Iraq, either out of ignorance or out of hatred for the Bush administration. In any case, maybe the fact that Barack Obama was the Commander in Chief of the U.S. forces in Iraq for more than a third of the time they were there may lead you to consider that the war, ill considered or not, was not simply an attack on Iraq's peoples. (Marxists excepted here.)


For those willing to look a little further into the past, the blood letting in Syria and Iraq is at least in part a consequence of the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement during World War I, which carved out French and British mandates, later validated by the League of Nations, in which the Ottoman Empire was abolished, with France gaining administration of what is now Syria and Lebanon, the British getting Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine. The charge against Mark Sykes and Francois Picot is that they simply drew lines on a map that grouped together peoples with radically different beliefs, building eventually explosive elements into these new states. Certainly since the region's borders were codified in 1921 the mandate states have been the most unstable: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine/Israel.


Yet if we go further back in assigning responsibility for the two current civil wars we will find that Sykes and Picot's greatest sin was not a deliberate herding together of ethnic and religious groups that harbored deep mutual hostilities, but that they took whole regions of the Ottoman Empire as is, failing to undo potentially explosive proximities that were part of Ottoman policy.After the Ottoman conquest of the region four hundred years ago, the Turkic overlords locked religious and ethnic rivals cheek by jowl and, at least in Iraq, deliberately imposed minority rule over peoples who would still be oppressed and brutalized when the Americans arrived in March 2003.

The starting point for unraveling Iraqi politics is its demographics, and how they came about. Index Mundi's 2013 estimates set the population at 31.8 million. Of this, Arabs are 75-80%, Kurds, who have their own language, 15-20% (other ethnic groups, mainly Turkoman, Assyrian, and Mandean, make up 5%). Religiously, 60-65% of the population are Shiites, 32-37% are Sunnis. But the Kurds are part of the Sunni count, and as an oppressed people under Saddam's Sunni dictatorship, they were and remain supporters of Saddam's overthrow by the Americans. That leaves the Arab Sunni population, the base of Saddam's rule and of the current ISIS invasion, at something like 17%, or about 5-6 million. The nine-year American war was overwhelmingly with a militant minority of the Arab Sunnis, themselves a small part of the population - and with foreign Islamic radicals who joined their cause.

Shiism was introduced into Iraq in the 10th century by several Arab Shia empires, most important, the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171). But Sunni Islam became dominant in the Arab lands, while Shiism was made the state religion in Persia under the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736). The differences to an outsider seem as inconsequential and arcane as those between Protestantism and Catholicism, another religious rivalry over which much real blood has been shed.

The split in Islam occurred immediately on Muhammad's death in 632 CE. Those who became the Shia demanded that the succession as the leader of Islam should be handed down within Muhammad's family as an inheritance determined by Allah, like kingship in the West. Their candidate as the first caliph was Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, married to Muhammad's daughter Fatimah. Those who won the argument and became the Sunnis instead called a sura council and elected Abu Bakr. Ali served as the fourth caliph, but was assassinated in the fourth year of his reign, 661. After the first four, the caliphate passed into the hands of successive dynasties, which, as they did not emanate from Muhammad's bloodline, defended the elective principle of the Sunni sect. The Shias reject the legitimacy of the Sunni line of caliphs. They represent only 10-20% of Muslims globally, but 38% in the Middle East. The only state in which Shia Islam is the state religion is Iran, the Persia of history. Arab Shiites are the majority in Iraq, but a large minority in Lebanon and, in the closely related Alawite sect, constitute the minority base of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

The Sunni Turkic Ottoman Empire conquered Iraq in 1533 and ruled until 1918. During those almost 400 years Ottoman policy was to use Iraq as a buffer state against its Persian adversary. As the Turks did not trust Iraqi Shias to remain loyal in face of their Persian coreligionists, the Ottomans imposed Sunni rule throughout.

The majority of Iraqis were nomadic tribesmen and nominally Sunnis. In the late eighteenth century the Ottomans forcibly compelled most of them to become sedentary agriculturists. In protest, and in part under the influence of Arab Shias at the holy sites of Najaf and Karbala, the tribesmen underwent a conversion to Shiism that expanded throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

So Shia Iraqis endured four hundred years of subordination to Sunni rule, though they were generally more docile than the similarly abused Kurds.

Kurds had a similar history but were more severely persecuted and rose in revolt repeatedly. Originally an Iranian people, there were a number of independent Kurdish kingdoms in the tenth and eleventh centuries, some surviving into the fifteenth century. The Kurds of Anatolia were conquered by Turkic invaders in the eleventh century, some rising to important positions in the regime. The best known was Saladin (1174-1193), the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, the famed opponent of Richard the Lion Hearted and the Crusaders.

The Kurds became an oppressed people when the Ottoman Empire annexed Armenia and Kurdistan in 1514. There were major Kurdish uprisings in 1847 and 1880. The Kurds, loyal to their Sunni Islam, strongly opposed the secular reforms of the Young Turks in World War I. Constantinople retaliated against its inassimilable minorities with the Armenian genocide of 1915 in which 1.5 million Armenians died. The lesser known Kurdish genocide took place at the same time, with the mass deportation of 700,000 Kurds to their present location in northeast Iraq, in which some 350,000 died.There were persistent Kurdish uprisings after World War I: in 1925, 1930, and 1937-38.

The point of this history is to show that the excluded and oppressed position of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds predated British and French intervention by centuries, and the lines on the map drawn by Mark Sykes and Francois Picot did not deliberately push together hostile peoples but simply took the Ottoman provinces, or vilayets, as they then existed and apportioned them to the mandate powers. To Britain went the whole of Iraq, which was composed of the Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra vilayets. The Syrian vilayet, which was subdivided into smaller sanjaks, comprised present day Syria, Jordon, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, and parts of Turkey and Egypt. It ran from southern Turkey in the north to Alexandria in the south. France took Syria and Lebanon, Britain the rest, giving the greater part, Transjordan, to the Hashemite monarchy and reserving the smaller part of Palestine to fulfill its pledge in the Balfour Declaration to sponsor a national home for the Jews.

Saddam Hussein's Secular State

Already by World War I open colonies had become unacceptable. With the Ottoman Turks fighting on the German side, Britain promoted the Arab Revolt to break the Turkish hold on the Middle East. Britain backed prominent Arab dynasties to rule in the new states that emerged. The venerable Hashemite Kingdom of the Hejaz that ruled Mecca and Medina in western Arabia provided princes: Faisal was named king of Syria, but the French expelled him, leading the British to offer him the kingship of Iraq. His brother Abdullah became king of Transjordan, which as just Jordan is ruled by the Hashemites to this day. In Iraq, Faisal's son and successor was murdered in a July 1958 revolution that installed a military government, in turn overthrown in the Baathist coup of July 1968.


The Baath movement, later solidified in Syrian and Iraqi parties, was founded principally by Michel Aflaq in Paris after the fall of France. Looking for an anticolonial modernism, Aflaq first was attracted to Stalin's Russia, but then found German Nazism more congenial. As Paul Berman put it, "The post-communist Aflaq took to mooning over the Arab seventh century. He imagined a return to yore through a revived appreciation of blood ties. He attached to those ideas the modern-sounding concept of socialism, thus arriving at a national-socialism. He identified the spiritual loftiness of the Arabs. He located ethnic enemies, some of whom, by odd coincidence, turned out to be the very enemies that German nationalism likewise loathed." (The New Republic, September 14, 2012)


So Baathism began life as an antisemitic racialist and totalitarian doctrine modeled on Hitler's Third Reich, with Arabs substituted for Germans as the master race. Where Germany revived romantic myths about Odin and the Teutonic past, the Baathists, without becoming Islamists, looked back to the seventh century time of Muhammad and the military expansion of the young Islam as their golden age.


Unlike Islam, Baathism did not advocate a worldwide caliphate but did look toward military expansion to achieve pan-Arab unity. Wherever it took power it installed a one-party state, crushed dissent, and first suppressed and then engaged in ethnic cleansing of groups that did not fit its image of the pure Arab bloodline. In Iraq that meant the Kurds, and the Iranians over the border to the east.


Shiites, at first seeing Baathism as a revolutionary anticolonial movement that might improve their position, joined the party in large numbers, while it was in opposition. As it became clear that, despite its nominal secularism the Baath leadership strongly favored the traditional minority Sunni rulers, Shiite members shrank to 6% by the time the Baath seized power in 1968. They were briefly wooed by Saddam in the 1980s after Saddam's invasion of Iran, as he needed their willing participation for his eight-year war, and feared them going over to the Shia Iranians. But as the war ended so did any inclusiveness of Iraqi Shias.


Saddam was a central figure in the 1968 Baathist coup. As vice president under an ailing leader, power quickly gravitated into his hands and he emerged as the regime's strong man, though he did not claim the presidency until 1979. On assuming the office he conducted a purge reminiscent of Stalin's execution of the Old Bolsheviks who might challenge his authority. Saddam had hundreds of high ranking Baathist officials executed.


The same year the Iranian revolution overthrew the American-backed shah and established a Shiite theocracy under the Ayatollah Khomeini, proclaiming a worldwide struggle to overthrow all of the infidel governments and replace them with ones that adhered to Allah's laws. This electrified the Arab Shiites of Iraq who for the first time in centuries threw off their acquiescence in their inferior status. Several Shiite groups demanded that Iraq abandon Baathist secularism and follow the Iranian model. At the same time, Kurdish agitation for independence was renewed. The secret police, the Mukhabarat, run by Saddam's half-brother, retaliated with widespread torture and assassinations.


In a January 26, 2004, essay by Human Rights Watch, whose main point was to oppose the current U.S. invasion, it stated that its records showed that the Iraqi Baath Party since 1979 had murdered 250,000 of its citizens, including 100,000 Kurds. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2004/01/25/war-iraq-not-humanitarian-intervention)


Saddam, implacable toward his critics, like the Saudi kings used Iraq's plentiful oil money to buy support and quiet dissent. He instituted universal health care and free universal education through college level. Occasionally he would stage an election to show how well loved he was. In an October 2002 vote, Saddam, with tens of thousands of photos of himself plastered on almost every wall in the country, won 100% of the votes.


Little more than a year after the Islamic Republic was proclaimed in Teheran, Saddam, fearing further Islamic radicalization of Iraq's Shiites, invaded Khomeini's Iran. The war would last until 1988. When Iran responded with human wave attacks, Saddam retaliated with poison gas. Kurds opened their own northern front, fighting once more for their independence and in support of Iran. They were also met with devastating poison gas. Saddam received major foreign aid as gifts or loans, and was allowed to buy weapons on a large scale.


Best known in the United States was the Iraqgate scandal that began under the Reagan administration. Run by former CIA chief, then Vice President, and later President, George H. W. Bush, it began in 1985, five years into the war. Bush, with Reagan's approval, put into operation a secret operation to approve American loans to Iraq. They were designated for dual-use materials; that is, the loans, funneled covertly through the Atlanta branch of Italy's largest bank, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, were not to buy weapons but were restricted to things that could have a civilian use, such as high end computers, ambulances, helicopters, and chemicals. The chemicals included cyanide from a Florida firm that Saddam used in his poison gas attacks against the Iranians and the Kurds. The loans continued under the George H. W. Bush administration right up to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The U.S. government-backed loans ran to $5 billion, of which Iraq repaid $3 billion and defaulted on the remainder. (For an excellent account see Russ W. Baker's "Iraqgate" in the March-April 1993 Columbia Journalism Review, available online at russbaker.com.)


Much has been made of Iraqgate, often to prove that Saddam was America's man and Washington's instrument to try to crush the Iranian revolution. This misses the consensus among a broad range of major powers, several of which provided far more money, not as loans but as gifts, years earlier, and with no conditions on how it was spent. There were two prime considerations: first, there was a widespread fear of Islamic radicalism and its loudly proclaimed threat to promote religious revolution throughout the world. The fear was no respecter of social systems. Saddam's biggest backers were the Soviet Union, Communist China, and capitalist France. All non-Muslim states were on edge, enough to close their eyes to the use of poison gas. Secondly, Iraq is one of the world's largest oil producers and the major states did not want the oil to be controlled by the Iranian mullahs.


In contrast to America's $5 billion in secret loans for marginal military uses, the Soviet Union provided $33.4 billion in gifts explicitly for weapons, France gave $9.2 billion, China $8.9 billion, and even Brazil threw in $1.1 billion. (The figures are from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (http://armstrade.sipri.org/armstrade/page/values.php ).


At the war's end Iran acknowledged 300,000 dead, Iraq 240,000 (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/iran-iraq.htm). The totals may have been much higher.


The genocidal campaign against the Kurds and smaller ethnic groups in northern Iraq paralleled the last years of the Iran-Iraq war, 1986-1988. Headed by Ali Hassan al Majid, known as Chemical Ali, 250 villages were gassed and 4,000 villages razed out of 4,600, leaving some 100,000 dead.


In sum, two totalitarian movements took root in the Middle East from the 1950s. The more widespread was jihadi Islam, based in religion. The other was Baathism, a conscious and explicit hybrid of Russian Stalinism and Hitler's Nazism. To say that the latter is secular does not make it more acceptable than religious extremism. The word "secular" misleadingly implies that the Baathist dictatorship was no worse than many other forms of authoritarian or dictatorial regime in the Middle East and elsewhere. Not so. Stanley Payne, one of the prime authorities on fascism, wrote in his 1995 A History of Fascism - 1914-1945, "There will probably never again be a reproduction of the Third Reich, but Saddam Hussein has come closer than any other dictator since 1945." (p. 517)


The War and After

After the fall of Saddam, the Iraq war was fought by the American-led foreign coalition, the Kurdish peshmerga armed forces, and a large majority of the Shiites against the remnants of Saddam's fascist regime. The Baathist revanchists were joined by large numbers of foreign jihadi warriors, most notably Al Qaeda in Iraq, headed by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006. This is this organization, with some additional groups, renamed Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, that invaded Iraq in June 2014 from Syria. Normally when a minority, privileged, and oppressive ruling class is overthrown and then mounts a military assault to try to regain power this is called a counterrevolution. The Iraq situation was complicated by the foreign character of the agency that toppled the old ruling class, an American superpower that had a history of exploitive relations with underdeveloped nations. My view would be that judgment of right and wrong here depends on how the subordinated majority responded. And as George Orwell once told us, war is not a choice between good and evil. It is always a choice between greater and lesser evils.


At least the Kurds and most of the Shiites were jubilant at Saddam's overthrow. The Americans, however, were ill prepared on what to do next. The neocons, who had persuaded the Bush-Cheney administration of the invasion as a shortcut to establishing an America friendly state in the Muslim heartland, expected that, as in the Gulf War of 1990-91, there would be a quick thrust to take Saddam down, followed by a handover to the Shiite opposition that would wrap things up and the U.S. could leave. That was unlikely in even the most optimistic scenario, as Saddam, as in any one-party fascist state, had destroyed all the organizations of civil society except for some very weak religious-based ones (the Kurds excepted). Moreover, the Shiites and Kurds were not left to themselves to build new state institutions, but were immediately confronted by the defeated Baathists, soon joined by murderous foreign jihadi militants, who instituted a campaign of car and suicide bombing and assassinations.


The Bush government and its military knew little about Iraq, had few people who could speak Arabic, and, fearing sabotage by Iraq's overwhelmingly Sunni administrative structure, dissolved the Iraqi army and terminated the great majority of Sunni civil servants. While their concern was understandable, and retaining such people had considerable dangers, throwing them out of work provided huge numbers of angry unemployed Sunnis, resentful at both the rise of the, to them, rightfully subordinate Shiites and Kurds, intensified by hatred for the infidel foreigners who had invaded their country and made this possible.


The U.S. troops fought well and intelligently, tried to minimize civilian casualties, and had a certain level of success in helping the new government build from scratch its army and police forces. But the Coalition soldiers had little personal contact with ordinary Iraqis, lived in fortified camps and enclaves, and were sometimes killed by Iraqi security personnel they worked with who were loyal to the insurgents of the old regime.


In a country that had no experience of parliamentary democracy or large existing organizations that could rapidly establish a state structure, the new government sought to include Sunnis, many of whom were not Baathist supporters, as well as Kurds, in the new parliament and top officialdom, while holding down their numbers in the army, police, and civil service. The most recent, April 2014, parliamentary elections, for example, with a confusing number of parties and coalitions, but a large turnout of 62%, gave Maliki's coalition 158 of 328 seats, or a plurality of 48%. All Iraqi constituencies won seats: The Shias, 170; Sunnis, 43; Kurds, 62; and the smaller ethnicities and religious denominations 24. The Shiite politicians from the first did not agree with the Kurds' demand for extreme autonomy leading toward independence. The structures that did emerge and the orderly national elections that were held were much more promising than might have been expected.


The most authoritative Shiite religious leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, was cooperative with the Americans throughout, supported the American-protected elections in 2005 and 2010, and today, after the ISIS invasion, has called on the Maliki government to include Sunnis in leading positions and seek reconciliation with the Sunni minority.


One faction among the Shiites opposed the U.S. invasion. Led by the prominent cleric Muqtada al Sadr, it formed its own militia, the Mahdi Army, within months of the American landing. The Mahdi Army attacked Coalition troops in April 2004 and continued sporadic attacks over the next two years, but had no serious clashes with the Americans after 2006. It did fight with the new national army and police, as well as organizing its own anti-Sunni death squads during the 2006-2008 civil war. Muqtada al Sadr ordered a truce with the Americans and Iraqi government in August 2007 and disbanded his army in August 2008 (though inactive, the Madhi Army retained its weapons and after the ISIS invasion has been reconstituted and sworn to defend Baghdad against the jihadi force).


In the 2010 parliamentary elections Sadr's political party won 40 of 325 seats, and since the American withdrawal he has presented himself as a moderate.


During the war the Sunni Islamicists in particular adopted the strategy of car and suicide bombing, and death squads aimed at the Shiite civilian population with the avowed goal of exterminating the heretics. Most immediately this aimed to provoke a civil war. That war took place in 2006-2008. In reaction to the jihadi killings the Shiites formed their own militias, which retaliated in kind, reducing the Sunni population of Baghdad from 35% to 12%, as many Sunnis fled the capital.


In June 2007 during the American troop surge, the Americans began to arm Sunni tribes in their heartland of Anbar province. These tribes had been allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgent Baathist forces, but found them repressive and brutal. This winning over of significant parts of the Sunni populace was a major factor in bringing the war to a close.


The last American troops pulled out of Iraq in December 2011. They left behind a country still faced with regular bombings by the defeated Baathist fascists and by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had now renamed itself ISIS. The almost daily totals of persons blown to bits in Baghdad and other cities that have littered the U.S. press over the last few years give the impression that the war was ongoing on a significant scale before ISIS invaded. While ISIS moved its center of operations to Syria during the civil war there, it retained a small force in Iraq. But the persistent bombing appears to have been organized out of Syria. Brett McGurk, special U.S. envoy for Iraq and Iran, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that almost all of the 300 suicide bombings in Iraq over the previous year were carried out by foreign fighters who entered the country from Syria (Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2014).

The clearest winners of the long conflict have been the Kurds. Subject to genocidal attack under Saddam and faced with daily bombing by the Baathist regime that only President Clinton's no-fly zone halted, from the early days after the U.S. invasion they were able to use their peshmerga army to hold the Sunni bombers and assassins at bay. They quickly became virtually independent for the first time since the Ottoman conquest in the sixteenth century. They have built a prosperous economy which has enjoyed substantial foreign investment. Even the latest upset with the invasion by ISIS seems to have been more to their advantage than not, as they were finally able to establish their control over the contested city of Kirkuk. It has been reported, but I am unable to verify if true or continuing, that when ISIS captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, that they executed many Shiites, but left the Kurdish sector alone.

The Kurds have resolved their long conflict with Turkey, having built an oil pipeline to the Turkish border, while the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, which was not seriously bothering them in recent years, seems unlikely to try to recover Kirkuk. As the most oppressed of the peoples under the Baathists, this is a humanitarian victory of the first order. That it was bought at a cost that was far too high for America does not diminish its worth to the Kurds.


(By way of disclosure: I have been a partisan of the Kurds for many years. Like the native Middle Eastern Jews, who, as refugees from Muslim countries, constitute half of Israel's population, the Kurds, despite their Muslim faith, have been a historic pariah people. Though I was not in favor of the U.S. invasion, once done what I most hoped to see was the Kurds winning their freedom.)


The Shiite majority also have ended their exclusion from power that lasted since 1533. That is also no small thing. I hope that American liberals and leftists will not let their justified hatred of George Bush and opposition to America's rigged entry into and overcommitment in this war lead them to refuse to see that it has freed millions of people from an intolerable situation. That they face new perils today from the same forces that kept them in bondage before the war is not a reason to dismiss what they have won, even should it prove tenuous, or even if the Iraqi Shiites prove more attracted to their coreligionists in Iran than to the United States.


These unquestionable advances for Iraq's marginalized and often slaughtered peoples do not mean that the country will function as a liberal democracy or even that it will remain a single entity. There are deep divisions among its three principal components that go back many centuries. These differences were held in check by powerful overlords, from the Ottoman caliphs to the monarchs, military regimes, and neofascist Baathists that followed. The solution to the rival aspirations and hatreds is as likely to be separation as accommodation. As Leon Wieseltier commented in a retrospective on the Iraq war issued shortly before the ISIS incursion, "When you liberate people from tyranny, or when they liberate themselves, it is the actually existing people who are liberated. They are suddenly freed for the expression of their previously suppressed identities; and those identities are often intensely tribal and religious. People are not liberalized by freedom." (The New Republic, March 20, 2013)


The U.S. in the later years of its occupation made a serious effort to make Iraq's armed forces more inclusive. Kenneth M. Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, in a June 14 report writes that the United States in 2006-2009 made a major effort to depoliticize Iraq's ISF (Iraqi Security Forces). Washington "Pressed Baghdad to accept more and more Sunni and Kurdish officers and enlisted personnel into the ranks. As a result, the ISF became a far more integrated force than it had been, led by a far more apolitical and nationalistic officer corps." In 2009-2010 Maliki largely undid these reforms, fearing that the Sunni officers were secretly in league with the Baath insurgency. Pollack writes that this made the army more narrowly sectarian but it also involved dismissing competent commanders who Maliki did not regard as personally loyal to himself and substituting loyalists of lower competence. (http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2014/06/14-iraq-military-situation-pollack)


Some Comments on America's War Aims

I see repeated frequently the charge that the Bush administration - and Britain's Tony Blair who seconded them on the invasion - were war criminals. One can say that the U.S. had no immediate interest in Iraq great enough to justify the invasion. That the Bush administration lied to get the invasion approved. That the war was not worth the cost in American lives and money. And that the U.S. blunder in purging Sunnis from the army and government cost many lives afterward. But the invasion was not an attack on the people of Iraq. An 80% plus majority were victims of the Baathist regime. The Kurds remain pro-American while the Shiites, though they wanted the Americans to leave after a certain point, are clearly willing to work with the United States and have requested American help in the present crisis.


Most of the killing after the 2003 invasion was by the Baathist fascists fighting on behalf of what had been a minority ruling class dictatorship, and by the Islamists who went to Iraq in large numbers, who targeted Shiite civilians as a deliberate plan by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq to provoke a Shiite counterattack that would electrify the Sunni population and propel them to join the jihadis, a strategy ISIS continues to employ today.

The U.S. war crimes chorus quieted somewhat when Obama assumed command and the country seemed to be doing reasonably well in the last period of the U.S. presence and after the U.S. withdrawal. It has loudly resumed in the wake of the ISIS invasion.

The story that the then-Republican administration just wanted to make Iraq an American neocolony and steal its oil, which would have been a war crime, is simplistic. It caricatures the political currents of the time, which can only be unhelpful in viewing clearly America’s place in the world, its options, and in weighing that administration’s goals, in order to develop an alternative foreign policy that doesn’t just say the U.S. should do nothing abroad and let other countries and forces fight it out while we watch from the sidelines. (I probably will not be able to speak here to my Marxist friends, who believe that all American interventions elsewhere are by definition motivated by criminal intentions.)

The American Right is divided into several factions. Most prominent recently are the libertarians of the Ron Paul stripe, and the much larger wing often called paleoconservatives. These last are now dominant in the Republican Party. They hew to a familiar script: opposition to immigration and social welfare measures, big government, gay marriage, abortion rights, and affirmative action, while supporting Christian fundamentalism, encouraging suspicion of science, and defending whites from the challenges of an increasingly multiethnic nation. They are generally inclusive toward racist currents and sometimes antisemitism. While always for a strong military, paleocons are traditionally isolationist, despite attracting some saber rattling characters like John McCain.

The Iraq war was the product of a third wing of the conservative movement, now very much in the shade: the neoconservatives. They had their brief moment of large-scale influence in the George W. Bush administration. Both they and Bush are now repudiated by the Republican majority as an unacceptable big government deviation from orthodoxy, as well as the party’s desire to escape responsibility for the unpopular Iraq war.

The most prominent neocon figures in the Bush administration were Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. While the paleocons were always right-wingers, the neocons originated as liberals, many around Washington State Democratic Senator Henry Jackson. Some of their older activists and theorists had been social democrats and a few even were Trotskyists, leading to a widespread, but false, paleocon charge that neocons were a branch of Trotskyism that had substituted a world revolution for democratic capitalism for Trotsky’s hoped for world revolution for proletarian communism. (For discussions of the claim that the neocons were a form of Trotskyism see William F. King, “Neoconservatives and ‘Trotskyism,’” American Communist History, vol. 3, no. 2, 2004, and Alan Wald, “Are Trotskyites running the Pentagon?” History News Network, July 23, 2003.)

Max Shachtman (1904-1972), in the 1930s a central leader of the Socialist Workers Party, then the principal Trotskyist organization in the country, and in 1940 the founder of the Workers Party, abandoned Marxism in the 1950s and as a leader of the Social Democrats, USA, was an important figure in influencing the thinking of the neoconservatives. Another neocon with a Trotskyist background was William Kristol, briefly a Socialist Workers Party fellow traveler and then a member of the youth group of Shachtman’s Workers Party, he was later an editor of Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary, originally a Jewish journal of the anti-Stalinist Left that moved to the right in the 1970s. His son, William Kristol, also influential in neocon circles, began as a Democrat, in 1976 working for New York Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and is today editor of the neoconservativeWeekly Standard. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who switched to the Republicans under Ronald Reagan, in her youth was a member of the Socialist Party’s Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL).

A second strand of neoconservatism emanated from the Political Science department of the University of Chicago, inspired by two scholars who taught there, Leo Strauss (1899-1973) and Albert Wohlstetter (1913-1997). Paul Wolfowitz studied under both. Strauss was the more complex, a philosopher far removed from politics. He criticized a strain of what he saw as nihilism that liberalism inherited from the Enlightenment: this was an excessive elevation of Reason as a guide to promoting human improvement through planned social engineering, at the cost of paying little attention to actual history and culture and their importance in shaping people’s identity. In its extreme form this became Communism and Nazism, which disdained all previous culture and viewpoints and imposed their own views by force. In its “gentle” form, he proposed, it led to a generic social engineering without roots in real culture that produced a moral relativism, aimless and hedonistic, predominant in the Western democracies. A conservative interpretation of his doctrines encouraged a strong commitment to inherited values while opposing destructive authoritarian governments and movements.

Albert Wohlstetter was a very opposite personality. As an analyst at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica in the 1950s he emerged as the principal architect of America’s nuclear defense policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. He was appalled at the idea that the government had no plan to deter or to respond to a Soviet nuclear attack except to throw everything it owned at the Russians. He worked to have the government have several alternate plans that would give it the most flexible chance to deter or avoid a nuclear exchange. He opposed U.S. targeting of civilian centers in the Soviet Union, and worked to establish a credible second strike capacity as a deterrent to any Soviet thought of launching a first strike. He advised Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and was a principal adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations for decades afterwards, becoming particularly concerned to halt the spread of nuclear technology that had the capacity to be weaponized. His conservatism consisted mainly in a concern that the United States be vigilant toward its enemies abroad and proactive to head off future dangers. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1964 to 1980, where he chaired Paul Wolfowitz’s dissertation committee.

By one of those curious chances I came to know Albert fairly well, in the fall of 1961 in Los Angeles when I was nineteen and he forty-seven. This occurred through a neighbor and family friend who was a technical writer at the RAND Corporation where Albert and his wife Roberta, a distinguished military intelligence analyst, both worked. I had recently joined the Young Socialist Alliance, the youth group of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, and Albert and I would often argue about Marxism. I dated his daughter Joan, who also, after they had moved to Chicago, dated the young Richard Perle, later Wolfowitz’s partner in convincing the White House to undertake the Iraq invasion.

In November and December 1961 I lived in Albert and Roberta’s home while they were on an extended trip. I found them to be humane and liberal-minded people.

From their origins in the Democratic Party and the moderate social democracy the neocons were liberal on the social issues where the paleocons were reactionary. They were generally antiracist, supporters of Martin Luther King (but not of black nationalism), of women’s rights, tolerant of immigration and multiculturalism. By the time Wolfowitz and Perle joined, whatever was leftist in the neocon movement lay in the past except for their social liberalism. After the collapse of Soviet Communism they shared in the belief that the future lay with Western style parliamentary democracy. In contrast to paleocon isolationism the neocons were avid interventionists, energetic Wilsonian promoters of political democracy as a kind of cure-all for the world’s ills. They did this, not, as they saw it, for the predatory reasons of the old imperialisms or the greedy corporations, but to advance what many of them called democratic globalism, the shining future that would free peoples from authoritarian dictatorships.

Like most liberals and Marxists, in the unexamined traditions of Enlightenment social engineering and rationalism, they vastly underestimated the power of religion, imagining that it was a superficial matter behind which always lay more weighty economic and political interests. This was least of all true in the Muslim Middle East, where national identity is recent and weak while tribal and Islamic ties are the basic core of civic life. The underestimation of Islam was a major reason why, whatever good came out of the neocons’ Iraq adventure, and I believe some did, it did not and could not achieve the utopian vision they began with.

This brings us to what they thought they were doing in the Iraq invasion of 2003. They did not view the invasion as a humanitarian action, as, for example, a crisis intervention to save the victims in Rwanda would have been if any Western power would have done such a thing, or Bill Clinton’s Bosnian intervention in 1995 following the Srebrenica massacre. It rested instead on a concern at the growth of radical Islamist currents throughout the Muslim world. This had really been going on since the end of World War II, and had accelerated after the Pan-Arab nationalist efforts of Nasser collapsed – first with failure of the short-lived United Arab Republic of 1958-61, then the two disastrous defeats of the secular Arab regimes in the wars in which they attempted to destroy the Jewish state in Israel.

A slowly building turn to Islam as an alternative ideology to failed nationalism ultimately swept the Muslim world, first in its Shia section with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and then as a score of violent Sunni insurrections from sub-Saharan Africa to the Philippines, but most prominently in the Arab Middle East. The neocons were intent on constructing an alternative model in the region, not on acquiring an American colony.

Whatever Bush and Cheney claimed – and they said many untrue and stupid things, such as that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, and had the mythical weapons of mass destruction – the neocon choice of Iraq was because it looked to be the country most likely to embrace radical change. It had the most hated government and there was a large enough section of the population that could be expected to support overthrowing the Baathists that it was hoped that a new regime could showcase Western democracy to act as an alternative regional pole to radical Islam and Baathism. For such an effort it was probably better to choose a regime that was not explicitly Islamic, as that might blunt the reaction that the U.S., already deep in the war in Afghanistan, was embarked on a war against Islam as a whole.

While they were not entirely wrong, the neocons underestimated the tenacity of the Baathists, as well as the extent to which the widespread Islamic radicalism had coalesced around the traditional Quranic injunction to spread Islam by force throughout the world. This had already acquired thousands of battle hardened fighters ready to swing into action on any front that provided them an opportunity to further their cause. The neocons overestimated the organizational capacities of the atomized Shia population, the inevitable hatreds they harbored toward their long-time oppressors that would make it difficult for them to act inclusively toward the Sunnis while there was still a considerable Sunni force engaged in killing Shiites, and the general absence of a democratic political tradition in the country. And above all, as with most Western liberals, they could not believe that Islam in its mutually hostile camps could be a more powerful force than the promise of political liberty.


It is an article of liberal faith that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to seize the country’s oil. And not only liberals say this. Many leading Republicans do as well. Alan Greenspan, a long-time Republican and chairman of the Federal Reserve (1987-2006), in a much quoted comment in his 2007 memoir, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, said, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

Current U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Republican Senator from Nebraska, 1997-2009, and an untypical Republican critic of the war, in 2007 declaimed:

“People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America’s national interest. What the hell do you think they’re talking about? We’re not there for figs.”

And there is considerable truth to this opinion. Under Saddam, oil, as in other major producers Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Mexico, was nationalized. Venezuela has state dominance with minority shares for private companies. Russia privatized after the fall of the Soviet Union but the state has reabsorbed a large part of the oil industry. In the United States, Libya, and Nigeria oil is owned by private companies. The U.S. did in fact successfully pressure the Maliki government to privatize Iraqi oil.

The first contract bidding by private companies took place in 2009; Exxon and Occidental were among the bidders. The final arrangement specified that the Iraqi state retained a permanent 25% interest in all of its oil properties. The sections that were leased to private companies that year were valued at $5.86 billion. Of that, two contracts out of 23 went to U.S. firms: Exxon and Occidental, for a combined total of $1.17 billion, or 20%. China secured contracts worth $1.12 billion, and Russia $669 million. Contracts worth more than $100 million also went to Shell (Netherlands), BP (mostly British), ENI (Italy), and Angola, South Korea, and Malaysia.

Sales of the oil itself, as with the contracts to produce it, revealed the same pattern (see pie chart). Only 19% in 2012 went to the United States, while 51% of Iraqi oil was sold to China, India, and other Asian countries, 20% to Europe, and 10% to others. (U.S. Energy Information Administration data, 2012)



One reason the U.S. came in so far behind the Asian and Russian bidders was because the terms Iraq offered were well below what other oil producing countries offered. Privately owned oil companies like Exxon have to sell their oil at the world market price. Iraq, instead of offering its contract bidders a steep discount from the world price offered a take-it-or-leave it $1.40 a barrel. That simply wasn’t enough for privately owned companies to show a profit, pay dividends, high salaries, and contribute to their recently skyrocketing R&D costs. State-owned companies had no such problems. Their governments paid separately for R&D and all they expected from Iraq was oil at world market prices. This put all countries without state-owned oil monopolies at an insurmountable obstacle, the United States included. TheNew York Times commented:

“Before the invasion, Iraq’s oil industry was sputtering, largely walled off from world markets by international sanctions against the government of Saddam Hussein, so his overthrow always carried the promise of renewed access to the country’s immense reserves. Chinese state-owned companies seized the opportunity, pouring more than $2 billion a year and hundreds of workers into Iraq, and just as important, showing a willingness to play by the new Iraqi government’s rules and to accept lower profits to win contracts. ‘We lost out,’ said Michael Makovsky, a former Defense Department official in the Bush administration who worked on Iraq oil policy (June 2, 2013).

This came to a head four years after Iraq’s first open bidding. The Financial Times reported:

“When Iraq held its first postwar oil licensing round in June 2009, groups like ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP flocked to Baghdad for what was one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the oil industry calendar. At the fourth round last May, none of them bid” (March 17, 2013).

Interestingly for the notion that Iraq simply fell apart during the long years of war after 2003, Iraq’s oil production fell far lower as a result of the First Gulf War following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. And by 2012, output was higher than it had ever been under the Baathists.



Lucrative contracts for drilling and maintenance did go to Dick Cheney’s old firm, Halliburton, and to Baker Hughes, another American company, as well as to Weatherford International (Switzerland) and Schlumberger (Paris). These services will be paid many billions for their work, but will not take away any oil. Halliburton will become richer but it won’t power any American cars.

So the U.S. has settled for second best: keeping Iraqi oil as part of the global supply so that prices don’t go up the $30 to $50 a barrel they might rise if no oil was produced there. Andrei Kuzyaev, president of Lukoil Overseas, in a 2011 interview, said, “The strategic interest of the United States is in new oil supplies arriving on the world market, to lower prices” (New York Times, June 14, 2011). Recall that the huge subsidies to Saddam from both communist and capitalist countries while he was gassing Iranian troops in the 1980s was in important part because it was thought he was less likely to withhold oil from the world market than the Islamic Republic. After his invasion of Kuwait, Saddam looked equally dangerous as the Iranian mullahs.

This brings us to the role of oil in today’s world.

Criticisms of the American government’s fixation on securing supplies of oil are peculiarly otherworldly unless they are tied to a call to retrofit the economy to run on alternative sources of energy. The reality, and this is an unpleasant topic for many people, is that our world society has been built on a historically brief use of a once-in-a-lifetime nonrenewable energy bonanza. And at this time no country can do without it, or even suffer any significant diminution of its supply, without facing a crisis and potential social collapse.

From the coal that fueled Britain’s industrial revolution that began around 1760 to the kerosene that replaced whale oil in our lamps at the end of the nineteenth century to the gasoline that ran our cars and aeroplanes in the twentieth, these are the rapidly depleting remains of plants and animals that died many tens of millions of years ago and represent a one-time gift of a huge energy boost compared to all other currently available energy sources.

The turmoil now roiling Iraq and Syria is part of the crisis that began in 2010 with the Arab Spring. Dictators that had been tolerated for generations became unbearable when food prices, which closely track oil, began to rise in 2002, had almost tripled at the time of the oil price spike in 2008, and did triple the 2002 rate in 2010. Oil for transportation, powering farm equipment, and fertilizers is so central to food production that their prices move in lockstep, and oil prices increased drastically when conventional crude topped out in 2005 and prices began to be set by fracked oil and Canadian tar sands.



This has had a disastrous effect on the stability of poor nations, most particularly in the Mid East, even among large oil producers except places like Saudi Arabia that provide large popular subsidies to defuse discontent. The eastern Mediterranean and North Africa are particularly vulnerable to the global ecological downward spiral of rising oil and food prices, combined with limited water and arable land, in a part of the planet with some of the highest birth rates. This is a situation that induces desperation far deeper than politics or religion, but which impels people to seek salvation in the faith they know, in this region, Islam. And some of those religious leaders are fanatics who promise prosperity in a new holy war.

More broadly for all of our futures, the greatest, and potentially fatal, dereliction of our governments, Democratic and Republican alike in the United States, but of every other significant government in the world, capitalist or communist, has been to imagine that they can just go on indefinitely with perpetual geometric growth – of population, in  the consumption of mineral and oil resources, of supplies of ocean fish, of arable farmland, of potable water – without encountering the collapse of populations that every other species has met when its expanding numbers outran its food resources. The persistent efforts to manipulate the governments of the Middle East, sometimes to the benefit of their peoples and more often merely an accommodation with their dictators, has been little more than buying time, time that has been wasted looking to protect sources of liquid hydrocarbons that will become more and more scarce instead of making massive investments in alternative energy sources. This threatens the viability of economies throughout the planet.

Though peak oil, predicted for shortly after the turn of the millennium, has been late arriving, there are a growing number of ominous signs. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s data, world oil production grew from 66.44 million barrels a day (mb/d) in 1990 to 83.16 mb/d in 2004, an annual growth rate of 1.62%. In the eight years since, the rate has been halved, to .82%, and that includes the much vaunted boost from fracked oil in North Dakota and Texas. BP, in its authoritative Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 issued this June, reported that world production in 2013 increased by a mere 560,000 mb/d while consumption grew by almost three times that amount, at 1.4 mb/d. Oil was selling for $12 a barrel in 1998 ($17 allowing for inflation) and has been $100 or better for several years. On June 24, West Texas Intermediate, used in the U.S. Midwest, was selling for $106, with the European Brent price, which is also used on the American coasts, at $114. A major cause was the peaking of conventional crude in 2005, which has since been supplemented by far more expensive unconventional sources, including fracking, deep sea, and Canadian tar sends. These high energy prices were a major contributor to the deep world recession that began in 2008 and is not fully over yet.

Conventional oil worldwide is depleting at 3-4% a year. The privately owned international oil companies in the last 10 years spent $3.5 trillion trying to increase the flow of conventional oil They failed utterly and got nothing for their money. They spent an additional $500 million on unconventional sources. Pretty much all of them are cutting back drastically on conventional investments. But fracked wells, which are now just able to make up for conventional oil depletion, themselves have a far more rapid depletion rate than conventional wells: for each new well some 85% of its lifetime output is exhausted by the end of the second year.

This explains why governments worldwide are more and more concerned to locate and put a lock on the oil needed to keep their economies running. In the United States the Republicans, heavily compromised by campaign financing from the big oil companies, are doing everything they can to thwart investment in alternative energies.

Even if that were not so, while electricity can be produced by wind, solar, and natural gas, electricity can’t fuel airplanes, or, at this stage, cross country trucking or automobiles that must cover many miles. Without a massive reorientation to produce as much energy as possible from sources other than fossil fuels all countries except those few with very large oil reserves are headed toward resource wars that will threaten the fabric of our civilization.


ISIS, more properly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, is one of scores of Sunni Islamic organizations that, in many countries, have taken up the banner of jihad, to, as they see it, resume the military expansion of Islam that began under Muhammad in the seventh century. Those in the Middle East and North Africa – their cothinkers exist and have led bloody struggles, in Nigeria, the Philippines, Thailand, Chechnya, and other places outside of the Arab-Persian region – fight in the name of Allah to wrest power from Shias and Sunnis alike who do not profess their own severe and intolerant brand of Islam. Their tactic, evolved over many years, is extreme terror: the slaughter of civilians, beheadings, crucifixions, suicide bombings in markets and hotels, mass executions.

ISIS and its similars are masters of terror, but it is a mistake to call them mere terrorists. Genghis Khan left piles of skulls wherever his horsemen rode as they thundered out of Mongolia, subjugating an empire that ranged from Peking and Lhasa in the east to Moscow and Baghdad in the west. Three of the khanates Genghis’s armies established embraced Islam. Modern day Islamists have adopted his ruthless methods of battle. Unlike the Mongols, who after winning were tolerant of all religions, the Islamicist radicals are intolerant in the extreme.

The Islamic radicals view Western secularism and democracy as repugnant godless paganism, and Muslim collaborators with the West, such as the corrupt Saudis, despite their Wahhabi pretensions, as traitors to the faith. All are rejected as jahiliyyah, literally the state of chaos in Arabia before the coming of Islam, but in practice meaning degenerate barbarism. Their most essential belief is that all valid law is the law dictated by Allah in the Quran and all human-made laws that conflict with God’s law are an abomination to be abolished.

The most insightful short piece I have seen on ISIS is an interview with Olivier Roy in the June 16, 2014, New RepublicRoy is a well-known French authority on Islam who now teaches at the European University Institute of Florence, Italy. Roy is anything but an Islamophobe. He has written widely on the ways in which orthodox Muslim believers can coexist in Western secular societies and sharply criticized those who regard Islam as inassimilable in Europe.

The main points Roy makes about ISIS, after establishing that its origins are in Al Qaeda, is that it is a “globalized international movement which is lacking deep roots in the local society and which does not have a ‘national’ project (contrary to Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Jihad, or the Shia radical movements).” It draws on an international radical Islamic movement that has grown up over many years and in many countries, beginning shortly after World War II. Roy says that many of its foreign volunteers don’t speak Arabic and have little interest in local Iraqi society apart from imposing Sharia law.

The London Daily Mail online website on June 14 offered its estimate that ISIS had about 12,000 fighters in  Iraq and Syria of whom 3,000 were from others areas, 500 from Europe and 2,500 from Pakistan, Chechnya and other places relatively distant.

Paul Berman, in the June 16, New Republic, wrote of ISIS that its “universal goals confer on it the ability to summon supporters from around the world. This we have seen before. During the last few decades, the perfect society of the seventh century has repeatedly gone into bloom, whenever some part of the Muslim world has fallen into chaos: in post-Soviet Afghanistan; in Sudan; in parts of Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam; in Yemen during a period of turmoil; in northern Mali during a civil war; and in parts of Syria. To watch it sprouting up yet again ought not to shock us. . . . And, in each case, the seventh century has blossomed because, no matter how few and marginal may be its champions in any given country, their comrades in other  parts of the world, the knights of jihad, can be counted on to volunteer their services. They rush to enlist because they are waging a sort of world war on a protracted basis, and they know they are doing so – and their lucidity on this point gives them an advantage over some of their foggy-headed enemies.”

In Olivier Roy’s view, ISIS is neither a political party nor a social movement and is ill-fitted to transform its army of militants into such things. Its ideology is of global conquest for Islam. He predicts, as have many others since, that while ISIS may hold the Sunni areas of the two countries it spans, it will not penetrate further into Iraq but will be stopped by the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north and by the Shia under the leadership of the clergy, quite independent of what Maliki’s formal army is able to do. He also predicted that “tensions between Jihadis, Baathists and tribal leaders will erupt among Sunnis.” He believes the result will be a weak central government with three autonomous regions or a splintering of Iraq into its three component parts.

The Sunni-Shia division, he says, was not sharp in the twentieth century until the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which provoked a counter movement by the Sunni powers, led by Saudi Arabia. While the Shia have a clear bloc, led by Iran, that includes Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, plus a weaker link to Maliki in Iraq, “the Sunni front is utterly divided and has no common objectives.” Apart from opening the road to Kurdish independence, the main effect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he said, was the destruction of “the main Sunni bulwark against Iran.” So what was good for the Kurds was bad for the Saudis.

Roy also agrees with many other observers, including an op-ed in the June 24 Los Angeles Times by Dennis Ross, a Middle East advisor to both presidents Clinton and Obama, that Obama’s failure to act early in the Syrian civil war to bolster more moderate rebels makes any intervention now, after ISIS has established itself over a wide swath of both countries, more than difficult.

Islam began as a religion of conquest and the jihadis of today regard themselves as the continuators of that glorious heritage, first and foremost to recover all of the territories once ruled by Islam and since lost. The armies of Muhammad and his successors swept out of Arabia in the seventh century and rapidly took all of the Middle East and North Africa. Muslims ruled Spain from 711 to 1492. The Muslim Ottoman Turks laid siege to Vienna twice, in 1485 and 1683, ruled Greece from the mid-15th century until 1821, controlled central and southern Hungary, 1546-1699; Bulgaria, mid-1300s to 1878; and Albania, 1385-1912. Today’s Islamists openly declare that they want all of that back. They also often cite a Quranic prophecy that Islam will conquer and rule in Rome.

So what are the limits of ISIS’s territorial ambitions? The name it has chosen, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, suggests its regional reach. It is sometimes rendered in English as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. Al-Sham does mean Greater Syria, but it was a designation under the Ottoman Empire before the current states of Syria and Iraq existed. Greater Syria, or al-Sham, under the Ottomans was a synonym for the Syrian vilayet. It included what are now Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, and encompassed a piece of southern Turkey and Alexandria in Egypt.

At this time ISIS is the most successful Sunni jihadi organization in the last hundred years. The mainstream press, in a sign that they have not quite caught up to the reality, continue to describe it as an Al Qaeda splinter group. This is a bit like calling Lenin’s Bolsheviks a Social Democratic splinter group. Like the Bolsheviks, the Islamic revolutionary movement in its Middle Eastern and North African theatre, seem to have a minimum and maximum program. Its first objective is its own reconquista, of all of the territories once occupied in the first wave of Islamic expansion. This is often expressed in jihadi writings and videos as “Not one inch that was once Muslim shall remain in infidel hands.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Several websites of ISIS supporters have posted maps that they claim are ISIS’s five-year goal. I don’t know if this should be taken seriously, but they show ISIS’s black banner over the whole of the Middle East as far east as Kazakhstan, sweeping all of North Africa as far west as Morocco, and swallowing up India and Indonesia. A few even include Spain, once a Muslim colony. Grandiose fantasies indeed, unless ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, should prove to be a new Genghis Khan. His ambitions are plain in this nomme de guerre he has chosen, calling himself by the name of the first Sunni caliph. Al Jazeera on June 29 reported the ISIS has declared the creation of its caliphate with its initial boundaries stretching from Diyala province in eastern Iraq to Aleppo in western Syria. Not unexpectedly, they named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph and demanded that all Muslims recognize him as their supreme leader. It has now changed its name to just the Islamic State, an entitle that in principle has no boundaries but aims to encompass all Muslims, and to spread Islam to the places where it is not now dominant.

Pledges to establish a caliphate that reconquers the whole of the Muslim Middle East and North Africa are common among Islamic radicals, though this is the first time that one has been created in a part of that vast land. Expanding that to Spain, or still further, Europe and the Americas, are not at all rare.

A video posted to the internet May 14, 2014, in which a Kosovo volunteer fighting with ISIS in Iraq harangues his comrades, gives a good flavor of the sentiments and thinking of this group:



Kosovo volunteer fighting with ISIS in Iraq harangues his comrades.

“We bless Allah who has enabled us to pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers, Abu Bakr Al-Qurayshi Al-Baghdadi. Oh our Emir, we have pledged to obey you, we have pledged to die. Lead us to wherever Allah commands you. To the tyrants and infidels wherever they may be, we say the same thing that Abraham said to his father: ‘Indeed, we disassociate ourselves from you, and from whatever you worship other than Allah. We have renounced you, and between you and us, eternal animosity and hatred have appeared, until you believe in Allah alone.’ We say to you, as the Prophet Muhammad said: ‘We have brought slaughter upon you.’ Know this, oh infidels: By Allah, we shall cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of you, you filth. [waving a long knife] We shall conquer Jerusalem from you, oh Jews! We shall conquer Rome and Andalusia, Allah willing. – say ‘Allah Akbar!’ Allah Akbar! – say ‘Allah Akbar!’ Allah Akbar! These are your passports, oh tyrants all over the world. By Allah, we are Muslims! We are Muslims! We are Muslims!”

The video was translated by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, and posted to YouTube. I have supplied the link for readers who want to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIxY8thehL8

Following are the text of two other YouTube videos from different parts of the region.

First, Sheik Ali Al-Faqir, formerly Minister of Religious Endowment in Jordon’s government, usually seen as a moderate Arab regime, in a May 1, 2008, broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas-Gaza):

“We must proclaim that Palestine from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea is an Islamic land, and that Spain – Andalusia – is also the land of Islam. Islamic lands that were occupied by their enemies will once again become Islamic. Furthermore, we will reach beyond these countries, which were lost at one point. We proclaim that we will conquer Rome, like Constantinople was conquered once, and as it will be conquered again. – Allah willing. We will rule the world, as has been said by the Prophet Muhammad.” (memritv.org https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYDfACr-y4s )

The next one is from an April 11, 2008, sermon by Yunis Al Astal, a preacher and Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the area of Khan Yunis. It is interesting because it puts in question the common perception that Hamas, radical as it may be, is concerned solely with eliminating the Israeli Jews and seizing the land that is now Israel. Al Astal declares to his audience:

Yunis Al Astal, Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament.

Though Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all Abrahamic religions, deriving from ancient Judaism, Islam differs from its two collateral branches in important ways. Christianity had to abandon control of the state by religious authorities at the time of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War. Jews, after reestablishing their state in Israel in 1948, favor Judaism but include 20 percent of their population who are Muslims, others who are Christians, and a broad variety of Jewish denominations and sects. In contrast, Islam has never agreed to the separation of mosque and state, and views all non-Muslim regimes – and many ruled by Muslims who appear corrupt or heretical – as in violation of Allah’s laws. The Arab, Persian, and Turkish states purged virtually all of their Jews after 1945, while Saudi Arabia permits no churches or public worship of any religion but Islam. The Islamic Republic of Iran by its constitution does not permit non-Muslims to be elected to representative bodies. Algeria after their revolution against France adopted a constitution in which citizenship was restricted to Muslims.“Allah has chosen you for Himself and for His religion, so that you will serve as the engine pulling this nation to the phase of succession, security, and consolidation of power, and even to conquests thorough da’wa [summoning to Islam, proselytizing] and military conquests of the capitals of the entire world. Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our Prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam – this capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe. I believe that our children or our grandchildren will inherit our Jihad and our sacrifices, and Allah willing, the commanders of the conquest will come from among them.” Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas/Gaza). Watch at: http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1739.htm

Islam retains in Sharia law practices that are barbaric by the standards of most other nations but are widely believed by Muslims to be the required will of Allah. Some of these have their origin in ancient Jewish law as recorded in Deuteronomy, such as stoning to death adulterers (in today’s Islamic world this usually means only the women, including the victims of rape) and homosexuals. These practices were abandoned by the Jews thousands of years ago and were never revived by Christianity, despite the large numbers of Americans who proclaim themselves believers in biblical inerrancy.

Muhammad added other draconian punishments: chopping off of hands for theft, and the death penalty for renouncing Islam, even if you were merely born into it and were never a believer. Support for these laws remains extraordinarily widespread in Muslim countries, and as this is believed to be the will of Allah, the jihadi movement’s championing of Sharia finds broad, at least tacit, support, though its practitioners are often rejected because of other aspects of their brutal rule. Below are the results of a Pew Research survey of Muslim support for Sharia published in 2013. I have extracted only the countries close to Iraq. Because of the civil war in Syria the survey could not be taken there. Lebanon, with not only both Shiites and Sunnis but a large Christian minority, is the more tolerant outlier.



The survey does not break down the Iraq respondents by ethnicity or confession. The Kurds in their autonomous region where they can act as they wish toward Sharia have not been known for extremism. Nor have the Shia majority in Iraq. This may be reflected in lower support for the more extreme punishments compared to Afghans, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians.

ISIS built its current forces in the hinterlands of Syria. It has had some militants in Iraq continuously since the early days of the U.S. invasion. Its principal founder, the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went from Amman to Afghanistan in 1989 where he met Osama bin Laden just as the Soviets were withdrawing. He then went to Europe, where he founded an Islamic group dedicated to overthrowing the Jordanian monarchy. Returning to Jordan, he was arrested when guns and explosives were found in his house and spent six years in prison. Released in 1999, he masterminded a failed attempt to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman. He fled to Afghanistan, but after the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 he went to Iran, and from there to Iraq. He organized the assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley.

During 2003 Zarqawi’s group carried out bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, and Istanbul, Turkey. In 2004 he orchestrated an ambitious but intercepted attempt to use 20 tons of chemicals, including nerve gas, to attack Jordanian government officials and the U.S. embassy. His Al Qaeda in Iraq killed thousands. It released videos of Zarqawi personally beheading two American civilians. After Zarqawi was killed in 2006 the group was severely reduced in Iraq but always retained some strength there, while rebuilding its forces across the border in Syria after that civil war began.

Though Al Qaeda in Iraq appears to be its principal component, ISIS is actually a fusion of several jihadi organizations. This includes the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, and several others.

In January 2014, ISIS captured Fallujah, 43 miles west of Baghdad. By the time of its assault on Mosul in early June it had concluded alliances with former Baathist organizations and some Sunni tribal leaders. Just a few months back, the original Al Qaeda – headed after Osama’s death by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who long ago set aside his Hippocratic oath to “never do harm to anyone” – dissociated itself from ISIS. Its beheadings and mass killings were too much even for one of the world’s most notorious jihadi centers. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria last fall announced that ISIS was merging with the official Al Qaeda Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, al-Zawahiri quickly denied it. Al-Nusra then even fought some pitched battles with ISIS. On June 25, 2014, however, a section of the al-Nusra Front announced that they had changed their minds and were joining ISIS. It reminds one a bit of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. The Paris papers proclaimed, “The Beast Has Landed!” By the time he reached the city the headlines were, “The Emperor Has Returned!”


On the government side, Maliki at this writing shows only minimal signs of heeding calls to broaden his government, though new emergency elections have taken place and a new government is about to be formed. The large Sunni forces that were key to routing the Baathist and Islamicist insurgency in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province during the surge in 2007 now are standing on the sidelines. Some are being hunted by ISIS, which carries a grudge from those old battles. A few have gone over to ISIS. But most, though they fear and hate ISIS, refuse to fight for Maliki, who has not only excluded these ex-Baathists who fought on the American side during the surge, but has jailed scores of them and held them for years without trial.

The old Iraq is dead. The question is whether it will split into two parts or three, with three more probable. The prison house gates were opened by the American invasion in 2003. The Kurds and Shias broke out. The Kurds have gone their own way, while the Shiites sought to build a new national regime, principally in their own hands. Despite the collapse of the national army when asked to fight a Sunni advance in a Sunni area, the story should be different in the Shiite heartland. It seems likely that ISIS will fail to take Baghdad and the Shiite south, especially as Iran already has advisers from their Revolutionary Guards on the scene.

Iraq’s Sunni tribes and even Saddam’s former Baathists will come to regret their devil’s bargain with ISIS. Under leaders who almost casually shoot a thousand prisoners at a time or behead their critics rather than argue with them, it will prove harder to get out than in. There is certainly a good chance that ISIS will succeed in establishing a new state spanning the borders of existing Iraq and Syria. Even their dream of a new warlike and totalitarian caliphate could spread further. A lot depends on the ties they are able build with the Sunni masses, most of whom share a belief in even the most brutal provisions of Sharia. There are already reports of demonstrations in support of ISIS in Britain, Australia, Jordan, Libya, and Pakistan, while in India a Shiite Muslim organization claims to have recruited 100,000 volunteers to fight on the other side. We will see how real old Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis proves to be.

That leaves unanswered what the United States should do about Iraq now. The most important starting point is that, for all its superficial appearance as a mere continuance of the previous war, it is a different situation, one in which America has only the most limited options. It is reasonable to fear the establishment of a jihadi state, but only a massive intervention on the ground could head that off now, especially as ISIS can at will retreat into Syria. The U.S. has lived before with totalitarian enemies bent on its destruction without going to war with them. The situation has years to play out before America can fully take the measure of this opponent.

As the Kurds depart, and most of the Sunni territory falls under the control of ISIS, what remains is a Shiite state with a very reduced Sunni minority. Only a massive intervention by Iran would change that alignment and it is hard to see Iran’s interest in retaking the troublesome Sunni parts of Iraq. The U.S. should not take part in that battle. Even if the Baghdad government now invites Sunni participation at all levels that is not going to make ISIS go away or relinquish the territory it holds. At best the United States can provide minimal help to Baghdad if ISIS proves to be stronger than it looks and drives deep into the Shiite lands. That seems an unlikely variant, and America should not take part in a confessional civil war if Baghdad tries to retake Anbar province.

This has become a regional battle by proxy between the Shia and Sunni powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, with ISIS as an uncontrollable force in its own right nominally on the Sunni side. Any significant intervention now becomes taking sides in a regional battle far beyond America’s capacity to resolve and where identification with either side will have unwanted consequences for relations with the other side.

 Israel’s outgoing President, 90-year-old Shimon Peres, in a June 25 meeting with President Obama at the White House, advised Obama that it was too late to save Iraq as a single political unit and that only the Arab League has the capacity to intervene in the Sunni-Shiite conflict. Instead, he urged Obama to support the democratic defacto state of the Kurds. Seems like sound advice to me.

L.A.'s Flawed Oil Oversight System



Parkland section of Freeport-McMoRan Murphy Drill Site, facing 27th Street. Under LA Planning Department
conditions in place since 1961 this is to remain undeveloped. December 2013 Zoning ruling, now being
appealed, allows Freeport to build a 29 foot high enclosure 60 feet long by 25 feet deep up against the
ivy covered wall at the far back.


Leslie Evans

Three oil company drill sites in the West Adams section of South Los Angeles, operating more than 100 underground wells, have been the center of recent citizen protests, ramped up government inspections, a City Attorney lawsuit, and complaints that the city's Zoning Administration has violated municipal code and possibly state law in fast-tracking oil company expansion plans. These events have raised broader questions as to the competence of the city's oversight of an industry that deals in toxic, explosive, and flammable materials but has been allowed, from the days in the late nineteenth century when there were few zoning rules, to establish thousands of wells in residential neighborhoods throughout the city. Since the early 1960s most of these have been slant drilled underground, with scores of pipes emanating in all directions from anonymous compounds hidden behind high walls.


The recent West Adams complaints first arose in 2010-11 around Allenco Energy's drill site at 814 W. 23rd Street in the University Park neighborhood north of USC, adjacent to Mount St. Mary's College. Allenco purchased the operation in 2009 and boosted production 400%. Soon, neighbors began experiencing chronic nosebleeds, respiratory problems, headaches, and nausea. By late 2013 the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) had received 251 complaints. Community protest meetings drew several hundred people. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent inspectors, who were made ill and determined that leaks of petroleum fumes from badly maintained equipment were the cause. Allenco voluntarily shut down on November 22, under pressure from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. On January 7, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit to prevent Allenco from reopening until they comply with all applicable health and safety regulations.


Subsequently, two drill sites acquired last year by the giant Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas company became the subject of community complaints.


 Freeport-McMoRan took over a number of Los Angeles oil properties in June 2013 through its acquisition of the Plains Exploration company (PXP). The largest of these was the massive Inglewood Oil Field, mainly on County land in Baldwin Hills, but two smaller properties are in West Adams: the Jefferson Drill Site at 1349-1375 Jefferson Blvd. and the Murphy Drill Site at 2126 W. Adams Blvd.


Plains Exploration in February 2013 began discussions with the City Planning Department to approve new drilling at both of its West Adams sites.


The Jefferson Blvd. site application eventually went to Associate Zoning Administrator (AZA) Sue Chang, who called a public hearing on September 25, 2013. By that time Freeport-McMoRan was the owner. Community members from several local block clubs and a church attended, complaining that the company's heavy trucks broke up the sidewalks; they illegally painted extensions of the red curbs to keep them open for their trucks; left graffiti unpainted; and did not pick up trash. AZA Chang reprimanded the company for inadequate notification to the community - some property owners had not been sent hearing notices and no renters had. More serious, she discovered that the "mother case" numbers, which match specific wells with their location, permits, and conditions of use, were totally confused in Freeport's application and, even worse, in the Planning Department's files.


The application listed two wells the company was asking to redrill, but placed them in the wrong oil district and under the wrong mother case number, which had different limits and rules for such drilling. Freeport was asking to drill one new well, but this should have required a new case number, as the one they were using did not permit that type of well. ZA Chang postponed the hearing. When she announced a new date, for January 25, the company asked for a postponement. We are still awaiting a new hearing date.



Freeport-McMoRan's Murphy Drill Site


Meanwhile attention shifted to Freeport's Murphy site. Freeport owns the facility but rents the land from the Catholic Church. As news reports of the health problems at Allenco spread, neighbors near the Murphy site heard about a gas leak there and neighbors who were smelling petroleum fumes. New drilling (seemingly without proper permits) at the site in November also raised concerns. A January 11, 2014, protest meeting at the Holman United Methodist Church on Adams Blvd. drew more than 300 residents and was attended by City Council President Herb Wesson and U.S. Congress member Karen Bass. Wesson afterward got the City Council to put a temporary moratorium on new drilling at the site, but pumping at the 33 existing underground wells continues uninterrupted.


Research by concerned residents revealed that there were a number of irregularities in the permit process for Freeport's Murphy site. Plains Exploration in an April 16, 2013, letter asked the Planning Department as a combined package for authorization for three new wells, and also for an unspecified upgrading of its natural gas production section of the site.


The case was assigned to Associate Zoning Administrator David Weintraub, who delegated it to Case Manager Jack Chiang (who is not a zoning administrator). Mr. Chiang met with PXP's Contract Land Advisor Rae Connet on May 14, 2013, and signed his approval on the company's April 16 letter.


The gas plant expansion, which is not detailed in the April 16 letter, was to consist of a large new walled enclosure on the south side of the land PXP, and now Freeport-McMoRan, rents, outside of its existing walled facility. This large undeveloped part of the property has for fifty-two years, as a condition of oil company occupancy, been reserved as landscaped parkland. The new enclosure was to house a new CEB 800 waste gas burner.


Weintraub and Chiang, unlike Sue Chang, did not hold a public hearing, even though Freeport's proposed changes at the Murphy site were far more extensive than at the Jefferson site. Jack Chiang in an email to Rae Connet the day after their May 14 meeting, retrieved by residents in 2014 as a public document, told the PXP representative:


"I spoke to David Weintraub this morning about the gas diffuser at Murphy Facility located on Adams Boulevard. He agrees that this can be done as an Approval of Plan without a case filing."


The Planning Department has two levels of approval for new projects. What Jack Chiang calls an Approval of Plan and David Weintraub calls in his determination letter of late 2013 a Review of Plans is the lowest level and does not require a formal application or review. The next level, a Plan Approval case, requires the issuance of a new case number, a full review and noticing of all concerned parties including nearby residents and businesses.


It is debatable if a Review of Plans is adequate for drilling new wells. The wells were approved in a full review back in 2007, but permits explicitly expire after 90 days, much less after six years. Certainly a full Plan Approval case should be required for installation of major new equipment and expanding the facility into parkland explicitly and repeatedly reserved for landscaping for the previous fifty-two years.


Plainly Jack Chiang had no idea what the equipment was that he was approving, as he refers to it as a "gas diffuser." A gas diffuser is a device that spreads out the flow of gas in a wide spray instead of a tight stream, used in welding nozzles and some chemical processes. The CEB (Clean Enclosed Burner) 800 is a special furnace that burns off industrial waste gas at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, nowhere in his correspondence with Weintraub do either of them indicate they have any knowledge of the previous long-standing conditions on preserving the open parkland. One has to conclude that they are making decisions without reading the case file on this property.


Chiang, and David Weintraub who assigned him to this task, should have notified other parties including local residents, should have called the file to see what prior conditions existed, should have checked to see if conditions in the file were being met. It is pretty clear Chiang did none of that.


For example, in 2004 there was a zoning case on the Murphy site in which the then-owner, BSI, asked that a number of then-existing conditions on the property be lifted. Among others the company's attorney asked that the city's prohibition on such sites generating their own electricity be rescinded, revealing that they had installed five gas burning microturbines to use some of their natural gas to generate electricity. The ZA responded that the turbines were a violation of code and the company would have to ask for a full Plan Approval case if they wanted to keep them. They never did so, leaving the microturbines as a zoning violation.


Nine years later, Rae Connet, now working for Freeport-McMoRan, at a November 7, 2013, meeting of the United Neighborhoods neighborhood council, motivated the installation of the CEB 800 gas burner as nothing new but just a replacement for the existing microturbines, now innovatively described as used to burn waste natural gas. This revealed that the site is still not in compliance with its existing conditions, which Chiang and Weintraub should have looked up. And if the "existing" equipment is a code violation, it does not provide a precedent for some new piece of equipment that actually has a different function anyway.


On June 18, 2013, Jack Chiang approved PXP's site plan. PXP's proposal was to erect a new rectangular walled addition, extending from their existing walled compound out into the parkland that slopes down to 27th Street on the south. From PXP's site drawings at the Planning Department this structure would use the existing wall as its north side, then run 60 feet wide and 25 feet deep, at a height of 29 feet 9 inches. However, under the conditions the Planning Department placed on the property when the site was first authorized for oil production back in 1961, this portion of the parcel was always reserved for landscaping. That condition was reaffirmed in three subsequent reviews. An added clause in 2007 required the oil operator and the property owner, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, to explore mechanisms to allow public access. This was never done.


There doesn't seem to be a good reason for such a large structure even if the gas burner should prove to be justified. The CEB 800 is a very small device, with a 4'8" X 6'5" footprint. The site plan for the existing facility shows more than ample space where an object of this size could be located.


The Planning Department Changes Its Position - Twice


On October 22 an email went out from Planning to Certified Neighborhood Councils announcing that the new wall had been approved for construction. Laura Meyers, the Planning and Zoning chair for the United Neighborhoods neighborhood council, fired off a complaint to Shannon Ryan, a planner in the city's Historic Preservation Overlay Zone unit, demanding to know why the neighborhood council was not informed before the case was approved and why it did not warrant a Plan Approval case. In a further email the next day she pointed out that this permanent structure is almost thirty feet high, the height of a three-story building, and will sit on the top of a hill overlooking the Jefferson Park residential neighborhood.


Her communications set off a flurry of email exchanges within the Planning Department. Michelle Levy, the head of the HPOZ unit, emailed Chief Zoning Administrator Linn Wyatt and AZA David Weintraub, asking why it had not rated a Plan Approval case. Wyatt asks Weintraub to look into it. He in turn emails Jack Chiang, saying "It appears that the wall and its landscaping required a Plan Approval to the ZA-1959-15227-(PA4). (Need to file ZA-1959-15227-(PA5)."


In the Planning Department's system a change at a property that requires a full case review gets a mother case number based on the earliest case, adding one increment to the final PA number. There had been four previous Plan Approval cases (PA1-4). A new Plan Approval for the new wall and burner would thus get a case number ending in PA5.


Planning then withdrew Jack Chiang's approvals and logged the case as "pending."


Jack Chiang, who was out of the country, heard the news and emailed David Weintraub, saying, "I remember this exhaust vent [he still doesn't know what the equipment he approved was] requires a soundwall and we agreed that it can be an approval of plan as informed by the applicant that it was not controversial." So he explains that they adopted the routine level where no one had to be told about the - to-him - mysterious equipment or its giant wall because the applicant told him it wasn't controversial.


Rae Connet on October 24 sent David Weintraub a shocked email:


"I received a call yesterday from our construction engineer . . . who informed me that you had called him yesterday to tell him the approval of plans signed by Jack Chiang has been reversed and we cannot proceed with the project. He said you indicated that a 'PA5' should have been applied for and that you did not know why Jack had approved this project as it was presented."


Weintraub seems to be throwing Jack Chiang under the bus here, as several documents already cited pretty clearly show that it was Weintraub who proposed the Approval of Plans designation, which was the reason for the revocation.


Connet added that Freeport had already spent more than $700,000 on the project, for which they did not yet have permits.


Whatever happened over the next two months does not appear to be documented, but on December 26 David Weintraub issued a letter defining the gas burner and its high wall as a mere Review of Plans and approved them as-is under the old PA4 case number. Further, he defined his letter as a "communication," insisting that it was too routine to be subject to appeal.


Shortly after this Jack Chiang in a January 8, 2014, email to City Council President Herb Wesson's staff declared that the only ruling on the matter was Weintraub's December 26, 2013, letter, and his own signatures with the word approved on the April 2013 PXP proposal letter and on the proposed site plan that June were not intended to decide policy. So Freeport-McMoRan had spent its $700,000 on the basis of signatures that carried no authority.


Freeport now decided to stop waiting and started drilling. They did not apply to Building and Safety for the required permit for the temporary sound wall. On November 15 without permits they put up a temporary sound wall around their existing facility. This was almost a month after Rae Connet acknowledged being told that the project was put on hold, and more than a month before Weintraub finally approved it.


Building and Safety was not pleased. On November 26 they cited Freeport for construction without permits and shut down the drilling, but not before two of the three wells had been completed.


Note: Building and Safety does not issue permits for drilling wells. If the wells are approved by Zoning, LADBS then issues a permit to build the temporary sound wall. So the citation was for building a sound wall without permits and for "oil and gas well drilling performed without the required permits and approvals for a temporary sound wall."


Weintraub in his letter makes a point that the November 7, 2013, meeting of the United Neighborhoods neighborhood council, following a presentation by Rae Connet, voted to endorse the burner and sound wall. At that time they had not had the opportunity to review the Murphy case file, which contains the several rulings requiring the landscaping. They did not know the size of the CEB 800 burner, and were misinformed that it was a replacement for existing waste gas burning equipment.


In a five-page April 18, 2014, letter to the Planning Department the UNNC states that it has reversed its position on the project and is now opposed to the CEB 800 installation and the new wall. They say they have "learned many material new facts regarding this project, and the drilling of new wells. UNNC has also learned information that makes us concerned about the process and procedures at the Planning Department; and in addition we have heard from many of our stakeholders."


Evading the California Environmental Quality Act


There is a longer-term issue in this case for both the well drilling and the gas burner and expansion into the parkland. That is how it relates to the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA was adopted in 1970 and for many construction projects requires an obligatory Environmental Impact Report. Zoning cases on the Murphy Drill site simply ignored CEQA for the first fifteen years. Then in a case in 1985 the ZA ruled that the project qualified for what is called a Categorical Exemption from the EIR requirement. David Weintraub in his December 26, 2013, letter cites this precedent and declared a Categorical Exemption from CEQA's EIR requirement. There is reasonable grounds to question whether the Murphy expansions qualify.


Under CEQA rules no project can be exempted from a mandatory Environmental Impact Report if it may damage a historic resource or have even a small risk of serious environmental damage. The Murphy Drill Site is not only in the middle of a city official historic district (HPOZ), but it is immediately across the street from UCLA's historic William Andrews Clarke Memorial Library with its priceless collection of 17th and 18th Century manuscripts. The sidewalks abutting the Clarke split open from the November 2013 well drilling. Certainly any operation involving piping and burning large amounts of natural gas has some potential for environmental risk. And except for the misdirection about the versatile microturbines, the site has never in its fifty-two years of operation routinely burnt off large amounts of excess natural gas.


The original 1961 Plan Approval case forbade venting petroleum products and byproducts. The 1985 and 2008 approvals for adding the gas production plant never mention the burning of waste gas. In the 2004 Review of Conditions case, the then-operator admitted they had violated conditions by installing the existing microturbines, for use as gas fired electrical generators. In that same review the operator claimed that any and all byproducts of gas production were and would be mixed back into petroleum pumped out of the facility for refining elsewhere. There was to be no venting of waste gas or byproducts. So there is a question whether the new gas burner is legal without a full Environmental Impact Report.


Appeals, Rulings, and Systemic Problems


Given all these questions, Weintraub's insistence that his December 26 ruling couldn't be appealed seems high handed and bureaucratic in the extreme. There were enough protests by residents and community organizations for the City Attorney to intervene, insisting that appeals be permitted. Weintraub then announced that he was changing his December 26 letter from a "communication" to a "determination" and that appeals would be accepted.


Two local residents filed separate appeals on the enclosure, the expansion of the drill site perimeter, and the installation of the waste gas burner. They say that oil operation expansions under city code require a formal review, which was not conducted.


As of this writing a public hearing on the appeals is to take place on Tuesday, May 20, at the Constituent Service Center, 8465 S. Vermont Avenue, Zoning case ZA-15227(O)PA4.


Regarding the University Park site that first triggered the community's series of concerns, the EPA on April 24 announced that it had reached a settlement with Allenco in which the company must undertake some $700,000 in repairs and upgrades, including fully enclosing an open trench used to store water mixed with oil residues. The EPA requires 15-day advance notice of the company's reopening date to make its own reinspection. The company still faces the City Attorney lawsuit in Superior Court aimed at preventing them from reopening on health grounds.


In each of the three cases here in West Adams the city's oversight system has fallen short. For Allenco it took an intervention by Senator Boxer and the Federal government to clean up the mess that had been sickening neighbors for years. The hearing on Freeport's Jefferson site exposed the jumble in the city's Planning Department records on the rules governing these volatile urban industrial operations. Freeport's Murphy site revealed an astonishing disregard for nearby residents, previous Planning Department rulings, or conformity with the city's own Municipal Code.



* * *


The problems at the Jefferson site were caught by a sharp public servant, but the Murphy site received routine approvals that seem to ignore city and state review requirements. Allenco is an example of the risks for residents of weak oversight. The city used to have a Petroleum Department. When oil prices fell to $16 a barrel in the 1990s, many wells were plugged. Thinking the oil business was fading away in Los Angeles, the city ceased appointing a Petroleum Administrator, though the duties remain in the city code. When oil prices skyrocketed to $100 a barrel after 2005, the oil business expanded big time. There are now 5,000 active oil wells in the city and thousands more inactive but remaining a potential risk. This is a $2.7 billion a year business operating with highly flammable and explosive materials, prone to health-threatening fume leaks, scattered throughout residential blocks. There is even an oil well under Beverly Hill High School. There have been two significant leaks in just the past few months. On November 24, 2013, a Freeport-McMoRan pipeline from its big Inglewood Oil Field in Baldwin Hills burst under La Cienega Blvd. at Fairfax Avenue, spilling 300 gallons of toxic waste water, laced with oil and methane. On March 17, an abandoned Phillips 66 underground pipeline in Wilmington ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of oil, left in the pipe to keep it from corroding, onto a residential street. It would seem the city needs to restore at least the level of specific oversight it exercised in the 1960s and 1970s.


A key problem is that there is no longer anyone in overall charge of the city's oversight of oil operations. The former Petroleum Administrator as their sole job were supposed to focus on this massive industry and to have the authority to call in specialist technicians if needed. Zoning Administrators handle every variety of zoning-related case and are not trained or instructed in how oil production works and the risk points involved. Moreover, each ZA is on their own to devise rules for whatever particular oil operation happens to come before them. Except for the limited treatment this subject gets in the city's Municipal Code, there is no centralized data system in the Planning Department that brings together their own rulings on oil production by different ZAs for different locations. At best there is a cumbersome paper trail, when the records are at least kept straight, for each individual property. And even those become so lengthy and cumbersome that ZAs, at least in the Murphy Drill Site case, don't seem to take the time to read them.


The United Neighborhoods neighborhood council (formally: United Neighborhoods of the Historic Arlington Heights, West Adams and Jefferson Park Communities Neighborhood Council, UNNC for short), in whose territory the Murphy Drill Site is located, has drafted and adopted a one-page policy statement calling for a systematic review of the city's administration of oil properties. It is circulating this document to other neighborhood councils for adoption. Below is the full text of their statement.


* * *


[Policy statement of the United Neighborhoods neighborhood council calling for a full public review of Los Angeles regulations of oil operations in the city.]


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Need to Review and Modernize Los Angeles City's Regulatory Framework for Oil and Gas Extraction


Recent events involving three oil and gas well sites in the greater West Adams area have made many residents and community groups newly concerned about oil and gas production in our neighborhoods and across Los Angeles in general. In the middle of many different and sometimes conflicting concerns expressed by diverse members of the community, we believe there is at least one set of issues on which a consensus or near consensus should be achievable:


The City of Los Angeles's regulatory framework for coping with the extraction of oil and gas in the midst of a densely settled urban environment has not been reviewed systematically for many decades, if it ever has been. It is high time for such a review.


1. Regulation that is Unsystematic, Assembled by Patchwork, and Outdated

The City's regulation of oil and gas production is spread over several departments and through several different sections of the City's codes. Small parts of the code have been added, deleted, or amended over the years in patchwork fashion due to changing circumstances, including the growth of the City, emergency needs during World War II, declining production in the 1990s due to falling real prices, and the boom in production since 2005 due to increased prices for oil.


2. The Collapse of the City's Regulatory Framework since the 1990s

The City's regulation of oil and gas production has never been systematic enough or public enough or subjected to overall review, but the surge in oil and gas production since 2005 confronts us with a special challenge. The City allowed essential parts of its regulation of oil extraction to become moribund in the 1990s, and budget cuts since the Great Recession began in 2007-08 have contributed to greater disarray.


3. There used to be a City Petroleum Administrator

Through the 1960s, the City maintained a Petroleum Department. Up until about 1990, the Office of the City Administrator of Los Angeles included a Petroleum Administrator with broad powers to oversee all City Departments and Bureaus with functions pertaining to oil production. Moreover, the City Administrator had ultimate power to review all permit and approval cases, review and make recommendations on all City regulations pertaining to oil, and to hire technical experts to investigate and report on any facet of oil and gas production that the City Council or any Department might require.


4. No One is in Charge, but the Responsibilities are still in the City Codes

Since approximately 1990 there has not been a Petroleum Coordinator in the City Administrator's office, though the City's Administrative Code still gives the City Administrator all of the powers described above. A half dozen telephone conversations with staff in the City Administrator's office could not even find someone who knew that there used to be such a person.


5. Oil Extraction is too Consequential to the Environment and the Economy to Allow theCity's Negligence to Continue


We need to engage a broad civic discussion about this state of affairs and its alternatives. One possible alternative is next door to us in the Baldwin Hills, where the County's Community Standards District provides what appears to be the strongest and most publicly open regulatory framework for urban oil production in the U.S.

Fritz Joubert Duquesne: Boer Avenger, German Spy, Munchausen Fantasist


"Col. Fritz du Quesne, a fugitive from justice, is wanted by His Majesty's government for trial on the following charges: Murder on the high seas; the sinking and burning of British ships; the burning of military stores, warehouses, coaling stations, conspiracy, and the falsification of Admiralty documents." He carried on hostile operations against the British government in various parts of the world under the following names: Fred, Fredericks, Capt. Claude Staughton, Col. Bezan, von Ricthofen, Piet Niacud, etc. His correct and full name is Fritz Joubert Marquis du Quesne. Prior to the war he was known as Capt. Fritz du Quesne, a big game hunter, author, explorer and lecturer.

-London Daily Mail, May 27, 1919


He is one of the most desperate and daring criminals we have ever had here.
His adventures read like a romance.

- Abraham I. Rorke, New York City Assistant District Attorney, New York Evening Post, August 21, 1920.


On January 2, 1942, 33 members of a Nazi spy ring headed by Frederick Joubert Duquesne were sentenced to serve a total of over 300 years in prison. They were brought to justice after a lengthy espionage investigation by the FBI.

-Federal Bureau of Investigation, Duquesne Spy Ring, March 12, 1985



Leslie Evans


















Captain Fritz Joubert Duquesne, Boar soldier, circa 1900

Frederick "Fritz" Joubert Duquesne (1877-1956) was a South African Boer who led an astonishing life on both sides of the law. Officer in the Boer army in the war with England, many times an escaped prisoner, pimp, newspaper reporter, foreign correspondent, novelist, spy and saboteur in South America where he blew up British ships during World War I, adviser on big game hunting to Theodore Roosevelt, publicist for Joseph Kennedy's movie business. He feigned paralysis for five months to avoid deportation to England where he faced execution for the deaths of British seamen. And finally, he was the best known member of the largest Nazi spy ring broken up by the FBI during World War II.


Beyond his real exploits, Duquesne lived under some thirty aliases. He invented and reinvented his past at will, claiming to have been the greatest swordsman in Europe, attaching his ancestry to this or that aristocratic clan that momentarily appealed to him, granting himself military titles and medals, and producing endless accounts of battles, some of which he actually took part in. His most famous claim was to have guided a German submarine to sink the HMS Hampshire in 1916 at the height of World War I, killing Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener, Britain's Secretary of State for War and the head of Britain's armed forces.


There are two biographies, one adulatory and one disparaging. Clement Wood's 1932 The Man Who Killed Kitchener calls Duquesne "one of the bravest and noblest men who ever lived." Art Ronnie's 1995 Counterfeit Hero dismisses Duquesne for "four decades of spying, fraudulent activities, lunacy, and masquerading." These wildly differing appraisals tell us at the outset that there is something more here than a cold-blooded German agent, a more interesting outsider.


The two biographies are very different in style as well as content. Ronnie's is a conventional account, written more than sixty years after Wood's. It carefully documents its sources with many footnotes and a bibliography. Wood's book is long out of print and generally sells for $200 or better. I managed to get a copy in poor condition for $80. Wood met his subject only three times, not aware of who he really was until afterward. The first was in 1917 while Duquesne was living covertly in the United States after having escaped from a British prisoner of war camp in Bermuda. Always one for hiding in plain sight, Duquesne was disguised as a mythical Captain Claude Staughton of the West Australia Light Horse, a nonexistent regiment, and was on a national speaking tour across the United States promoting the American war effort. Wood was merely a member of the audience.


Wood spent an evening with Duquesne a decade later as part of a small group in Wood's hotel room in Port au Prince, Haiti. Duquesne was introduced as Major Reginald Anson of the British army. Wood mentions seeing Anson once more, in Martinique in 1931, but gives no details. Wood passes over his sources evasively. In Port au Prince following the evening where "Reginald Anson" enraptured the company with his war stories, Wood is approached by "an elderly agent of a steamship line." This unnamed man reveals that Major Anson is secretly Fritz Duquesne and turns over to Wood a large stack of documents and photographs that a friend is said to have collected with the intention of writing a book. The documents are never described further.


The book Wood writes is a fictionalized biography. He cites no sources, provides no index, and fills out what he says he knows about Duquesne with a steady stream of invented description and dialogue - how the birds were singing on a particular day, what people ate for dinner, which way Fritz looked while fording a river, chit-chat among soldiers, descriptions of scenes that come only from his own imagination. Though there was a real Fritz Duquesne and many of the incidents in The Man Who Killed Kitchener can be authenticated from other sources, the book itself I found to be mostly useful for seeing where Fritz, or perhaps Clement Wood, had stretched the truth.


A word on Wood and why he would be particularly sympathetic to Fritz Duquesne. The British fought two wars against the predominantly Dutch Boers in South Africa. The second, 1899-1902, was the most brutal. Discovery of gold and diamonds had led to a large influx of British citizens into South Africa, and a decision was made in London to forcibly dissolve the two small Boer states, the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State, and incorporate their territory into a larger British colony. The Boers put up a fierce resistance, including a prolonged guerrilla war. The British, led by Kitchener, who became commander of the British forces in South Africa in November 1900, initiated a scorched earth policy, burning farms and villages and driving Boer families into concentration camps, the first large-scale use of this device. Some 22,000 children and a smaller number of adults were starved to death in the camps.


While the majority in Britain supported the war, the left wing largely opposed it, on humanitarian grounds, particularly the Liberal Party and the Irish. Neither side paid much attention to the rights of Southern Africa's black majority. Clement Wood was born in Alabama in 1888. He moved to Greenwich Village, became a socialist, served as secretary to Upton Sinclair, and was a supporter of Sacco and Vanzetti and Tom Mooney. As a militant opponent of British imperialism it is not surprising that he would view Fritz Duquesne as a kind of modern-day Scarlet Pimpernel. That framing of the Boer spy's career would shift when the Germany he worked for against the hated English came under the control of Hitler's Nazi Party.


Fritz in South Africa


Frederick Joubert Duquesne was of French Huguenot descent. Catholic France's brutal wars of religion against the Protestant Huguenots had ended with the Edict of Nantes of 1598 granting legal rights to her Protestant subjects. The edict was repealed by Louis XIV in 1685 and the Huguenots were driven out of the country. Thousands set sail for South Africa in 1687, including many relatives of the French naval commander Abraham Marquis du Quesne. One of their descendants, Frederick L'Huguenot Joubert Duquenne (he changed the spelling to Duquesne in America in 1912), was born on December 21, 1877, in East London on the South African southeast coast. His father was Abraham Duquenne, his mother Minna Joubert. Fritz always claimed that his mother was the sister of the famous Piet Joubert, the Boer commander-in-chief in the second Boer War. Art Ronnie says that he can find no evidence of this connection.


Fritz soon had a younger brother and sister, Elsbet and Pedro. When the children were still young the family bought a farm in Nylstroom (today Modimolle) in the country's far north. His father was a hunter and trader and often away, leaving the farm in the charge of Minna and Fritz's old blind grand uncle Jan Duquenne.


At the age of twelve Fritz killed his first man. The main house had a room used as a trading post. One day while his father was away his mother began bartering with a Zulu customer, who attacked her when she would not meet his asking price for goods he wanted to sell. Fritz grabbed the man's assegai spear and stabbed him in the stomach.


That same year a war party from a Bantu-speaking tribe attacked the area. Hearing of the impending assault, six families set off in ox-drawn wagons for the nearest settlement, at Sand River. Caught on the road, they drew the wagons into a square and fought a long gun battle with the raiders, even coming to hand-to-hand fighting. Twelve-year-old Fritz proved to be one of the best shots among them.


When he turned thirteen Fritz was sent to England for his education, where he spent the next four years. Clement Wood has it that after graduating, Fritz did a year at Oxford, then entered the prestigious Ecole Militaire in Brussels, and had a short stay at the French military academy St. Cyr. Wood says Fritz trained under the prominent fencing master Julian Mercks and became the champion swordsman of Europe. And that he fought eight duels, in three of which he killed his opponent. Art Ronnie says there is no record of Duquesne's European championship, but that he was an excellent fencer and took part in many matches at the New York Adventurers Club.


Ronnie cites in contrast a 1913 letter from Fritz to Stephen Allen Reynolds in which he says that after his four years in England he was sent to Europe to study engineering, but on the ship met an embezzler named Christian de Vries and the two decided to take a trip around the world. Abraham Duquenne caught up with his son in Singapore six months later and gave him a good whipping. Ronnie suggests that Fritz spent the next three years bumming around Europe, returning home periodically to go on hunting parties. At the age of twenty-one in the summer of 1899 his father called him back to South Africa as the second Boer War was on the verge of breaking out. When he did return he spoke with an upper-class English accent.


Fritz was commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to commander Piet Joubert's staff. He received a bullet through the shoulder in the battle of Lombard's Kop in October 1899, where the Boers defeated the forces of Major General John French, who would later be commander-in-chief of Britain's forces in France during World War I. Fritz was promoted to captain of artillery.


The first Duquesne legend arose in this period. By May 1900 the British were winning the positional warfare and taking the Boer capitals. The guerrilla war was just beginning. President Kruger, before going into exile, is supposed to have tried to ship a million or more pounds of gold and state documents to safety in Europe, dispatching thirty ox-drawn carts headed for the Lourenco Marques seaport in Mozambique. Enroute, Fritz is said to have met the caravan with credentials putting himself in charge. The four white soldiers assigned to the convoy tried to assassinate him and steal the gold. He killed them all. Then all of his native crew, after hiding the gold in caves near the Drakensberg Mountains, were killed by tribesmen. The gold was never recovered. The story persists, though no one can say whether it is true or not.


For a while Fritz led a small commando unit that blew up British trains and sniped at British soldiers. He was captured and escaped twice, once grabbing a guard's pistol and killing him, the second time, with his hands tied, leaping off a bridge into a river. He became known as the Black Panther of the Veld. He fled to Swaziland, where he was captured. He was shipped to a prison in Lisbon the British were using for prisoners of war. There he seduced the jailer's daughter and was soon on his way to Brussels, where he met the representative of the now defunct Transvaal Republic. He was sent to England, where he pretended to be a Boer defector. He volunteered for the British army, was given the rank of lieutenant, and sent back to South Africa. There he was assigned to a light cavalry unit.


He soon deserted and became a courier between the small isolated Boer commando units. He ran his own commando group, particularly harassing Kitchener's scouts, led by Chief of Scouts, the American Frederick Russell Burnham. Burnham in his autobiography wrote, "there were only two men on the veld I feared, and one was Duquesne." He added: "Much has been written about Duquesne, most of it rubbish. Yet his real accomplishments were so terrible and amazing that they make the yellow journal thrillers about him seem as mild as radio bedtime stories." Each man was assigned by his superiors specifically to kill or capture the other.


While serving as a Boer courier Fritz was able to make his way to his family farm in Nylstroom.

There he found a scene of utter desolation. His house was burned to the ground. An elderly black servant told him that a party of British soldiers had gang raped and then shot his sister Elsbet. They hung blind old Uncle Jan. And they raped his mother, who was then taken to a concentration camp. He swore a lifelong oath to wage war against the English, and against General Kitchener, who he held personally responsible for the destruction of his family.


Fritz put his British uniform back on and went to the nearest camp, at Germiston east of Johannesburg. He found her there, starving, infected with syphilis, with a syphilitic infant in her arms. He swore he would make the English pay. He never saw her again. Leaving the camp he passed two captains. He shot them both dead.


Next he went to Capetown, arriving in October 1901. He was accepted as a British officer. He recruited twenty Boer sympathizers and made plans to plant bombs at power plants, munition dumps, rail yards, and bridges. He was personally to blow up the reservoir above the town, releasing a huge flood. Typically, the night set for the detonations Fritz put on his best dress uniform and attended a party for the governor of Cape Colony. One of his band turned traitor and Fritz and the eighteen others were arrested.


At their trial all were sentenced to be shot at dawn. That night Fritz was offered his life if he would reveal the Boer codes. He did so, claiming afterward that his version was deliberately inaccurate. The other eighteen were executed on schedule. In the Cape Castle prison, he spent months working with only a spoon to dig away the mortar holding the large stones of the wall in place. On the night he was to escape, he kicked out several loose stones and began to crawl through the hole when a cave-in pinned him to the ground. This made his jailers decide to ship him to a new British penal colony in Bermuda.


On shipboard, while at a stopover in the Azores, some of the prisoners were allowed on deck. Duquesne tried to escape, grabbing an inattentive guard's rifle and beating him to death with it. He threw the body overboard, but other guards arrived and the chance to get ashore evaporated. As no observer would testify and there was some chance the missing guard had jumped ship, no charges were filed.


In Bermuda, the British had recently established prison colonies on a number of small islands off the coast of the main islands. The incorrigibles were sent to Tucker Island where they were handcuffed fourteen hours a day. There Fritz, while on a prison work detail, met Alice Wortley, daughter of an American businessman from Akron, Ohio, who was serving as Bermuda's director of agriculture. They were drawn to each other and by a strange route met again later in the United States and married. Always ready to invent self-glorifying details, Duquesne told everyone, including Clement Wood, that Alice was from a long line of English aristocrats and that her father was the governor general of Bermuda. Wood's book also contains one of Duquesne's favorite fictions, that Alice helped him escape.


According to Ronnie, a guard promised Duquesne and several others aid in escaping. He unlocked their shackles, then shot the first man to go over the fence. It seems there was a reward for killing escapees. The survivors were transferred to Burt's Island in Saint George's Harbor. By this time the war in South Africa was over and the imprisoned Boers were offered repatriation, but on the condition that they sign an oath of allegiance to England. The irreconcilables refused and remained in prison.


On June 25, 1902, on a rainy night Fritz slipped past the wire fence and swam a mile and a half in shark infested waters to the mainland coast. He made it to the home of a Boer sympathizer, who gave him clothes and some money and sent him by boat to Hamilton, Bermuda's diminutive capital, where he disappeared into the slums by the docks. There he teamed up with a black prostitute named Vera. She was paid 6 shillings a trick, and Fritz pocketed 3 of that for bringing her sailors. The arrangement lasted barely a week when he discovered that one of the clients he had picked up was a steward on the luxury yacht Margaret sailing in the morning for Baltimore. He got the man drunk, took his clothes, and staggered aboard the ship pretending to be drunk. His ruse was discovered the next morning, but by then they were at sea.


The captain swore he would turn Fritz over to immigration when they docked, so Fritz went over the side in Chesapeake Bay. He walked and rode freight cars to Paterson, New Jersey, where he had been told to contact a Boer sympathizer. Alice Wortley, having been informed of his destination by his benefactor in Bermuda, visited him there.


Twelve Years of Civilian Life in America

As a New York journalist, 1913

The Boer network sent Fritz to Manhattan, where, as an undocumented alien, he worked, first as a subway conductor and then as a bill collector the New York Herald. He regaled the staff with his adventure stories and was asked to write a few for the paper. This led in 1904 to a job as a reporter for the New York Sun. Two years later he was made Sunday editor. Between 1904 and 1909 he worked for three major New York newspapers and may have served as a foreign correspondent. He was written up in Men of America (1908), where he claimed that after arriving in New York he had been a war correspondent in Russia, Macedonia, and Morocco, and served in Paris on the staff of Le Petit Bleu. Elsewhere he also claimed to have toured the Congo Free State on behalf of the King of Belgium and gone to Australia where he said he took part in a 1904-1906 expedition headed by Sir Arthur Jones. And finally, he was said to have been in charge of building a string of theaters in the British West Indies for Alice Wortley's father, S. S. Wortley. Duquesne certainly was a prominent reporter in New York, but Art Ronnie says he can find no evidence that any of these foreign adventures really happened. Fritz did write three novels, one published in Le Petit Bleu and the other two in South Africa.


In those years Duquesne was best known for his many articles on big game hunting in Africa. He was invited to the White House in January 1909 for a two-hour session with Theodore Roosevelt, who was preparing, as his second term ended, to embark on a two-year hunting expedition in Africa. Fritz was one of several such advisers but became well known on the lecture circuit after his presidential audience.


His next adventure was to team up with Frederick Russell Burnham, General Kitchener's former Chief of Scouts. The two had been pledged to assassinate each other during the Boer War, but now they formed a company together to try to get Congress to authorize importing hippopotamuses into Louisiana's swamps for their meat, and camels in the far west as draft animals. The country was in the throes of a severe meat shortage and the scheme was endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt and the New York Times. Duquesne on March 24, 1910, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture in support of Representative Robert F. Broussard's (D-Louisiana) bill H.R. 23261 which called for allocating $250,000 to investigate importing large African animals as a potential food source. A short Kindle book has just been published on this project, American Hippopotamus by Jon Mooallem. The Amazon description lauds it as "a historical saga too preposterous to be fiction." The bill was never brought to the House floor.


Alice Wortley, 1913

In June 1910 Fritz Duquesne married Alice Wortley. They would remain together for nine years, during much of which Fritz was elsewhere. In 1912 he drove a van throughout New York State campaigning for Theodore Roosevelt running for president on the Bull Moose ticket. He published nominally true stories in Adventure magazine along with such authors as Sinclair Lewis, Talbot Mundy, H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, and Rafael Sabatini. He was a founding member of the Adventurers Club, an association of about forty members limited to "adventurers, explorers, soldiers, travelers, filibusters, soldiers of fortune and other kindred spirits."


In the summer of 1913, Roosevelt set out on a second expedition, this time to South America. Fritz cooked up some business deals to fiance a trip to follow, raising $5,000 from Goodyear Rubber to search for rubber plants and getting a contract with a small film company to make a documentary on the Roosevelt expedition. Neither of these ever came to anything. He and Alice left for South America in December 1913, taking $80,000 worth of film stock with them. Just before sailing Fritz became a naturalized American citizen. They were in Manaus, the capital of Brazil's Amazonas state, when World War I broke out. Fritz sent Alice home and applied at the German consulate to become a spy. As a special incentive, his hated adversary Kitchener had been made Britain's secretary of state for war.


Paid - modestly - by the Germans, Fritz Duquesne virtually disappeared, while around the ports of northern South America there appeared the actor Frederick Fredericks, a middle-aged Dutch botanist named George Fordham, and an old South African Boer named Piet Niacoud (phonetic of Duquesne spelled backward). These fellows drifted from Brazil to Dutch Guiana, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, everywhere with large crates of mineral samples or orchid bulbs to sent on outgoing British ships. Fritz later claimed that twenty-two of them sank, which Clement Wood repeated. Art Ronnie was more skeptical, but certainly some ships sank. Wood says that one of these crates weighed 80 kilos or 176 pounds. During this period Piet Niacoud was a popular figure in British circles in Brazil, making anti-German speeches and giving dramatic readings of literary works.


Already by June 1915 the British minister in Panama learned that Duquesne was working for German intelligence. One the places he was staying in a Brazilian port was surrounded by British agents but he escaped over the rooftops. Once he was captured while planting a bomb on a ship and while being rowed ashore in a smallboat leaped overboard. His last bombing was in February 1916, when he consigned what he claimed was his trunk of motion picture film and sixteen boxes of "minerals" to be shipped to the United States from Brazil on the British ship Tennyson. There was a large explosion and fire at sea halfway to Trinidad. The captain managed to beach the stricken ship but three sailors were killed. The British began a manhunt for Duquesne on a mandatory death sentence charge. British circles in Brazil were shocked to discover that Piet Niacoud was a German agent.


Fritz took off for Argentina, where he contracted with the national Board of Education to produce some educational films. He needed to get back to the United States to buy the film. To throw the British off the scent he faked his death, planting a story in the April 27, 1916, New York Times that he had been killed by hostile Indians while leading an expedition in Bolivia. The Times then ran a long obituary. Apparently he quickly reconsidered, likely because he only had an American passport, and under the Neutrality Act he would probably be immune to British prosecution. Seventeen days after the death notice he got a fake story onto the AP wire, saying he had been victorious in the Bolivian battle and had been rescued, badly wounded, by government troops. He arrived in New York uninjured in early May.


Who Killed Kitchener?


Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

Now we are less than a month away from Duquesne's greatest adventure, the assassination of British supreme military commander Sir Herbert Kitchener, on June 5, 1916. Duquesne's version is certainly flamboyant. Kitchener was a larger than life character who played a dominant role in his age. He became famous as Kitchener of Khartoum when he led British forces in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 that effectively reconquered the Sudan and avenged the death of Major-General Charles Gordon, who had been killed by the Mahdi's troops in Khartoum in 1884. He was the ruthless commander in South Africa in the Second Boer War, was made commander-in-chief in British India in 1902, made Field Marshal in 1909, and British Consul-General of Egypt in 1911. He was appointed Secretary of State for War at the outbreak of World War I in late 1914. His famous likeness, with the flaring moustaches pointing at the viewer with the message "Wants You. Join Your Country's Army! God Save the King," was one of the lasting symbols of the British war effort.


Kitchener was among the first to see that the war would be a long one and British industry had to be mobilized on a war footing for a prolonged period. But by mid-1915, with the war stalemated in the trenches of France and astronomical casualties expended to win a few yards of territory, he began to lapse into silence at staff meetings and was more and more at loggerheads with the civilian government of Prime Minister Asquith. Finally the civilians decided to get him out of the way for a while by sending him on a mission to Russia, where there was fear that the Tsarist government would conclude a separate peace with Germany.


Kitchener departed for Petrograd on the HMS Hampshire on June 5, 1916, from Scapa Flow, base of the main British fleet, in the Orkney islands off the northeast tip of Scotland. At 7:30 pm during a violent storm the ship suffered a massive explosion and sank within fifteen minutes. The lifeboats could not be lowered in the storm. A few large rubber rafts were deployed but of those that made it to the coast they found a steep cliff the refugees could not ascend. Only 12 of the 655 persons on board survived.

The HMS Hampshire


Fritz Duquesne's version of this story had the makings of a pulp thriller. He said that during the twelve days between the report of his death in Bolivia and his supposed rescue he went to the Netherlands, where a Boer Revolutionary Committee working with German intelligence gave him a commission as a colonel. The Germans had learned that a Russian nobleman, Count Boris Zakrevsky, had been assigned to go to England to accompany Kitchener's party to Petrograd. The Count was kidnapped enroute by the Germans and his papers forwarded to the Boers with orders that Fritz Duquesne was to impersonate Zakrevsky and find a way to assassinate Kitchener.


 Wood's account has Fritz being fluent in Russian, which was not the case, though in Fritz's telling Zakrevsky was supposed to speak good English. Fritz, dressed up as a Russian officer, is supposed to have met Kitchener in London, accompanied him and his entourage to Britain's main naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, and sailed with Kitchener on the Hampshire. Fritz said he dropped self-igniting water torches out his porthole to identify Kitchener's ship to waiting German U-boats. One of these fired the fatal torpedo. At the last minute Fritz leaped over the side into a raft in the raging storm and managed to navigate the hundred yards to the waiting submarine. He says he was then taken to Germany, where he was secretly awarded the Iron Cross  as well as a medal from the Turkish government and made Baron of Brandenburg. Art Ronnie's search uncovered no confirmation of these awards, but many German records were destroyed at the end of the war. During one of Fritz's later arrests a photograph was found among his effects in which he is wearing the Iron Cross and medals from Austria, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Art Ronnie is skeptical that these were really awarded and not purchased somewhere. Duquesne is supposed to have returned to the United States aboard the German submarine Deutschland, arriving in Baltimore on July 10, 1916.


The official British account had the Hampshire striking a mine laid that morning by the German submarine U-75 commanded by Curt Beitzen.


There were several other candidates for Kitchener's death. Lord Alfred Douglas, ill-starred lover of Oscar Wilde, said the Jews did it, and that they bribed Winston Churchill as well to misrepresent events in the Battle of Jutland, which took place just before the sinking of the Hampshire, to the benefit of a New York Jewish financier. Churchill sued for libel and Lord Douglas served six months in prison.


Irish Republicans were said to have planted bombs in the hold. And General Ludendorff, joint head with Hindenburg of Germany's armed forces in World War I, said it was Russian communists who gave the Germans Kitchener's travel plans.


Fritz did appear in New York briefly, in May 1916, before the sinking of the Hampshire. Using the name Frederick Fredericks he bought $24,000 worth of film with the money he had been given in Argentina and stored it in a Brooklyn warehouse. Two weeks later the warehouse went up in a fiery explosion and the film was destroyed. Alice Wortley filed an insurance claim for $33,000 in Fredericks name with the company that held the policy. She also filed an $80,000 claim on behalf of "George Fordham" with another company, which had issued the policy on the film that had gone down on the Tennyson, the ship Duquesne himself had blown up!


Fritz disguised as Captain Claude Staughton, 1917

Fritz was not seen again until July 1917, when he turned up in Washington, D.C. He moved on to New York, where he thought it best to become invisible, as usual by an exuberant public display of himself in disguise. World War I was at its height. The United States had entered the war in April. Fritz designed for himself the uniform of an imaginary Australian officer and, complete with swagger stick, presented himself at the offices of a national speakers' bureau as Captain Claude Staughton of the also imaginary West Australia Light Horse. He claimed an amazing war record: Staughton had fought on the British side in the Boer War, in France and Flanders on the Continent early in World War I, then in the invasion of Gallipoli in the Turkish Dardanelles, not to mention New Guinea. Wounded many times, he was a veteran of every famous battle of the war America had just joined. He proved to be a sensation on a national speaking tour. He was even introduced to George H. Reid, former high commissioner of Australia, who did not suspect the impersonation. Captain Staughton even included some tips for the elucidation of his audiences on how the German spy system worked. A method actor, Duquesne for the time being put aside supporting the Germans and energetically sold American war bonds.


The defrauded insurance companies were still trying to find out who Frederick Fredericks and George Fordham were. They had a good idea it was Duquesne, as his wife Alice was the only identifiable figure involved in filing the insurance claims. And as one of these involved an arson explosion at a Brooklyn warehouse, it put Thomas P. Brophy, New York's chief fire marshal, and Thomas J. Tunney, head of the Bomb Squad, which had just been co-opted into the military, on Duquesne's trail. They got a lead when Captain Claude Staughton incautiously made a few pro-German comments to a women who reported him to the FBI. From a set of mug shots she identified Staughton as Duquesne. On December 7, 1917, detectives from the Bomb Squad raided Fritz's Manhattan apartment and took him into custody. They found extensive newspaper clippings on all the ship bombings in South America, the invoice for the shipment aboard the Tennyson, and a letter of commendation from the Austrian high commissioner in Nicaragua.


Fritz was charged with two counts of insurance fraud, both following suspicious explosions. Britain filed for extradition for murder. Fritz's first gambit was to feign insanity. He mussed his hair and began babbling. An insanity hearing was held in May 1918. There were two prominent psychiatrists, a prison doctor, a lawyer, and other officials in attendance. Fritz broke away from his guards and ran in screaming, "Bring up the guns! Bring up the guns! I want you men to watch the enemy!" Two of the medical men agreed the Duquesne was insane, the third that he had suffered a psychotic break but was recovering and partly faking. They all agreed that he could not be tried at that time. He was committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the Insane. Alice now divorced him.


He lasted there for five months, when he found his fellow inmates unbearable and suddenly had a complete recovery. He asked for a new hearing, where he pled guilty to attempting to defraud the Stuyvesant Insurance Company, the one with the policy on the Brooklyn warehouse. He did not plead on the other company, which involved the charge of blowing up the Tennyson. The British charges still had priority over mere insurance fraud, and a deportation hearing was held on December 23, 1918. In the middle of the proceedings Fritz collapsed, insisting that he was paralyzed from the waist down. Carried to prison on a stretcher he told the guards, "I don't see why I should stay here long. There's nothing can keep me here."


Several doctors examined him. They stuck needles in his legs and under his toenails. Fritz never flinched. They finally agreed that he was really paralyzed. He was sent to the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital. Someone slipped him a pair of hacksaw blades, and for five months he spent his days in his wheelchair pretending to be bird watching while quietly sawing away at the heavy iron bars. A new hearing on May 19, 1919, approved his deportation to England. On the 26th just after midnight he broke out two window bars, fell to the ground from the second-story window, and staggered away into the night. No one helped him. He was scheduled to be sent to England to face murder charges later that morning.


This time he stayed at liberty for thirteen years. He sent a friend a press release saying that he had been rescued from Bellevue by his cousin, Count Francois de Rancogne, who had driven him to Mexico City. He actually went to Boston, where he started an advertising business under the name Frank de Trafford Craven. The New York police issued a wanted for murder poster for Duquesne. He later claimed that he briefly took a job as a Boston policeman during a police strike, which gave him a chance to destroy the file on him at Boston police headquarters. For years he regularly had friends from all over the world send postcards and telegrams to the New York police, reading "Come and get me," signed Fritz.


In 1926 Fritz, as Frank de Trafford Craven, went to work for Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK's wealthy father, who was getting into the silent movie business with a company called Film Booking Offices of America. As part of this job Fritz, daringly, moved back to Manhattan, where he was well known under his real name. In 1928 Kennedy along with David Sarnoff founded RKO pictures. Fritz Duquesne went along as part of the publicity staff.


In 1930 he switched to the Quigley Publishing Company, which put out a string of movie magazines. He gave himself a military title, and called himself Major Craven. He lived well, often told his war stories, including how he blew up English ships in South America during the Great War. On May 23, 1932, the Alien Squad caught up with him and he was arrested in the Quigley building. Fritz insisted he was Frank Craven and it was a case of mistaken identity. They took him away at gunpoint.


The Man Who Killed Kitchener had just been published, so the police called Clement Wood down to the station and showed him their prisoner. Wood, who had met Duquesne twice, in 1927 in Port au Prince, and just the year before in Martinique, insisted it was not Duquesne, but that he had known "Major Craven" for five years, that is, since 1927. This testimony could be seen as suspect.


Fritz was booked for homicide and for being an escaped prisoner. He was defended by Arthur Garfield Hays, who had been one of the attorneys for Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys, and John Scopes in the famous Monkey Trial. By this time Britain did not want to pursue wartime crimes and withdrew the charges. He was rearrested on the escape charge, but a judge threw it out. Fritz Duquesne was a free man.


Fritz wearing the German Iron Cross, other medals from Germany,
Austria, Turkey, and Bulgaria, circa 1930s.

Working for Germany Again

Fritz Duquesne, despite long periods when he was more a newspaperman or publicity agent, was at heart an adventurer and anti-British spy. In his youth that had meant working for Germany. It was a pattern that led to his final undoing. In the spring of 1934 he secretly accepted the job of intelligence officer for the Order of 76, an American pro-Nazi organization, which was then in merger negotiations with William Dudley Pelley's Silver Shirts. That October the secret was ferreted out by John Spivak, a writer for the left-wing New Masses. Spivak enlisted Duquesne's Jewish then-girl friend to keep him informed on the spy's activities. From here on Fritz's career is beyond the cutoff date for Clement Wood's adulatory biography. Art Ronnie gives no details of what Duquesne did as intelligence officer for this group, and Duquesne appears to have left them to take a job with the government's Works Progress Administration in January 1935.  In Ronnie's opinion there is no indication that Duquesne held anti-Semitic views, but he saw the pro-German organizations as being anti-British. "Despite its ramifications, it was quite simply just a job to the amoral and opportunistic Fritz Duquesne."


The American fascists were incompetent small fry. Fritz was soon to be drawn into the real thing. In 1935 Admiral Wilhelm Canaris became head of the Abwehr, Germany's division of military intelligence. One of his goals was to establish a network of spies in the United States. He chose for this mission Colonel Nikolaus Ritter, a man who had lived in the United States for thirteen years, where he worked in weaving factories, and was married to an American woman. Ritter had returned to Germany in 1936, was assigned to the Abwehr the next year, and sent back to America in October 1937. Canaris instructed him to make contact with Fritz Duquesne, who he knew of from his work in South America in the last war.


Ritter traveled under his own name, but then went underground, using the name Alfred Landing. He made Germany's most serious inroads into America's secrets in meetings with other men before he got around to Duquesne. Ritter's greatest coup was to get the plans for the Norden bombsight, in its day the most accurate device known for high altitude bombing. He got these from Hermann Lang, a naturalized German who had participated with Hitler in the Munich beer hall putsch of 1923 and now worked for the Carl L. Norden company.


Ritter hid the plans in the wooden casing for an umbrella and on January 9, 1938, personally handed the umbrella off to a German steward and secret courier on the ship Reliance bound for Bremen. Art Ronnie calls this "probably the single greatest espionage coup during that tenuous time before the war," comparable only to the Americans breaking the German and Japanese codes.


The only other significant intelligence Ritter's spy ring acquired came from Everett Minster Roeder, an engineer and designer at the Sperry Gyroscope Company. Art Ronnie lists Roeder's thefts to include:


"[T]he blueprints of the complete radio instrumentation of the new Glenn Martin bomber and, among the Sperry developments, classified drawings of range finders, blind-flying instruments, a bank-and-turn indicator, a navigator compass, a wiring diagram of the Lockheed Hudson bomber, and diagrams of the Hudson gun mountings."


Ritter had become friends with Fritz Duquesne back in 1931. They reconnected on December 3, 1937. Fritz was a few weeks short of his sixtieth birthday. Ritter enlisted him for his burgeoning network, giving him a check for $100. Fritz began gathering information to be forwarded to Germany.


Probably because of Fritz's previous notoriety the Ritter operation, after its members were arrested, became known as the Duquesne spy ring. This was very far from the truth. From its inception at the end of 1937 Ritter's agents in various American cities each acted alone, none, for security reasons, having information on any of the others. This changed when the Gestapo recruited German-born naturalized American citizen William Sebold, while he was on a visit to the homeland. They blackmailed Sebold into becoming a spy, using threats to his family and unearthing of an old police record in Germany that could endanger his American citizenship. They sent him back to the U.S. under the name Harry Sawyer to consolidate and expand the Ritter ring. He arrived in New York on February 8, 1940.


In retrospect it seems stupid of the Gestapo to entrust such a sensitive mission to an unwilling draftee. Sebold, before he even left Germany, on some pretext visited the American consulate in Cologne and told them the whole plan. When he arrived in the United States the first thing he did was contact the FBI, who actually had an agent move in with him for the first eight weeks.


Now Harry Sawyer set about meeting with the few existing agents whose names he began with. He was tasked with setting up a clandestine shortwave radio station to beam his discoveries to Hamburg. The FBI rented a house out on Long Island and set up a transmitter, staffed by German-speaking FBI agents. "Sawyer" told his pro-German confederates that he was himself the radio operator, and no one ever checked. The station transmitted heavily redacted versions of whatever the spies produced, leaving in enough genuine but harmless information to make the operation seem legitimate. Photographs and materials with tables and charts that could not be transmitted by Morse code were entrusted to shipboard couriers - cooks, seamen, and stewards. Harry Sawyer rented a two-room office in Manhattan. One of the rooms was soundproofed and used by the FBI to monitor a microphone bug and to run a 16 millimeter motion picture camera pointed through a one-way mirror.


Compared to the real damage done by Hermann Lang and Everett Roeder, Fritz Duquesne's assignments seem like science fiction. The Abwehr sent with Sebold a microfiche listing eighteen tasks for him. He was to find out if AT&T had invented a secret ray to guide bombs to their targets; did the Army have a uniform that would repel mustard gas; did the U.S. have antiaircraft shells guided by electric eyes; had the U.S. developed a way to conduct bacteriological warfare from airplanes; did the U.S. Army have a trench crusher machine that could flatten a trench by driving over it. More prosaically Fritz was to tell the Germans if the United States military began large-scale mobilization - something they could read about in the newspapers. And they gave him a list of twenty-three aircraft and plane engine manufacturers from around the country and told him to get information on everything they produced. Fritz had by now promoted himself to Colonel Duquesne.


Fritz, to justify his pay, sent voluminous information through Sawyer, on flight training schools, sailing dates for ships going to England, the American defense establishment. The Abwehr responded, "Tell Duquesne that we are not interested in information that has been published several weeks ago in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune." He wrote to the aircraft companies pretending to be a patriotic researcher, asking about their facilities and model line, forwarding to the Germans the stuff he got back in the mail. His one piece of valuable news was he somehow got hold of the information that Washington was releasing the plans for the Norden bomb sight to Britain. And he sometimes found out where Navy battle groups were headed. Except for Lang and Roeder, he was producing better stuff than most of the younger inexperienced agents.


Fritz, ever cautious, had met with Sawyer twenty times but always refused to come to the bugged office. Finally, on June 25, 1941, he agreed to a meeting there, where the FBI got him on film. Four days later the feds closed the net, rounding up nineteen German agents in New York and four in New Jersey. The total would run to thirty-three by the time they went to trial. It was billed by the press as "the greatest spy roundup in U.S. history." Ninety-three FBI agents worked on the case.  Fritz was taken in his apartment, by a man who had rented the unit downstairs and pretended to be a friend, who now showed up with two other FBI agents. J. Edgar Hoover branded Duquesne the "most important" of the defendants.


Fritz Duquesne at his trial, November-December 1941.

The initial twenty-four were tried as a group. Ten pled guilty, leaving fourteen to go to trial. Fritz was the first defendant to take the stand in the six-week trial that began that September. He mesmerized the jury and the audience with a dramatic and often fantastic recounting of his life story, from the days of the Boer War through his many escapes. He claimed he had been an observer for South Africa in the Russo-Japanese War and had spent ten months in a Brussels hospital for shell shock. He said he could visit Theodore Roosevelt in the White House any time he liked and had been there three or four times in one week. He retold how he had killed Field Marshall Kitchener and said he had been rescued from Bellevue Hospital by members of the Irish Republican Army. He denied, probably truthfully, that he had ever met any of the other defendants except Sebold. He said he thought Sebold was insane because he paid good money for junk, information Duquesne clipped from newspapers. "I sold him a code used by Benedict Arnold in the war between England and the United States in 1776." Despite the presentation of voluminous evidence of materials he had supplied Sebold for transmission to Germany he insisted that he was not a spy.


Unhappily for the defendants, their attorneys summations were scheduled to begin on December 8, 1941. Pearl Harbor took place the day before. The jury took only eight hours to reach verdicts on all twenty-four defendants. The sentences ranged from as little as fifteen months to eighteen years. Hermann Lang, purveyor of the Norden bombsight, and Fritz got eighteen years. Everett Roeder was one of four who received sixteen years. Most got between five and ten.


Colonel Nikolaus Ritter became the commander of a Luftwaffe Panzer division, then an American POW, and, after the war, a businessman in Hamburg. He died in 1974. Admiral Canaris, while running the Nazis' principal military intelligence service, secretly plotted against Hitler, at one point proposing to have him declared insane and committed to an asylum. He opposed the Holocaust, recruited many Jews into the Abwehr solely to get them credentials that would get them to safety in Spain. He arranged for the escape of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Schneersohn from Warsaw, for which the Chabad movement has declared him a Righteous Gentile. He was executed by the Nazis just as the war was ending, for having connections to the attempt to assassinate Hitler.


William Sebold was provided with a new identity and started a chicken farm in California.


Fritz served the longest of any of the defendants. Hermann Lang was deported to Germany in September 1950. All but three of the others had completed their sentences or been paroled by 1950, and the last besides Fritz was freed in 1951. He served twelve years, seven months, and sixteen days, five years of which were in solitary confinement. In his last months in jail he filed one last appeal, claiming that when the FBI had arrested him they had seized a bag of uncut diamonds worth $3 million, and the map to the long-hidden Kruger gold. He was released on September 19, 1954; he was seventy-seven. His health had deteriorated greatly. He fell frequently, was partly deaf, had a dislocated shoulder that was not treated and set badly, and was thought to have dementia. He had had a stroke that left him partly paralyzed. He returned to New York, where a few old friends met him. The city's Welfare Department placed him in a nursing home.


On December 21, 1955, he was welcomed back to the Adventurers Club for a dinner and talk at the Hotel Delmonico. Some members refused to attend, denouncing him as a traitor, but others wanted to hear one of the last of the founders. His famous voice was almost gone but he regaled them with the old stories, real and imaginary, the Boer War, his escape from Bermuda, Captain Claude Staughton, sabotage in South America, how he killed Kitchener, and his long years in prison. He died of a stroke on May 24, 1956, at the age of seventy-eight.


Hero, fool, madman, villain. He was all of these.


West Adams Oil Blues


Allenco Energy drill site in West Adams’ University Park.

Leslie Evans, in consultation with Michael Salman


My neighborhood is the West Adams section of Los Angeles, just south and west of Downtown. Its miles of historic, century-old Craftsman homes, interspersed with sixties-vintage apartments, house a mixture of recent Latino immigrants, older African Americans, and a minority of whites and Asians. We've been in the newspapers a lot recently in disputes with two oil companies over three of their urban drill sites. At one of them, run by the Allenco Energy company, children have been getting sick. Nosebleeds, respiratory problems, headaches, and nausea have been chronic, leading finally to protest meetings, one attended by some two hundred residents, intervention by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the County Health Department, and a lawsuit by the Los Angeles City Attorney.


At the other two sites, owned by Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas, concerns began over ill-kept property, or fears that plans for new drilling would generate noise and pollution. As news reports of the health problems at Allenco spread, neighbors near the Freeport sites heard about a gas leak at one of the well sites and a few accounts of people who may have been sickened by fumes in the past. One public meeting drew more than 300 residents. City officials responded by temporarily closing the Allenco site entirely, while at the Freeport sites routine pumping continues but scheduled new drilling has been put on hold.


 There are many complex technical, public health, political, and regulatory issues that are in play here. Some residents want the oil sites shut down. Some want new drilling prohibited or bans against the use of hydrofracturing and similar technologies. Others at the minimum want them thoroughly audited for health risks, all such risks promptly eliminated, and some more vigorous system of oversight put in place than what now exists. The matter is complicated by the absence in the City of Los Angeles of a comprehensive regulatory framework for oil drilling and production within city limits. Statutes, though detailed on how to apply to dig an oil well, and categorical in prohibiting odorous fumes or excessive noise that affect adjacent residences, are vague on the specifics and on enforcement, generally referring regulation of existing oil sites to individual Zoning Administrators, who are not proactive in looking into conditions at drill sites or even have any specific rules on what kind of complaints can trigger a zoning hearing. Zoning Administrators have little guidance from the city code and must decide in each case what conditions to impose on a producer.


This situation is substantially different over the border in Los Angeles County, where in 2006 two massive emissions of toxic fumes from the giant Inglewood Oil Field raised such an outburst of community protest that the then-operator, Plains Exploration and Production (PXP), was compelled to agree to the creation of a Community Standards District with far more specific and stringent regulations than now exist in Los Angeles, and an oversight body to enforce them.


The current residential protest in West Adams is focused on a small group of oil wells - approximately 121 at the three sites, most of which have existed for at least fifty years, though new technologies and some drilling since 2010 have raised new issues. These are a tiny fraction of the 41 urban oil fields under the Los Angeles Basin, where 5,000 wells currently produce 28 million barrels a year - at today's price, worth about $2.7 billion. Resolution of the controversy over the three West Adams sites has a broader interest, as it is at least possible that it could set a precedent that would affect the whole system.


People generally think of oil wells as sitting in a barren section of Texas and Oklahoma, or for the newer hydraulic fracturing efforts, in the sparsely populated hinterland of North Dakota. But urban Los Angeles was once a major player in world oil markets and it remains the country's largest urban oil cluster. The first well here was dug at 3rd Street and Coronado, north of West Adams in the Wilshire district, back in 1857. It became a major industry when Edward Doheny, a founder of West Adams, in 1892 struck oil near Westlake Park, digging with a sharpened tree trunk. He soon became the richest man in America. In the 1920s Los Angeles was the largest oil exporting region in the world, outdoing Saudi Arabia and Iran. It peaked in 1969 at an annual 133 million barrels, one year before U.S. national production also topped out, at 9.6 million barrels a day.


The original crude was liquid under pressure. It was accessed by digging straight down from a tall derrick, then extracting with the ubiquitous pumpjacks, whose bobbing heads in places like Signal Hill looked like a field of those Magic Drinking Bird toys. As early as the 1930s these highly visible outcroppings were supplemented by horizontal, or slant, drilling deep underground. In the early 1960s this became the predominant drilling method, creating a huge spider web of metal sipping straws radiating from fixed drill heads. And as the sipping exhausted the readily accessible liquid supply, most of these ceased operations.


If our city has been pumping oil in residential neighborhoods for a hundred and fifty years, what has changed to cause the sudden outburst of health complaints? The key event was the flat-lining of world crude oil production, which peaked in 2004-2005 and has not increased since then despite growing world demand. This triggered a global search for alternatives to supplement ordinary liquid crude. Employing relatively new technologies, these were found in so-called unconventional oil: fracked tight oil in North Dakota and Texas, Canadian tar sands, deepwater oil mainly from the Gulf of Mexico, and Venezuelan heavy oil. It is these very expensive and difficult to obtain and process sources that have been the basis of virtually all the increase in the world supply since 2005. But the immediate effect was to see the price of oil skyrocket.


Oil sold for under $5 a barrel from 1870 until 1970, then began to zigzag upward, fluctuating from the teens to the low twenties between 1974 and 2002. As the world oil supply stagnated, it hit $37 in 2004 and $50 in 2005. For the next six years it was mostly in the high eighties, and in the last year between $90 and $100 a barrel.


One consequence of the price escalation was to have oil companies return to the underground Los Angeles fields, buying up wells their predecessors had abandoned in the 1980s. In some cases, in going after the last of the difficult-to-access oil they also began using new technologies, mainly well stimulation by acidization, using large amounts of hydrochloric and other acids to dissolve rock and mud blocking narrow, oil-filled fissures to release the last of the hydrocarbons.


The companies are finding that the citizenry are not as accepting of their operations as people were a hundred years ago. There is a strong environmental consciousness, an experience of protest dating from the 1960s, and an acquired habit of NIMBYism. And when oil operations are not just a noisy and sometimes unsightly nuisance but a genuine menace, in cases where the new technologies such as acidization are used in reopened wells that are more than fifty years old and not in the best of condition, public resistance gains a great deal of traction.


The first, and still most serious, confrontation between outraged citizens and the oil companies occurred early in 2006 at the giant Inglewood Oil Field in Baldwin Hills, when fume leaks from underground wells twice forced the evacuation of some 500 homes. There had been no requirement that nearby residents be informed of activities carried out in the oil field, no adequate provision for periodic safety reviews, and of course, no citizen participation in oversight of this potentially dangerous installation in their midst. The leaks provoked a citizen protest that resulted in the most stringent regulations in the state. Because the wellhead was on County land, although the underground wells to a small degree reach into Los Angeles and Culver City, the new oversight system ended in County jurisdiction, so the new and better rules did not apply across the border in the City of Los Angeles.


Trouble at the Allenco Drill Site


The first West Adams complaints arose around the Allenco Energy Inc. drill site at 814 W. 23rd Street in the University Park neighborhood north of USC. The company is owned by Peter Allen and runs 21 oil wells in Los Angeles, all spreading out from the 23rd Street location, and 8 more in Signal Hill. In 2010 they reopened existing pipes at the 23rd Street drill site, and used acid well stimulation to massively boost production.


An undated early 2013 profile of eighty-year-old Peter Allen on WellServicingMagazine.com says that Allenco "increased production in the majority of its wells by 30 percent, due largely to downhole stimulation, acid work and the upgrade of pumping units." Allen also saves money by passing over trained oil workers, "hiring 'good people' with no industry experience and then training them for their jobs." How has that worked out for him and his neighbors?


The story hit the Los Angeles Times on September 21, 2013. Reporter Louis Sahagun began a long series on the Allenco operation. Children were getting sick with nosebleeds and respiratory problems. There were bad smells that made people keep their windows closed and their children indoors. Residents "traced the smell to property shielded from the neighborhood by a 12-foot-high, ivy-covered wall. Behind it, on land leased from the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Allenco Energy Inc. had ramped up production from an oil field by more than 400%."


All 21 of the underground wells had been shut down in the 1990s. Beginning in 2005, 7 to 10 of them were unplugged and put back in service. After the 2010 production boost and the start of resident complaints, the AQMD filed 15 citations against Allenco for foul odors, but these, even with fines, did not succeed in getting Allenco to abate the problems. By late 2013 the AQMD acknowledged receiving 251 complaints. Resident logs listed some 360.


The AQMD insisted that almost all of its 2011 tests showed the fumes to be within legal limits, but it conceded that allowing such an industrial operation in a residential zone "boils down to incompatible zoning." Dr. James Dahlgren, who formerly taught at the UCLA School of Public Health, was a department head at Cedar Sinai, and is best known as an adviser to Erin Brockovich, disagreed that current legal limits are safe. "If you can smell it, it's not safe. These people are experiencing symptoms."


Apart from chemicals used to decalcify old wells or dissolve limestone and mud fissure blocks, petroleum and concurrent natural gas themselves emit hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs. It is heavier than air, so it lingers near the ground. It is poisonous, corrosive, flammable and explosive. A sign inside the Allenco property, but not on the outside, warns: "Danger: H2S. Poisonous Gas." The government's Occupational Safety and Health information sheet on Hydrogen Sulfide states: "Low concentrations irritate the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system (e.g., burning/tearing of eyes, cough, shortness of breath). Asthmatics may experience breathing difficulties. . . . Repeated or prolonged exposures may cause eye inflammation, headache, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, digestive disturbances and weight loss."


One AQMD sample from a wastewater tank in September 2011 showed hydrocarbon levels 10,000 times above that of the surrounding air. Complaints of persistent bad smells by students and faculty at the nearby Mount St. Mary's College led the AQMD to order Allenco to pay to have all the air conditioning intake vents on the classroom buildings that faced the oil operation relocated.


Any thought that the neighbors' symptoms were exaggerated were dispelled when, on November 6, federal inspectors from the Environmental Protection Agency arrived, and were sickened by fumes. Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, personally led the team. Afterward he told the LA Times: "I've been to oil and gas production facilities throughout the region, but I've never had an experience like that before. We suffered sore throats, coughing and severe headaches that lingered for hours."


U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer called for a shutdown until the EPA completed its findings. The Los Angeles County Health Department launched its own investigation.


Allenco voluntarily shut down on November 22. The South Coast AQMD announced that improvements must at minimum include taking an open-air drain and sump out of service, repairing tanks, and upgrading air pollution control systems. Meanwhile, neighbors held two townhall meetings with AQMD officials, one in October with more than 100 people, and another in early December attended by more than 200.


By this time separate investigations were underway by the federal EPA, the South Coast AQMD, and the Los Angeles County Health Department, as well as the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which leases the land to Allenco. County Environmental Health Director Angelo Bellomo was quoted by the LA Times as expressing skepticism that the problems at the site were correctible, insisting that "Every square inch of that field must be examined." He said the audit would be conducted at Allenco's expense. It is notable that the City of Los Angeles, despite the extent of oil operations within its borders, has no specific agency charged with overseeing the local oil industry. It once had such an agency, the Oil Services Department, that managed oil and gas drilling within city limits, which was in operation in the 1960s, but it has since been disbanded.


On January 7, 2014, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit against Allenco Energy Inc. Feuer charged that Allenco had "failed to maintain mandated fire suppression systems, failed to comply with water quality control requirements, failed to provide any information regarding the location and type of stored hazardous materials, and failed to file hazardous materials response plans." The complaint noted that on January 25, 2011, a leak of production water contaminated with chemicals sent thirteen people on the nearby Mount Saint Mary's campus for medical treatment. The City Attorney's complaint added that Allenco sought to disguise the chemical fumes by adding wild-cherry-scented deodorizer, Pine Sol and bleach. The filing also revealed that the 23rd Street operation had been cited for safety violations by the Fire Department, State safety inspectors, and water quality inspectors, but Allenco generally did not correct the violations. It would seem evident that leaving enforcement diffused among a myriad of different agencies does not bring good results.


The County Health Department publicly announced their conclusion that the symptoms of nearby residents, students at local schools, and at Mount Saint Mary's College were caused by "low-level exposure to petroleum-based compounds emitted by Allenco." The federal Environmental Protection Agency shared the County Health Department's view.


The City Attorney's suit asked for an injunction that would prevent Allenco from reopening until it had complied with all applicable health and safety regulations and not leave this to Allenco's voluntary compliance.


By January 11, after operations had been suspended for seven weeks, the Times was reporting that nearby residents were saying that symptoms had disappeared. Maria de la Cruz, who lives across the street from the oil field, told Louis Sahagun, "We used to keep the windows closed tight and made the children play in a back bedroom so they wouldn't breathe those chemicals. But since the company closed down, the kids haven't been sick once." By this time the story had gone national. It was being reported from the Seattle Times to the Miami Herald. Local residents created a video that appealed to Pope Francis, asking him to have the Los Angeles Archdiocese abrogate its lease to Allenco and commit the property to a less harmful use.


On January 15 the EPA filed its own citations against Allenco based on its November 6 inspection. Regional EPA administrator Jared Blumenfeld told the LA Times, "These are troubling violations because they go to the heart of how a safe operation is supposed to be run. That's why it is critical this facility come into compliance with federal laws quickly."


As is often the case when people are suffering from pollution and similar hazards, it takes persistent reporting to authorities to get action. In the case of the Allenco oil site a decisive factor in generating the extensive if belated official response was the intervention of the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, a local nonprofit founded in 1989. Esperanza buys and rehabs apartment buildings to provide affordable housing in the nearby Figueroa Corridor area of South Los Angeles. It also works to improve local health care. It owns four apartment buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Allenco oil site, and several of its staff members live there.


On December 20 I interviewed Nancy Ibrahim, Esperanza's Executive Director. She lives in the area affected by the Allenco oil field and has personally experienced the symptoms that have plagued her neighborhood. She said her own staff who live in the Esperanza apartments registered a sharp increase in sick days after 2010, that people were having very unusual outbreaks of adult-onset asthma, while their children were losing days from school. "We haven't even raised the issue of long-term risks from this exposure, as we can't prove that at this point, but the immediate, short-term stuff has been really dramatic, and the city has been very reluctant to take it seriously and move in to fix the problem."


I asked her how many people had filed complaints with the AQMD. She replied that it was around 30. When the authorities lagged for years in acknowledging or correcting the problem, Esperanza organized a telephone tree. On days when the oil smells were strong, groups of six would call the AQMD report line, 1-800-288-7664, building up the logged record of complaints.


Freeport McMoRan Comes Under Scrutiny


Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas Co. operates three urban oil drill sites in West Adams. The two that have become a focus of community concerns are at 1349-1375 Jefferson Blvd., between Budlong Avenue and Van Buren Place, LA 90007, called the Jefferson Drill Site, and at 2126 W. Adams Blvd. at Gramercy Place , LA 90018, called the Murphy Drill Site. The third, at 3304 W. Washington Blvd., has so far escaped attention. Freeport acquired these properties only in June 2013, when they took over Plains Exploration and Production, which also made Freeport the owner of the Inglewood Oil Field.

Freeport McMoRan's Jefferson drill site. Note proximity to houses next door.

Complaints were first raised over the exterior physical conditions at the Jefferson Drill Site. The company's heavy trucks broke up the sidewalks in the site's driveways and left them that way; they illegally painted extensions of the red curbs to keep them open for their trucks, which was getting residents parking tickets; they left graffiti unpainted; and did not pick up trash. An opportunity to ask the city to intervene arose when Freeport scheduled a September 24, 2013, zoning hearing seeking permits to drill a new water injection well and to redrill two older wells that had been shut down for some time. The drilling was slated to run 24 hours a day for ninety days. Richard Parks, president of the West Adams Neighborhood Association, took the lead in getting three other block clubs, including the Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association, of which I am president, to file a protest. Zoning Administrator Sue Chang ruled to defer action on the permits on the grounds that Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas had not properly notified residents. In the Los Angeles system it is Building and Safety that issues the permits, but for these kinds of oil issues preapproval by a Zoning Administrator is required.


A public drilling map for the Jefferson Drill Site shows more than 50 underground pipelines spreading out from the wellhead, most densely between Jefferson and 27th Street and between Kenwood Avenue and Hoover, with a few lines running west of Western Avenue and north of Adams Blvd. These underground wells go back to 1965 under various ownership. One of them runs under my house, which is two and a half blocks away, at Van Buren Place and 27th Street. The new well is slated to run from the wellhead to 29th Street, between Orchard and Hoover.


To be clear, as not everyone in our community knows the terminology, none of the West Adams wells, including the few proposed new ones, involve fracking. In hydraulic fracturing the hydrocarbons, oil or natural gas, are in such small units that they are embedded between the pores of the reservoir rocks. The rock must be shattered to connect the pore spaces to let the hydrocarbons flow. Millions of gallons of water, combined with sand and unspecified chemicals (declared a trade secret by the drilling companies), is injected at high pressure to break up the rock and free the confined oil or natural gas.


In the West Adams drill sites the oil is in pools or in small liquid amounts in blocked fissures in the rock. Lesser means than fracking is sufficient to free the oil or gas. This does not require large volumes of pressurized water or sand. The chemicals used must all be specified to the AQMD. Freeport-McMoRan's chemical supply list for the Jefferson Drill Site, submitted to the AQMD in advance of seeking the new permits, includes 24,619 pounds of acid, of which, 19,017 was designated as for well stimulation, that is, for acidization.


There are two forms of acidization. In matrix acidization acid is pumped under low pressure into the well pipes. When it reaches the soil at the end of the pipe the acid dissolves sediment and mud blocking tiny fissures to free liquid oil. Fracturing acidization in contrast pumps the acid at high pressure to cut channels in the rock as well as dissolve sediment to free trapped oil. Freeport's zoning application does not mention acidization beyond what is in their chemical supply list or specify which kind of acid job they intend to perform. When either kind of acid job is complete the acid and dissolved sediments have to be pumped out in a process called backflush. Some percentage of the acid is neutralized by combining with the base chemical composition of the rock. Though not as drastic as fracking, there are questions about the safety of acidization in an urban setting in wells that are mostly more fifty or more years old, where there may be defects from age in the pipes, joints, pumps, and other equipment.


City Councilmember Bernard Parks hosted a December 19 meeting between community representatives and Freeport-McMoRan. I attended along with presidents of three other nearby block clubs and the pastor of a local church. Freeport was represented by four people, led by John Martini, Manager, Environmental Health, Safety, and Government Affairs, and including their foreman for the Jefferson Drill Site. Martini reported that the oil company had cleaned up all of the specific community complaints about the facility's appearance: they had painted out graffiti, replaced broken sidewalks, picked up external trash, deleted the illegal extension of the red curbs, and made some repairs to visible damage on their buildings.


By that time the information about health problems at the nearby Allenco Energy Company had raised concerns about possible health threats at Freeport's operation. We thanked them for the cosmetic improvements, but requested that the federal EPA be asked to inspect the site for health issues. The company representatives simply made no comment on this request. They pointed out that, unlike Allenco, there were no complaints filed with the AQMD about Freeport's West Adams drill sites. This could mean there are no health problems, or it could mean that people suffering them had not made any official complaint. We have heard from neighbors that at least one student living on Budlong and another living on the Van Buren Place side near the Jefferson site moved out because of noxious fumes. This would have been from the conventional pumping operations, as the new or redrilled wells where acid stimulation is to be used have yet to be approved.


In the weeks that followed, local attention turned to Freeport's Murphy Drill Site at Adams and Gramercy. That land, like Allenco's, is owned by the Catholic Church. The first underground wells there were drilled by Union Oil back in 1962. It was acquired in 2000 by BSI, a small independent in Ventura, which in 2004, as oil prices started to head north, began to redrill plugged wells and drill new ones, leading to loud community complaints about noise and foul smells.


BSI seems to have disappeared. From around 2006 the Jefferson, Murphy, and Washington Blvd. drill sites were owned by Plains Exploration and Production. They passed to Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas when the companies merged in May 2013.


A Plains Exploration map from June 2008 shows approximately 45 underground well pipes radiating from the Murphy core. These include feeder lines to the other two drill sites, over which their oil and natural gas production is pumped to Murphy to be sent on by pipeline to customers. Natural gas is piped to the city's Department of Water and Power, which buys it. The reopening of old wells has increased output. Some percentage of the gas arrives at the Murphy site too hot to meet the California Air Resources Board's rules on sending it on to the DWP by pipeline and it is normally burned off in micro-turbines. These machines are worn out and the company, on the AQMD's recommendation, is buying a new "clean enclosed burner." To house it they asked the Zoning Administrator to approve building a new sound-insulated walled enclosure 110 feet long and 30 feet high outside their present retaining wall on the south side of the property, facing 27th Street.


As has become customary for companies undertaking significant new construction, they took their plans to the local neighborhood council, part of the city's system of semigovernmental citizen organizations created to advise the City Council. In this case it was the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council (UNNC). This was done, however, only after the Zoning Administrator had approved the new enclosure.


The UNNC board had no reason to oppose Freeport-McMoRan adopting newer and cleaner equipment to do a job that was already part of their routine and legally permitted operation. But they were concerned at the lack of transparency in how such decisions are made. The south side of the property consists of a 35-foot-deep open area that has been there since the drill site opened in 1962 and in recent years has been landscaped like a park. The new structure would take up much of that area. The Board said that the residents on 27th Street and adjacent blocks should have been notified and the Zoning Administrator should have held a public hearing for community input. This did not happen. Condition 8 in the 1961 plan for the site required a 35 foot setback from 27th Street on the south side. That will be abrogated by the new installation but appears not to have been specifically addressed by Zoning Administrator David Weintraub.


Since Weintraub had already approved the plan, UNNC did not press for a hearing but did move to request the ZA to do a plan review to reconcile the new structure with the conditions of the 1961 plan, and to verify that the description presented by Freeport's representative at a November 7 UNNC Board meeting corresponded to what was actually in the plan. In response Weintraub did write a determination letter. Still, the degree to which residents are excluded from the discussions seems to invite arbitrary decisions which, if opinions and information from the community were allowed, might be quite different.



Laura Meyers, a long-time leading figure in the West Adams Heritage Association and the UNNC's zoning and planning specialist, says the UNNC is looking for a way to appeal Weintraub's ruling to get a more considered decision on the location of the new equipment at the cost of the green space and its conformity with previous conditions on the property. She points out that Weintraub, who works for the City Planning Department, is also employed there in its Development Service Center, an effort to speed up approvals of business projects to lessen L.A.'s reputation for being business unfriendly. Meyers suggests that being assigned to rush through what business wants while also wearing a ZA's hat with the requirement of impartially administering city code can be seen as a conflict of interest.


Next, Freeport announced plans for the Murphy Drill Site to seek permits to drill one new well and reopen two old ones. Under city code, before drilling could begin the company had to build a temporary sound wall to protect neighbors from the noise. This required a permit of its own, and preapproval by the design review board of the local Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, the city's term for a historic district. For reasons that are too complicated to go into here these approvals fell through. Freeport then went ahead and began drilling in late November, at the same time building the sound wall the way they wanted it.


Residents filed complaints with Building and Safety, which opened an investigation November 26. A month later LADBS cited Freeport for constructing the sound wall without permits and having begun drilling without a permitted sound wall. They did issue the permits on January 22, 2014.


Next to step up to the plate was  the Community Coalition, a nonprofit originally formed to oppose the reopening of sacked liquor stores in South Los Angeles after the L.A. riots of 1993. They called a planning meeting on January 2. Some thirty-four people attended and decided to interview residents living in close proximity to the drill site and to call a larger meeting.


Momentum built rapidly. More than 300 people crowded the venerable Holman United Methodist Church on Adams Blvd. for a January 11 event billed as an "Emergency Meeting on New Oil Well Construction in West Adams." Holman, along with the First African Methodist Episcopal, is one of the largest and most influential African American churches in Los Angeles.


The meeting was chaired by Holman's Senior Pastor, Kelvin Sauls, who had plainly made a point of becoming familiar with the issue. He opened by calling on Freeport-McMoRan to suspend operations at the Murphy Drill Site "until responsible agencies have completed an inspection to determine its safety." Thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals, he said, under high pressure, were to be injected to unplug old wells and loosen oil in new ones "in horizontal drilling under our homes." He estimated that there are "some 100 horizontal drill bores from the two well heads at Adams and Gramercy and Jefferson and Budlong." Drilling at the Adams-Gramercy site had already begun, illegally, in late November.


Two residents offered personal testimony.


Donald Martin, a former city attorney for Shreveport, Louisiana, lives within 120 feet of the Murphy wells. Between his home and the wells there is only a parking lot. He said he feared that an explosion at the drill site could turn the parked automobiles into a score of firebombs.


"The wells go 24/7. The noise keeps neighbors from sleeping. Large trucks drive in and out day and night. You can smell sulphur." He said fumes from the oil operation penetrate his home and become concentrated. His eleven-year-old granddaughter, who lives with him, has developed Hodgkins Lymphoma, and while he cannot prove it is due to the chemical fumes he suspects that is the cause.


Donna Ann Ward, who also lives very close to the facility, reported that the previous Tuesday she had smelled something sweet and called the AQMD. They sent an inspector, who found a natural gas leak from the oil site that was running 20,000 parts per million, with the legal limit at 500. She pointed out that the wells are bordered on the west by an AIDS care facility and just across the street on the east by a convalescent home, raising questions about how quickly an evacuation could be mounted in the event of a fire at the wellhead.


The principal speakers were Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, U.S. Congress member Karen Bass, and State Senator Holly Mitchell.


Herb Wesson said he had met with the general managers of City Planning and Building and Safety and the City Attorney and that he had ordered drilling to halt temporarily as of January 15. He was ordering Building and Safety to visit the site twice a day to ensure his order was being carried out. He said he wanted to sponsor a series of community meetings for people to share information about the drill sites. By the next week the drilling derrick had been disassembled and removed. He later introduced a resolution in the City Council calling for a drilling moratorium.


State Senator Holly Mitchell said she would introduce a state ordinance banning fracking and acidizing until environmental impacts could be assessed. Pastor Sauls said his church would provide vans to transport people to Sacramento to testify when the bill came up for a hearing. She added that the community in Baldwin Hills had fought for years to have reasonable conditions placed on the Inglewood Oil Field.


Karen Bass said she would meet with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington and ask them to evaluate the Freeport operation, and also order a health survey of the neighborhood. She said the survey should cover both West Adams sites and provide an update on the situation in Baldwin Hills.


Freeport's World Operations

Allenco Energy Inc. is a tiny, virtually one-man, operation based in Signal Hill, a town of 11,000 surrounded on all sides by the city of Long Beach. It is a mom and pop convenience store compared with Freeport-McMoRan, which is more like Walmart. Freeport is a vast global conglomerate with income of $18 billion in 2012 and assets of $35 billion. It operates mainly under the name Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. It began in the 1950s as a major player in world gold and copper mines, went through various reorganizations, and today operates the world's largest gold mine, the Grasberg, in Indonesia; copper mines in Peru and Chile; and copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The three West Adams sites are Freeport's small fry even in the Los Angeles area. Its May 2013 merger with Plains Exploration and Production gave it PXP's major California holding, the vast  Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country. This was the site of the 2006 chemical fume breach mentioned earlier.


Freeport's oil and gas operations have jumped into the high-cost, unconventional sector, with fracking holdings for oil in the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, and for natural gas in the Haynesville Shale in Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. We don't know at this time if they intend to use fracking in the Inglewood field. Plains Exploration ran two fracked wells there, but these were shut down before Freeport took possession.


It is also one of the world's worst polluters. The Political Economy Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, ranks Freeport as number 22 in its list of the 100 worst air polluters in the United States. It was one of five corporations nominated in 2012 as the worst company in the world by the Public Eye Award, the NGO counter-event to the annual Davos World Economic Forum, in which Greenpeace is a major influence.


The December 27, 2005, New York Times carried a lengthy report on Freeport's operations in Indonesia. Freeport is said to have distributed $20 million in bribes to Indonesian military officers to protect its Grasberg mine. It is illegal under both Indonesian and American law to give money to individual members of the Indonesian military, an institution with such an awful human rights record that the U.S. government severed relations with it a dozen years ago. Freeport paid for the college education of dictator Suharto's children. In return, the military supplemented Freeport's own security force to protect the Grasberg gold, with the military doing the heavy lifting. Between 1975 and 1997 160 people were killed by the military near the mine property. In March 1996, furious locals stormed the mine property, sacked the offices, and destroyed $3 million of equipment.


The New York Times stated that the Indonesian police paramilitary Mobile Brigade was given more than $200,000 in 2003, adding, "In its 2003 annual human rights report, the State Department said soldiers from the Mobile Brigade 'continued to commit numerous serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and arbitrary detention.'"


Freeport's generosity buys not only security but impunity to grossly pollute without oversight or interference. The New York Times described "a spreading soot-colored bruise of almost a billion tons of mine waste that the New Orleans-based company has dumped directly into a jungle river of what had been one of the world's last untouched landscapes." A multimillion-dollar study in 2002, ordered by Freeport itself but then kept secret, rated the waters of the rivers that run near the Grasberg mine as "unsuitable for aquatic life." An Indonesian government internal memorandum from 2000 said the mine waste had killed all life in the nearby rivers and that this was a criminal act under the country's 1997 environmental law. No action has been taken to stop the dumping.


Insiders at Freeport also revealed to the NYT that their company illegally spies on the emails and telephone calls of environmentalists trying to investigate them.


It should be added, as it affects the prospects of arriving at a resolution of the concerns West Adams residents have with Freeport-McMoRan, that if it plays the jackal in Indonesia, it is a much tamer beast in Los Angeles. In acquiring the Inglewood Oil Field it also came under the regulation of the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District, and makes a prominent point on its websites of promoting the CSD, pointing to its adherence to the CSD's strict standards as an indication of the company's good behavior. Moreover, Freeport-McMoRan is one of those companies that works to offset its bad reputation by making generous financial contributions to local communities, schools and organizations.


The Inglewood Oil Field and the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District

At this writing there are restrictions in place at all three of the West Adams oil sites. Allenco is temporarily shut down pending its correction of conditions cited by the EPA and the Los Angeles County Health Department. Freeport-McMoRan's Jefferson Drill Site's permits for new drilling and reopening old wells is in abeyance, as Zoning Administrator Sue Chang ruled in September that she would not schedule a new hearing until she was satisfied that there had been adequate noticing given to the community and she has yet to set a new date. At the Murphy Drill Site drilling has been halted.


All of these measures are temporary. Only at Allenco have the conditions been shown to be so deficient as to make it problematic whether the company can afford to correct them. Production from existing oil wells remains in full swing at both the Jefferson and Murphy sites.


It is unlikely in the near term that any official agency is going to ban oil production outright, either at the West Adams sites or at the thousands of other wells in the Los Angeles Basin. The risk for residents is that the momentum developed by the current protests will dissipate with nothing accomplished.


What is missing in Los Angeles - and possibly achievable in the present climate - is adoption of a more rigorous regulatory framework. The precedent for that is the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District. Los Angeles residents concerned about safety from the oil industry among us should become familiar with that history. And in West Adams in particular, two of the three problematic oil operations are owned by the same company that today operates perfectly well under the rules of the Baldwin Hills agreement.


The Inglewood Oil Field covers 1,000 acres of mainly nonresidential land, most of which is in that part of Baldwin Hills that lies in unincorporated Los Angeles County. About 100 acres of the field are in Culver City. Bisected by La Cienega Blvd., the field's south border is Slauson, elsewhere tracing an uneven line, with the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area on the east and West Los Angeles College on the west. The first oil well was drilled in 1916 and the first serious commercial production, by Standard Oil of California, began in 1924. At its height there were 1,600 wells.


Inglewood Oil Field. Map shows borders of Baldwin Hills Community Standards District


The residents of Baldwin Hills have had a long and traumatic relationship with the oil field. In December 1963 subsidence from oil extraction at the Inglewood Oil Field  caused the collapse of the Baldwin Hills Reservoir dam. Two hundred and seventy-seven homes were destroyed and five people died. The city and county afterward abandoned the reservoir, fearing that refilling it could lead to a new disaster. It was filled in and became the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.


Production had largely ceased when Plains Exploration and Production acquired the field at the end of the 1990s. It had been slated to become a park. In 2005 PXP applied to drill six new wells, with plans to expand that into hundreds within a few years. Natalie Regus in an April 28, 2013, post at wattway.org writes that "Drilling  skyrocketed in 2005-06, the most active drilling years in the field's history. Throughout this period, residents constantly complained that the increased drilling polluted the air, the relentless noise had become unbearable, and noxious fumes emanating from the fields sometimes interrupted their sleep."


Pumps at the Inglewood Oil Field


Things came to a head with the January and February 2006 fume leaks. The County responded by imposing a moratorium. It was able to extend this through mid-2008, but state law prohibited a further extension. The County had few regulations in place to set limits to PXP's behavior. Under public pressure, Plains Exploration submitted its own proposed regulations, which it called the Baldwin Community Standards District. Its terms had been negotiated with the County Board of Supervisors, in particular with input from then-Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and from State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, who replaced Braithwaite Burke as County Supervisor for the area including Baldwin Hills in December 2008.


The CSD was approved by the Board of Supervisor on October 28, 2008, and went into effect on November 27. Los Angeles County's Department of Regional Planning has established twenty-eight Community Standards Districts for areas as diverse as East Los Angeles and Topanga Canyon. The one for Baldwin Hills is concerned solely with regulating the Inglewood Oil Field. It contains provisions that seem astonishing as requirements on a private profit-making enterprise, yet the two oil companies that have operated under the CSD have done so with good grace.


The CSD is headed by the Director of the Department of Regional Planning, at the head of a Multiple Agency Coordination Committee (MACC). The MACC is composed of representatives of the county Fire Department, Public Works and Public Health, with invitations to participate to the AQMD, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). This is exactly the kind of sharing of information and oversight responsibility that is absent in Los Angeles. It also provides a structure that can be sued if it fails in its responsibilities.


Here are some of the CSD's provision, all of which go beyond rules specified for oil drill sites in the Los Angeles Municipal Code:


·         The operator must establish an automated Community Alert Notification System to warn area residents of an emergency at the oil field and test it annually.

·         The operator must maintain logs of odor complaints.

·         Specific actions are required for each of several levels of detected hydrogen sulfide.

·         All grading of land on the property must have prior review by the Regional Planning Director.

·         Ground movement surveys must be conducted every 12 months.

·         Backup alarms on all vehicles must be disabled between 8:00 pm and 8:00 am and other safe measures taken to back vehicles during those hours.

·         Before disturbing any natural habitat the operator must hire a county-approved biologist to survey the area. If damage must take place a restoration specialist must be hired to make a plan for regeneration.

·         An annual vapor test with soil probes of any area on the property in which there are abandoned wells and the results submitted to DOGGR.

·         The company must fund hiring of Environmental Compliance Coordinators, the number to be determined by the County. These will report to the Regional Planning Director and will conduct daily monitoring of conditions on the site.

·         The Public Health Department will employ an independent acoustical engineer to monitor ambient noise levels around the oil field by conducting unannounced tests. If noise levels are too high, no further drilling permits will be issued until this is corrected.

·         All complaints about oil operations received by the company must be relayed to the Environment Compliance Coordinator the same business day and to the Director. The company must maintain a log of complaints and provide it quarterly to the Director, the MACC and to the Community Advisory Panel.

·         The company is responsible for all costs incurred by the County in monitoring the conditions of the CSD.

·         The company must establish an account to pay the Regional Planning Department for all expenses involved in the county's review and verification of information in reports by the company. The account must have an initial balance of $500,000 and additional deposits of $50,000 must be made if the account is drawn down to $50,000.

·         Violation of any requirement in the CSD rules will, at the discretion of the Direction of Regional Planning, will result in a penalty of not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000 a day. A special account must be set up with an initial balance of $100,000 to cover these charges.

·         County representatives are to have access to all records and facilities needed for effective enforcement of the CSD terms, and right of entry of any officer or employees of the country whose duties required the inspection of the oil field premises.

·         The Community Advisory Panel is to receive prompt notice of the availability of and on request to receive copies of all monitoring and compliance reports and results, all plans, audits and studies, and any other available documents except materials that cannot be legally disclosed.


These terms are light years ahead of what is available to residents of Los Angles in regard to their local oil operations. Notable for West Adams, these terms are already being complied with by Freeport-McMoRan, and it would seem that extending those that are applicable to their relatively small West Adams sites would not place much burden on the company.


Rather than the end of the process, the CSD formed in 2008 was  the beginning of an  ongoing effort to improve and strengthen regulation of the Inglewood Oil Field. It cannot be overstressed that beyond any of the particulars, probably the most important reform of the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District was the codification of a citizen participation component, the Community Advisory Panel (CAP), which gives community groups an official place in the apparatus from which to monitor the actual practice at the oil field and to make proposals to fine tune the regulations. And also because the CSD gave concerned groups a body  that it could sue to demand standards that would meet the mission assigned to the CSD.


The response of the community groups in Baldwin Hills was to welcome the creation of the CSD, but to hold out for a number of improvements. No sooner had the CSD become official than local residents, joined by a number of nonprofits - notably the Community Health Councils and the Natural Resources Defense Council - filed four class action suits against both PXP and Los Angeles County seeking more stringent rules. The court consolidated these into a single lawsuit. There ensued several years in which the community groups and PXP argued over the final terms of the CSD. A settlement ending the lawsuit was arrived at in July 2011.


The plaintiffs did not win everything they asked for but  did win wording that reduced drilling of new wells, increased air quality monitoring, set more stringent noise limits, and made mandatory previous wording that called for periodic health and environmental assessments. So community involvement and support from the County Board of Supervisors first secured the Community Standards District, a great step forward from the weak or nonexistent regulations that preceded it. The 2011 settlement then built on that foundation. Here are some of the results:


What the Baldwin Hills Community Advisory Panel Added to the Community Standards District Rules

Condensed and adapted from "Comparison of Baldwin Hills Oil Field Restrictions" prepared by the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District's Community Advisory Panel



Before the CSD

Original CSD

After the 2011 Settlement

Number of new/redrilled wells annually


53 (45 new)

30 first year, then 35

Well closures

No County obligations

Must list in annual plan and have annual vapor testing near closed wells

Added incentive to place wells further from residential borders


No County obligation

Must not exceed regulatory limits on injection pressures

Company must conduct peer reviewed study of impact on groundwater and subsidence and submit to public agencies

Clean technology

No County requirement

Must discuss latest equipment and techniques in annual drilling plan

Every 5 years County will evaluate latest clean technology and require company to use for new equipment purchases

Well plugs

State requires 25' cement surface plug on abandoned wells

Not listed

Company must use 150' surface plug on all newly abandoned wells

Air quality

Existing AQMD rules

Company must use portable flares to burn any emissions during drilling, monitor for H2S and petroleum hydrocarbons during drilling, develop odor and dust control plans, monitor tank pressures, and used closed systems for produced water and oil

LA County will spend up to $250,000 in next year to monitor air quality to assess risk of both acute and chronic exposure to air contaminants from Oil Field


Oil drilling is exempt from County's standard noise limits. Oil and gas operations exempt between 7 am and 10 pm*

No noise above neighborhood baseline by more than 5 dba. Drilling between 6 pm and 8 am must be conducted under Quiet Mode Drilling Plan

Noise levels in developed areas between 10 pm and 7 am noise levels no more than 3 dba above nighttime baseline

Noise spikes


No restriction

Company must consult County if nighttime operations exceed baseline by 10 dba for more than 15 minutes in any one hour

Health/Environmental Justice study


Every 5 years County may update EIR's health risk if data from meteorological station warrants

County will conduct Community Health Assessment with Environmental Justice component by June 2012, with additional assessments every 5- years.

Oil field cleanup

Nuisance law

Keep equipment in good appearance. Remove unused equipment.

Gives Petitions right of enforcement

* The City of Los Angeles doesn't seem to set hours with noise limits but does specify that "pumping equipment for such wells shall be muffled or soundproofed so that the noise emanating therefrom, measured from any point on adjacent property, is no more audible than surrounding street traffic."


This whole package was inherited by Freeport-McMoRan when it took over the Inglewood Oil Field from Plains Exploration in June 2013.


In contrast to the CSD, the existing LA City  ordinances are extraordinarily weak. Los Angeles has many pages of regulations in its Municipal Code establishing oil drilling districts, and the procedures to qualify to be authorized to buy and operate a drill site. The code contains basic provisions prohibiting fumes, smells, or excessive noise from reaching adjacent properties, and on the placement and maintenance of tanks and equipment. The code lacks the kind of detailed rules on air quality or limitations on hours of noisy operation, environmental oversight, access to records, requirements on logging and sharing complaints with a citizen body, contained in the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District.


The Los Angeles Municipal Code does not provide for any periodic review of whether its rules are being followed by this or that oil site. It leaves enforcement and any setting of detailed conditions or standards to individual Zoning Administrators, without any required public hearings or provision that good standards set in one case become generalized. The ZAs do not go out to observe conditions at an oil site first hand, or have the training, knowledge, or resources to draft a document as comprehensive as the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District charter.


The Zoning Administrators only sometimes hold hearings when a company or builder puts before them a proposal for some new construction. It is more difficult for community members to get a hearing for alleged zoning violations or to establish needed standards. And whatever decisions the ZA makes apply to only that one operation. They do not extend to the next operator who commits the same violation a mile away. Even then the records are quickly lost in the city's vast document mill.



It should be plain that it would be a major advance in the City of Los Angeles to adopt a regulatory structure similar to the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District. Notably, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning's draft West Adams-Baldwin Hill-Leimert Community Plan cites the CSD as a positive achievement, including its Community Advisory Panel component, whose purpose "is to establish additional regulations, safeguards and controls for activities related to drilling for, and production of oil in the unincorporated portion of the Inglewood Oil Field. A critical element of the CSD is the provision of creating a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) that will ensure continued input from community residents and stakeholders. The goal of the CSD is to ensure that all oil field operations are being performed in the safest manner possible."


If this citizen oversight of oil operations in Baldwin Hills is a "critical element," shouldn't the Department of City Planning consider adding it to the rules governing the vast oil operations in Los Angeles proper?


Urban oil production has been around a long time. It is doubtful that it was ever a safe and healthful decision to mix this dangerous industry with our residential streets. But today the problem has scaled to a new level of risk, through the combination of thousands of half-century-old wells in a matrix under our homes and new methods  of recovery that make large scale use of highly toxic chemicals to free what oil remains.


The Baldwin Hills experiment, now in its sixth year, shows that both sides can fruitfully cooperate. For those who just want to see assurances that their bodies are not being compromised by noxious fumes, as well as those who want to see industrial oil operations removed from our neighborhoods, the establishment of stricter regulation and statutory recognition of a community voice in oil operations would seem to be a step in the right direction. The risk for the West Adams protests is that they will focus only on the moratoriums. When State and local agencies have concluded their investigations and issued orders for a certain number of corrections, everything will return to business as usual – unless there is a newly revamped regulatory regime in Los Angeles. It would be a shame to lose this opportunity to take a major step to better protect our lives and win an ongoing community presence in determining the conduct of this powerful industry.


Leninism and Nazism: Opposites, Twins, or Siblings?



Leslie Evans


The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century. Vladimir Tismaneanu. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 320 pp.


Vladimir Tismaneanu is a Romanian who grew up under the Stalinist dictatorship that ruled his country from 1947 to 1989. Born in 1951, he was almost forty when Ceausescu was overthrown. His father was an important propagandist for the Communist government. Vladimir headed the 2006 Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, which condemned the Communist period as a criminal regime. The report was highly controversial, denounced by high ranking former communists who were condemned by name, by liberals who pointed to Tismaneanu's past as a convinced Marxist-Leninist, and by the far right because Tismaneanu is a Jew. He teaches currently in the United States at the University of Maryland.


In The Devil in History Tismaneanu spends almost no time on the fascist devil. Where he does reference them it is in sociological generalities about Hitler Germany, where the crimes of the Nazis are so well known they require no elaboration. He deals with them mostly by occasional paragraphs in which he establishes specific similarities and differences from their leftist enemy.



In addition to his life experience, Tismaneanu is sitting on a mountain of historical and sociological studies of the Communist record, many drawing on the long-secret Soviet and East European archives, that opened only in the last twenty years. His style is marked by stating, in almost every paragraph, his conclusions in the form of quotations from the work of others in the field, to which he then appends his agreement or disagreement. He traces the Communist project from the Russian Revolution, which he regards as an antidemocratic coup, through its Leninist and Stalinist incarnations, its expansion into Eastern Europe, and its decline, the beginning of which he dates from 1956.


I want to narrow the juxtaposition of Tismaneanu's title. On the political right, the word "fascism," though commonly used in America to signify Hitler and his Nazis (a term never used by the Germans), covers a broader swath. Under Mussolini, who invented it, his government was far less repressive than either the German Nazis or the Soviet Union under Lenin, much less Stalin. In Italy there were no mass killings or concentration camps, at least until well into World War II when the Germans were calling the shots. So on the right it would be better to take the worst example directly: Hitler's National Socialists.


On the left, few would dispute that Stalin's Russia was as bad or nearly as bad as Hitler's Germany. It murdered many millions more than the Nazis - by current estimates something between 20 and 35 million of its own citizens, though not matching the cold blooded industrial thoroughness of the Holocaust. China in its Maoist period shot and deliberately starved to death far more, with 45 million dead being a midrange estimate. Pol Pot killed a greater percentage of his country's population than any of the others.


For me the most interesting question in Tismaneanu's study is what to make of Lenin and the October Revolution. On the right, hardly anyone outside of small neo-Nazi sects looks back on Nazism as a noble experiment gone wrong, yet there are many who still take this view of Lenin and the early days of Soviet Communism. It is an article of faith of the various Trotskyist groups and the steadily diminishing number of self-identified Marxists. It was propounded by the leaders of every successive layer of efforts to reform the Communist parties from within, from Trotsky's Left Opposition to Khrushchev's 1956 de-Stalinization speech, to Gorbachev's perestroika. And this idea of the good Lenin succeeded by the bad Stalin is surprisingly widespread among liberal historians. Before we can characterize Lenin-era Communism some of the romantic aura that still surrounds it needs to be dispelled.


Lenin's Russia

Of course, most of the facts about Bolshevik repression were known at the time, and widely reported. But the seizure of state power by Marxists in a major European country was too great a victory for much of the left to disavow it. A large section of the socialist left hitched its wagon to the Communist revolution and stopped up its ears. We are all familiar with the Communist Party members in the West who for generations dismissed reports of the Soviet Gulag as an invention of capitalist enemies. Much of the would-be democratic left did the same, at one remove, conceding Stalin's crimes but dismissing the reports of Bolshevik killings and concentration camps as exaggerated, as necessary elements of the Russian civil war, as somehow different in kind and degree from the horrors that followed, and in any case justified, while infinitely smaller evils by capitalist democracies are met with howls of outrage.


There is now a large post-Communist literature drawn from the Soviet archives that makes this view untenable. (I have touched on this issue before in my essay "Anticapitalism, the Hyperstate, and the Current Crisis"), also included in my book Shaggy Man's Ramblings. Tismaneanu points in particular to Robert Gellately's Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe, which provides a pithy summary, as good as any. Here are some of the facts.


Less than forty-eight hours after the seizure of power the Bolsheviks issued their decree on the press, closing many of the existing papers and journals other than their own and placing what remained under strict party censorship, while moving inexorably to destroy all of the media that was not directly under party control. They set up the Cheka, the secret police, and opened concentration camps, which were soon filled with leaders and members not only of the conservative parties but of the liberals, of the Social Revolutionaries who represented the country's peasant majority, and of the other Marxist parties.


When, on January 5, 1918, the elected representatives of the Constituent Assembly gathered from across Russia, the results of the country's first free elections, the Bolsheviks had won only 24 percent of the vote. An unarmed civilian demonstration of 50,000 in support of the democratically elected assembly was fired on by Bolshevik troops, killing about twenty people.


In June 1918 the death penalty, abolished by the February revolution, was restored. On August 9, 1918, Lenin ordered the Nizhni Novgorod soviet to "instantly commence mass terror, shoot and transport hundreds of prostitutes who get the soldiers drunk, ex-officers, and so forth."


On August 11 in a telegram to Penza he ordered:


"1. Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers.

"2. Publish their names.

"3. Take from them all the grain.

"4. Designate hostages."


Gellately comments here: "Seizing 'all the grain' meant that the relatives of those not killed might well starve to death, and that was the point in taking it."


On September 3 in a party newspaper the deputy head of the Cheka, I. K. Peters, ordered "instant execution" of anyone found without identification papers. The Cheka in 1918 executed 500 hostages in Petrograd. The official start of the Red Terror began on September 5 with a Sovnarkom decree authorizing execution by the secret police without trial, as well as the official inauguration of the concentration camp system. Cheka head Felix Dzerzhinsky in a February 17, 1919, report coauthored by Stalin stated that inmates of concentration camps would be used as state labor, and that such incarceration would be extended from political prisoners to also include "gentlemen who live without any occupation" as well as those with an "unconscientious attitude toward work, for negligence, for lateness, etc."


By September 1921 there were 117 camps with more than sixty thousand prisoners run by the NKVD and the regular justice system, with fifty thousand more in another hundred or so camps run by the Cheka. Gellately writes:


"During 1920 at the Kholmogory camp the Cheka adopted the practice of drowning prisoners in the nearby Dvina River. A 'great number' were bound hand and foot and, weighted down with stones around their necks, were thrown overboard from a barge." He adds that there was a very high mortality rate in the Cheka camps and many massacres, "so estimations of the total number of prisoners may bear little relation to the reality. Isolated figures suggest that the scale of the killings was enormous. At certain points, prisons were emptied by shooting all the inmates."


Basic citizenship rights were withdrawn from all those judged to be opponents of the new regime. This did not require any action on the part of those so excluded, not even verbal criticism of the government. Gellately writes:


"The stain of opposition was indelible. It might amount to no more than the accident of being born a member of the bourgeoisie - the son or daughter of a shopkeeper, for example - but the mark could never be erased." Lenin called for putting "lazy workers" in prison and shooting "idlers."


The Bolsheviks did not hesitate to shoot down striking workers, and execute leaders of the other left parties. But their greatest repression was directed against the Russian peasantry. This went under the rubric of a class war against the "kulaks." Most Western communists and sympathizers of the Russian Revolution took this in stride, imagining a kulak to be something like a Latin American latifundista, deserving of everything they had coming to them. Gellately, on the basis of the long-secret archives, corrects this impression:


"Anyone could be labeled a kulak, from the person who lent neighbors money to one who kept a tidy garden." He adds:


"In the heady days of late 1917 and early 1918, peasants had been enthusiastic about Bolshevism, which promised them land without payment and encouraged them to pillage the bourgeoisie and nobility. By mid-1918 much of that support had faded. Over the next two years there were thousands of riots and revolts as the peasants fought back. What most of them wanted, as they had for generations, was free title to their own land. All such attitudes, however, as well as protests, were now labeled 'kulak rebellions' and savagely repressed."


A virtual army of urban toughs, some 30,000 to 40,000, were dispatched into the countryside to seize peasant grain for the cities. Often they took all they could find, leaving the peasants to starve. The government was pitiless toward the peasant families. Gellately again:


"Peasant were killed if suspected of holding back grain, and workers were shot if they protested. In the first two months of the terror some ten to fifteen thousand summary executions were carried out. . . . The Cheka killed and abused their victims without mercy. They robbed and plundered and in drunken orgies raped and killed their way through one village after the next. Completely innocent family men were arrested so that Cheka officers could take their wives as mistresses. Daughters were blackmailed into trying to save their families by offering themselves for the pleasures of some drunken official.


"Suspected enemies could expect cruel torture, flogging, maiming, or execution. Some were shot, others drowned, some frozen or buried alive, and still others were hacked to death by swords. Just who all these 'enemies' were depended on the whim of someone in the Cheka, the Red Guard, or the Red Army. The killers honed the practice of having those about to be executed dig their own graves."


The Red Army executed between 50,000 and 150,000 civilians in the Crimea in 1920 after driving out the White army. On January 24, 1919, the renamed Communist Party's Central Committee ordered the "total extermination" of the traditionally independent Cossacks. In 1920 in the North Caucasus and the Don area the Cheka executed more than six thousand people. Cheka leader Karl Lander reported that "for lack of a better idea" the Cheka in Kislovodsk killed all the patients in the local hospital. Gellately adds, "An integral part of these operations involved the wholesale sexual exploitation of the women." On October 23, Serge Ordzhonikidze, later a prominent figure in Stalin's government, ordered the destruction of the Cossacks as a people. Again Gellately:


"The most reliable estimates indicate that between 300,000 and 500,000 were killed or deported in 1919-20. These losses were suffered by a population totaling around three million at the time."


Things were not much better for ordinary Russians under Bolshevik rule. Being declared a "class enemy" was not based on anything a person had done or even said. Gellately quotes Martyn Latsis, a Cheka leader:


"We are not waging war on individual persons. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. During the investigation, we do not look for evidence that the accused acted in deed or word against the Soviet power. The first questions you ought to put are: to what class does he belong? What is his origin? What is his education or profession? And it is these questions that ought to determine the fate of the accused." Lenin made some exceptions for technical experts that the government needed to keep the military and the economy afloat. Many tsarist officers were retained, their families held as hostages and shot if the officer disobeyed, and some factory owners with special knowledge of productive technique survived.


The French Revolution at least limited the guillotine to the actual aristocracy. Lenin's Bolsheviks unleashed their greatest savagery on the peasantry, the urban middle class, trade unionists, and the supporters of the liberal and leftist political parties. The February 1917 strike at the Putilov steel factory in Petrograd is credited with being the decisive event in compelling Nicholas II's abdication and opening the February Revolution. When the Putilov workers struck again, in March 1919, raising solely the demands that the Bolsheviks themselves had championed the year before: All Power to the Soviets, for Soviet Democracy, etc., the Cheka on March 16, 1919, stormed the factory, arrested 900 workers and shot 200 without trial.


Tismaneanu quotes Bukharin's 1920 Economics of the Transition Period, where the Communist Party's chief theoretician maintained that "proletarian coercion in all of its forms, beginning with shooting and ending with labor conscription is . . . a method of creating communist mankind out of the human materials of the capitalist epoch." And the Bolsheviks indeed tried to shoot their way to communism.


What was the total of this savagery? The most authoritative and extensive compilation of the statistics has been done by R. J. Rummel, who has coined the term "democide" to distinguish the mass murder of one's own citizens and ethnic compatriots from genocide, the extermination of other peoples or ethnicities. In his Lethal Politics Rummel gives the following figures for civilian deaths by the Red Terror, solely for the period 1917-1922 under Lenin's rule, not including casualties of the civil war:


"The number killed throughout Soviet territory by the Red Terror, the execution of prisoners, and revenge against former Whites or their supporters possibly involved the murder of between 250,000 and 3,650,000 people; most probably about 500,000, including at least 200,000 people officially executed. Among all the conflicting figures, 500,000 seems the most prudent estimate. Yet, as large as it is, it may be overly conservative (and this is what makes it prudent.)"


I could go on, but I think any reader with a sense of humanity will see that this was not a liberation but a descent into brutal state slavery in which any good intentions of Lenin and his followers were drowned in their own callous disregard for the most elementary human values.


Before turning back to Tismaneanu it is worth citing as a first comparison between Leninism and Nazism a point made by Robert Gellately. Lenin and Stalin, he states, did not seek approval for their actions from any segment of the Russian people. "Even in their own minds they derived their legitimacy and authority not from the people but from Marxism and the laws of history, of which they supposedly had superior knowledge." Hitler, in contrast, was a populist. At every stage he sought, and won, the approval of the mass of the German people. His concept was an homogeneous Germanic populace, to achieve which required the expulsion or extermination of Jews, communists, homosexuals, Gypsies, non-Germans, and the physically unfit. But he repeatedly sought the approval of the "average" German. Gellately quotes Ian Kershaw's conclusion that Hitler's personal popularity and authority "formed the central vehicle for consolidating and integrating society in a massive consensus for the regime." Hitler for the duration of his rule, killed very few German "Aryans," other than those who died in battle in the war.


Tismaneanu's Critique

Our author stipulates that communism and fascism each have their "irreducible attributes," but share a long list of similarities, which leads him to characterize them both as incarnating "diabolically nihilistic principles of human subjugation and conditioning in the name of presumably pure and purifying goals." He was particularly struck in his own experience by the readiness with which Romanian Communism after 1960 incorporated more and more characteristics of the fascist right, including ultranationalism, xenophobia, and antisemitism. This was not limited to Romania but was true as well of the postwar Soviet Union and Poland.


This "baroque synthesis" was possible because of the many shared traits of the pristine versions of these systems, first of all, that they are "ideological states," where the government is the owner of absolute truth:


"Both movements pretended to purify humanity of agents of corruption, decadence, and dissolution and to restore a presumably lost unity of humanity (excluding, of course, those regarded as subhuman, social and racial enemies)."


Both movements arose through the victory of monolithic parties with a military component that were utterly hostile to "liberalism, democracy, and parliamentarianism." Both denied any autonomy to the individual and claimed the right to impose the state's views by force on virtually every issue, and to arrest or kill even the most modest dissenters. Both rested on revolutionary mobilizations of the masses in which personal liberty was expunged and replaced by a sense of belonging to a great historic renovation of society into new forms to which all personal freedom was surrendered.


While these currents had gestated in small groups in society's wings, their opportunity to become national and international powers was opened by the disastrous mass slaughter of the First World War, which deeply shook people's faith in the Western secular religion of onward and upward progress governed by the often corrupt give and take of electoral party politics.


In power, communism and fascism vastly expanded the power of the state over individual and collective life, aiming explicitly at the complete elimination of individual autonomy. All persons were at the disposal of the state. Disloyalty was met with a death sentence, even at the level of private speech or, still more inescapable, falling afoul of pseudoscientific criteria of one's ethnic or class identity. Behind the state apparatus, power was held by the centralized party, whose rigid ideology dominated all public means of communication and education; a ubiquitous secret police apparatus spied on everyone; while the populace was thrown into the multifaceted and implacable machine that sought to remold them, as Tismaneanu put it, according to the recipe for the "cult of the 'New Man.'" Those who didn't meet the standards of the cookbook were disposed of. And, more than any of these, the two systems resembled each other in their "genocidal frenzy." Both systems killed vast numbers according to impersonal generic criteria.


The forcible integration of the ideal types into the transformed nation went hand in hand with the exclusion and eradication of those who did meet the ideological criteria. Tismaneanu writes:


"Both Stalinism and Nazism emphasized the need for social integration and communal belonging through the exclusion of specific others." They aimed to achieve "imagined projects of the perfect citizenry."


Both systems employed constant, state manipulated, mass mobilization in campaigns intended to show progress toward an apocalyptic transformation that was to produce an earthly paradise. Both prized the new technologies of the twentieth century and employed them indiscriminately in industrial production and in mass murder. Naturally there were lots of people you didn't expect to meet in paradise, and these states devoted vast energies to seeing that such enemies and misfits would no longer exist. As Tismaneanu puts it, "Communism, like Fascism, undoubtedly founded its alternative, illiberal modernity upon extermination."


A cardinal difference in the two systems was that Nazism had no humanist pretensions. Its roots were in the Counter Enlightenment of blood and soil, organic nationalism that prized only its own ancestral line. It advocated German rule over all others on the basis of superior will and alleged biological superiority. The Communist current emerged from Marxism, the most extreme wing of the Enlightenment, which evolved a doctrine of ruthless global reengineering of all societies to conform to a single model of propertyless universal equality. Nineteenth century Marxism, and still more its totalitarian Leninist incarnation, looked to the state as the instrument to administer the post-revolutionary society in its every aspect, with all the homogenizing and exclusionism that this implied. Unlike Nazism, reform movements repeatedly arose within the Communist polis calling for somehow realizing the ever-lost humanist promises of Marx's early writings. The conundrum of Marxism was that it propounded a goal of universal happiness while firmly advocating a system that explicitly destroyed civil society and was to replace it with a monolithic state apparatus that controlled every aspect of life: all jobs (as there was to be no private property), all means of mass communication, central control of the monetary system, combined with state suppression of disapproved beliefs and their advocates, beginning with religion and political liberalism.


This distinction between the two systems is real enough, but Tismaneanu perhaps gives it too much weight in explaining why Communism expanded after World War II while fascism did not make a comeback. Fascism, after all, was not a purely German institution. It can be adapted to any aggrieved national or ethnic group that rejects human and civil rights for its enemies. The postwar failure of fascism to rise from the grave has much to do with revulsion at the Holocaust, which the non-German fascist states had less responsibility for, and the fact that the fascist side lost the war.


To return to the common rejection of liberal democracy by our two opposed movements, Tismaneanu characterizes them both as revolutionary. Leninism he brands "a mutation" within social democracy that rejected its previous democratic legacy. The Marxists were wrong, however, to see the Nazis as a mere counterrevolution in defense of capitalism. In their own way the National Socialists strove to destroy the existing pluralistic society, "a rebellion against the very foundations of European modern civilization." They led, he says, "an attempt to renovate the world by getting rid of the bourgeoisie, the gold, the money, the parliaments, the parties, and all the other 'decadent,' 'Judeo-plutocratic' elements." The real stakes in the twentieth century were not in the defeat of fascism as such but in driving back the dual offensive against liberal democracy. He adds that while both fascism and communism were dealt heavy blows, that "new varieties of extreme utopian politics should not be automatically regarded as impossible."


Both movements were charismatic, rejecting legal codes that were binding on the government. They differed in that fascism's charisma was vested in the individual leader while communism's was vested in the party, though this often placed few restrictions on the Communist leader's authority. Tismaneanu laments that in the West the anti-fascist tradition remains strong while the history of Communism has been cloaked in "silence, partiality, or ignorance regarding the crimes and dictatorship of Leninist party-states."


Here we come to another cardinal distinction between the two illiberal totalitarianisms. Tismaneanu quotes the late Tony Judt: "[T]here is a difference between regimes that exterminate people in the inhuman pursuit of an arbitrary objective and those whose objective is extermination itself." Both regimes excluded millions of their own people from both citizenship and the right to remain alive. In the Nazi case the excluded were hunted down and murdered. In the Leninist case a great many were shot, others were interned in concentration camps where most died, still others, mainly among the peasantry, had all their food taken and starved to death, or, if they protested, were killed by the military. Here, the government preferred them dead, denied them any pathway to regain normal human rights, but some small percentage of the excluded nevertheless lived through it.


With that qualification, those deprived of citizenship in the USSR were essentially criminalized. At best they lost their jobs and the ration cards required to buy food, amounting to a slow death sentence unless others dared to help them. This exclusion from the means of existence was widely extended to whole families and related kin groups. Social types so excluded included Nepmen, traders, kulaks, persons of nationalities other than Russian, even if they had been Russian citizens, particularly Germans, Poles, Koreans, Greeks, and Chinese. "The disloyalty of the fathers was thought to be passed down to the sons. Both rightlessness and statelessness became inherited traits" (Tismaneanu is here quoting Golfo Alexopoulos). Soviet terror became the Russian version of the Final Solution. As Tismaneanu writes, of both systems:


"Millions of human lives were destroyed as a result of the conviction that the sorry state of mankind could be corrected if only the ideologically designated 'vermin' were eliminated. This ideological drive to purify humanity was rooted in the scientistic cult of technology and the firm belief that History (always capitalized) had endowed the revolutionary elites (of extreme left or extreme right) with the mission to get rid of the 'superfluous populations.'"


In Germany the exterminationist repression was directed at minorities (Jews, gays, Roma, the disabled) and foreigners. That allowed Hitler to remain popular with average Germans. In Lenin and Stalin's Soviet Union it was directed at the mainstream population, where one person in five went through the Gulag. In part because of its huge extent, more people survived the Gulag - there were few but still significant ways to live through or escape it - than did the German murder machine. But also because of the scale and the length of time during which it was in place, vastly more people died in the Soviet effort to cleanse its population of those that didn't match its blueprint.


Tismaneanu raises a chilling question about these systems: what was going on in the minds of the people who constituted their mass base? "How was it possible for millions of individuals to enroll in revolutionary movements that aimed at the enslavement, exclusion, elimination, and finally extermination of whole categories of fellow human beings?" He explains it as surrender to "the ecstasy of solidarity, the desire to dissolve one's autonomy into the mystical supra-individual entity of the party." And elsewhere in his text:


"The cult of violence and the sacralization of the infallible party line created totally submissive subjects for whom any crime ordered by the upper echelons was justified in the name of 'glowing tomorrows.'" A similar psychological process operates today for radical Islam's suicide bombers, with the exception that their sacrifice is not with the expectation of hastening a distant earthly heaven but of themselves entering Paradise momentarily.


Americans, in this most individualistic of modern states, are prone to assume that, after food and shelter, the main thing people want is personal liberty. That is far from the truth. People have many motivations in their collective lives. Under the right circumstances they are equally likely to embrace regimentation, and slaughter of real and imagined enemies. This is the stuff of radical religious, nationalist, and strongly ideological secular movements throughout history, down to our own day in the current upwelling of radical Islam.


As Tismaneanu puts it for the Soviet case:


"Generations of Marxist intellectuals hastened to annihilate their dignity in this apocalyptical race for ultimate certitudes. The whole heritage of Western skeptical rationalism was easily dismissed in the name of the revealed light emanating from the Kremlin. The age of reason was thus to culminate in the frozen universe of quasi-rational terror."


It is easier to explain why leftist radicals far away from the Soviet Union, who knew little or nothing about what actually took place there, and got what information they had from Marxist sources, became champions of the Russian Revolution. Over the years, as the monstrous evils of the system became undeniable, many retreated to a second line of defense: the heroic people's tribune, Lenin, was betrayed by his acolyte Stalin. The Leninist past was by then long gone and few of these radicals cared to delve into the by now voluminous historical documentation of the early years of Soviet power. There are still some of these folk around today.


Tismaneanu goes on to trace the evolution of the Leninist structures - secret police, shooting without trial, concentration camps, abolition of civil society and its replacement by state control of individual lives, rewriting of history, extermination of whole groups based on purely sociological criteria - into the Stalin era. In particular, after the end of World War II, the Soviet government incorporated new elements pioneered by the Nazis, most importantly official antisemitism. The Soviet media for decades hid the fact of the Holocaust and began a purge of Jews from the party and from the professions. "Under Communism, the Jews became a target of policies of exclusion, isolation, and punishment on the basis of their ethnicity, were deemed potentially disloyal ('enemies of the people') and inherently bourgeois ('class enemies'), Jewish identity turned at times under Communism into an innate, invariable, and even hereditary source of otherness that called for state-engineered excision."


Stalin, like the Nazis, adopted a theory of innate and inescapable national character. The Russians were the heroic carriers of Communism while the inferior nationalities were, in Tismaneanu's summary, "decadent species spoiled by a profit-seeing mentality." Pravda in the early 1950s was filled with letters denouncing Jews as traitors and demanding that the lot of them be purged from the party and all high office. This while the embers at Auschwitz were still warm. Here Tismaneanu quotes the Polish philosopher and critic of Marxism Leszek Kolakowski on the state's rationale in adopting antisemitism and purges directed at other non-Russian nationalities:


"The object of a totalitarian system is to destroy all forms of communal life that are not imposed by the state and closely controlled by it, so that individuals are isolated from one another and become mere instruments in the hands of the state. The citizen belongs to the state and must have no other loyalty, not even to the state ideology."


Leninism, beginning when Lenin was at the helm, shared this vision of society with fascism, particularly its Nazi variant. Democracy, in the sense that the people were permitted a say in their government, was rejected out of hand by both movements. Both movements, with some difference in emphasis, sought to substitute for the boring and corrupt routine of "bourgeois democracy" a heroic monolithism in which the party and its leaders became the charismatic force around which the state was congealed. Hitler as the fuehrer was a traditional charismatic. The Bolsheviks were more unique in making the impersonal party itself the charismatic entity that all must adore and follow without question.


Tismaneanu explicates this concept of the party by quoting one of the younger Bolshevik leaders, Yury Piatakov:


"In order to become one with this great Party he would fuse himself with it, abandon his own personality, so that there was no particle left inside him which was not at one with the Party, did not belong to it." The same author in 1918, channeling Ignatius Loyola's catechism to his Jesuits: "Yes I shall consider black something that I felt and considered to be white since outside of the party, outside accord with it, there is no life for me."


Tismaneanu returns repeatedly to his efforts to draw similarities and differences between the two totalitarian movements. He describes fascism as "a pathology of romantic irrationalism" and Bolshevism as "a pathology of Enlightenment-inspired hyperrationalism," expanding this thought as:


"Fascism was no less a fantasy of salvation than was Bolshevism: both promised to rescue humanity from the bondage of capitalist mercantilism and to ensure the advent of the total community. . . . Both Leninism and Fascism were creative forms of nihilism, extremely utilitarian and contemptuous of universal rights. The essential element of their modus vivendiwas the 'sanctification of violence.' They envisioned society as a community of 'bearers of beliefs,' and every aspect of their private life and behavior was expected to conform with these beliefs. Upon coming into power and implementing their vision of the perfect society, the two political movements established dictatorships of purity in which 'people were rewarded or punished according to politically defined criteria of virtue.'"


He concedes that there are other avenues that lead back to Marx that do not share the exterminationist credo of Leninism: "It is not at all self-evident that one can derive the genocidal logic of the gulags from Marx's universalistic postulates, whereas it is quite clear that much of the Stalinist system existed in embryo in Lenin's Russia."


Because of Lenin, he writes, "a new type of politics was born in the twentieth century, one founded upon fanaticism, elitism, unflinching commitment to a sacred cause, and total submission of critical reason by means of faith to a self-appointed 'vanguard' of militant illuminati."


Tismaneanu concludes that Leninism both in its original form and its Stalinist child constitute a dead religion. But he observes that antidemocratic collectivism remains in the wings in various parts of today's world. Many observers of the post-World War II rise of Islamic radicalism, including Bernard Lewis and Paul Berman, see this Islamic resurgence not as a simple revival of eighth century religiosity but a movement that has imbibed key organizational lessons from German Nazism, which exercised a powerful influence on the Arab East, particularly on the Palestinians, Iraqis, and Egyptians, and of Communist forms of organization. Tismaneanu points in particular to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and other exemplars of radical Islam, that, like the Leninists and the Nazis, seek to impose by force a complex of total regulation of individual behavior and the suppression of all competing religions, ideologies, and political practices.



John Gray on Why Liberals Are Reluctant to Acknowledge the Crimes of Communism


British philosopher and high-end journalist John Gray offered a lengthy review of The Devil in History in the January 2, 2013, issue of the Times Literary Supplement, concentrating on why contemporary liberals have retained a distinct sympathy for communism. Gray is widely regarded as today's leading philosopher of pessimism, the heir of Schopenhauer. The reason is that he rejects the Victorian religion of progress and its twentieth century continuity in the liberal faith in social and human improvement, which provide the basis for the seemingly ineradicable liberal feeling that communism, unlike fascism, was a worthy goal gone wrong.


For some years I have held Gray in high esteem. He operates at a level above partisan politics. He has at various times in his life been on the left, on the right, and in recent years, back on the environmental left. He is a scholar of note in explicating and defending Isaiah Berlin, perhaps the preeminent champion of liberal democracy in an age that sought refuge in authoritarian alternatives. For Gray, there is progress in technology, but human nature, with all of its aggressive and xenophobic potentials, was formed by biological evolution 50,000 years ago and hasn't changed in a few centuries of improved prosperity and health care.


Gray notes that Tismaneanu's comparison of Leninism with Nazism is controversial in the West, where even the idea of totalitarianism as a common category for the two systems is contested as a Cold War invention. This denial, he says, is deservedly met with incomprehension by people who lived under the Communist system.


Tismaneanu had highlighted the Bolshevik term byvshie liudi (former people) as a designation for all those categories who were deprived of citizenship and of the right to get a state ration card to buy food. Gray comments:


"Denying some human groups the moral standing that normally goes with being a person, this act formed the basis for the Soviet project of purging society of the human remnants of the past." "Former people" has an awful resonance with the Nazi term for the Jews, Roma, and gays: "life unworthy of life." Whatever differences there were in the two systems, Gray adds, "the two were alike in viewing mass killing as a legitimate instrument of social engineering." Both advocated and created a "system of unlimited government."


Gray is also impressed by Tismaneanu's point that by the late 1940s Communism embraced ethnocentrism, nationalism, racism, and antisemitism, thereby acquiring "some of Fascism's defining characteristics."


All the elements of exterminating unwanted categories of human beings were initiated by Lenin, who bore none of the pathological personal characteristics of Stalin, but simply a cold rationality. Gray writes:


"By their own account, Lenin and his followers acted on the basis of the belief that some human groups had to be destroyed in order to realize the potential of humanity. These facts continue to be ignored by many who consider themselves liberals, and it is worth asking why."


His conclusion is that liberalism shares with communism "the idea that history is a story of continuing human advance," an idea that he dismisses as "a hollowed-out version of a religious belief in providence." While liberalism proceeds by modest reforms, he says that liberals "have seen the Communist experiment as a hyperbolic expression of their own project of improvement; if the experiment failed, its casualties were incurred for the sake of a progressive cause." And finally, "Blindness to the true nature of Communism is an inability to accept that radical evil can come from the pursuit of progress."

Norman Geras, 1943-2013

 Leslie Evans


Norman Geras died in Cambridge, England, on October 18 of prostate cancer; he had turned seventy in August. He was little known in the United States, but was a seminal figure in a decades-long battle to rescue the humanitarian and democratic traditions of the socialist Left from a drift toward support to right-wing totalitarian governments and movements in the Third World, particularly Islamic radicalism, in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism. He was also a voice of reason in opposing the wave of demonization of Israel that has grown up into a distinctive form of left-wing antisemitism.


I never met him. A Jew, born in Southern Rhodesia when it was still a British colony, he emigrated to England with his family at the age of nineteen. For thirty-six years he taught philosophy and classes on Marxism at the University of Manchester. He wrote books on Marxism and one on Rosa Luxemburg, retiring early, at sixty, in 2003.


I should have heard of him while, from 1967 to 1979, I served on the literary staff of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in New York. I somehow did not. Norman in those years was also a Trotskyist, a leader of the Manchester branch of the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Fourth International. My SWP was effectively the American section, though barred by the Voorhees Act from official membership. I met several leaders of the IMG: Alan and Connie Harris, who were the American SWP's special cothinkers, Pat Jordan, John Ross, and Tariq Ali.


Norman even in his Trotskyist days had a certain humanist streak that coexisted poorly with the authoritarian doctrines of his sect. In a September 1977 talk on Leninism to the International Marxist Group he tried hard to see a distinction between Trotsky's view of the revolutionary party and Lenin's, arguing that because of the years when Trotsky was, with Rosa Luxemburg, opposed to Bolshevism because of its authoritarianism, that after Lenin's death Trotsky had softened his concept of the party through opposing the Stalinist Lenin cult. 


Norman was on the editorial board of the famedNew Left Review, along with Quintin Hoare, also from the IMG. He served from 1976 to 1992. His resignation was prompted by an administrative shakeup led by Perry Anderson, who had long withdrawn from active involvement in the journal's editorial work and taken up a professorship at UCLA, where I had a slight acquaintance with him. For thirty years the journal's editorial decisions and selection of its chief editor were made by the Editorial Board. Each serving editor was rewarded with some amount of stock in the NLR company. Anderson in the autumn of 1992 staged a coup in which he, with his brother and a few other current and former editors, with controlling amounts of stock, stripped the Editorial Board of its decision making power. Norman Geras and several others resigned. The following March another layer of editors followed them, including Quintin Hoare and his wife, Branka Magas, amounting in total to no less than 19 of the 27 members. In the aftermath, Anderson gave special new responsibilities to Pakistani Trotskyist and IMG member Tariq Ali and to Alexander Cockburn, who had not had any association with the journal for many years and was then running Counterpunch, a publication that became strongly identified with leftist hostility to the United States and Israel.


At the time, this split seemed to be over purely administrative matters. Over the years it became apparent that profound political differences were involved, and theNew Left Reviewsplit was replicated among other left groups throughout the Western world. These solidified over the decades into what Christopher Hitchens called the anti-imperialist Left versus the anti-totalitarian Left. Norman Geras was firmly in the latter camp.


Tariq Ali, in an interview with Counterpunch on February 26, 2008, said openly that "there is no doubt that there was a division on the Yugoslav war." Most of the world, including Norman Geras and the other dissenters on theNew Left ReviewEditorial Board, viewed the Serbian attacks on the Bosnian Muslims as a war crime. These assaults came to a peak in July 1995, when the Serbians massacred 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks in Srebrenica, a crime branded as genocide by the International Court of Justice in 2007. Ali, even after the court's decision, still insisted that the Serbs bore no special guilt and the Yugoslav breakup was solely "a civil war brought about by the European Union and by German intervention to break up the country." That is, one side in this dispute among Western leftists was prepared to recognize war crimes when perpetrated by a minor player in the world system, while the Tariq Alis could only see guilt if the perpetrator was the European Union, or its similar, the United States.


The Yugoslav case was the beginning of this split, and it became a bitter division when NATO, in April 1994, began bombing in defense of the beleaguered Bosniaks. Those, like Tariq Ali, who found inconceivable a humanitarian military action by an advanced country, denounced the leftist supporters of the NATO intervention, including Norman Geras, as betrayers and apologists for imperialism. Norman bore a great deal of this kind of abuse from then on.


To weigh the merits of both sides in this controversy it is necessary to say a few words about its history before the 1990s. The Marxist anti-imperialist current has its origins in Lenin's policies following the defeat of the post-World War I European Communist revolutions in Germany and Hungary. Still banking on a proletarian uprising, somewhat delayed, in Europe's future, he sought to supplement the current Communist weakness by enlisting the anticolonial movement of what later came to be called the Third World. "Imperialism" then had a definite meaning and content. Britain ruled India, Egypt, South Africa, and half a dozen other places. France held Algeria and Indochina and was claiming Lebanon and Syria. Germany, a late comer, had Southwest Africa. Beyond that, until its defeat in World War I, the Turkish Ottoman Empire had ruled over the Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, and Jews of the Middle East, and Russia over its prison house of nations.


Lenin's expectation was that the rising colonial resistance to imperialism, whatever the views of its current leaders, would eventually turn to communism and become part of the world communist government that he assumed as the end product of the Russian Revolution.


History moved down different pathways. The German working class in its majority turned to National Socialism and voted for Hitler. In the decade and a half after World War II the old colonial empires were dismantled. A greatly weakened imperialism then presided over a brief period of neocolonialism, where it provided funding and military support to indigenous rulers that it actually controlled. Later the advanced countries would pay such governments to achieve partial aims without being able to control them, viz, America's current relations with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt, and even postwar Iraq.


Chief among the putative imperialist powers, the United States, had a two-pronged foreign policy toward the Third World from the late 1940s through the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. On the neocolonial side it sought to control resources in poorer countries by controlling their governments. The other prong was a historic battle with the Communist states, which ruled 40 percent of the world's people. It was in this second effort that the U.S. committed the worst of the crimes that outraged the Marxist and much of the liberal left: the CIA coup against Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, the Vietnam War, and the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Pinochet's coup in 1973. The U.S. often conflated purely nationalist independence movements with its Communist nemesis. But Communism, whatever its pretensions about the wonderful future it was promising, was a horrendous system, responsible between the Soviet Union, its Eastern European fiefdoms, Maoist China, and Pol Pot's Cambodia, for the deliberate murder of more than 100 million of its own people and the condemnation of the survivors to a life of serflike control by the one-party state. America's worst crimes, and they were real enough, were not those of a predatory empire trying to establish colonial rule over other peoples but part of a broader conflict between world systems in which the Communist side had proved itself an enemy that needed to be fought.


After the collapse of Communism it is hard to square the term imperialism as a description of Europe and the United States with the meaning of that word in Lenin's day. Europe has largely shrunk in on itself. America's wars of the twenty-first century have been with radical Islam, a movement that shares nothing with the professed aims of Communism or of any kind of Western democratic values. That section of Islam boldly proclaims its own aspiration for a world revolution, as grandiose as Lenin's dreams, but this one to impose Sharia law and destroy the infidel states.


That section of the Marxist and socialist Left that still imagines they are fighting the imperialism of the 1920s has become a more and more reactionary current, despite a genuine admixture of progressive goals that remain part of its outlook. As colonialism retreated further into the past and countries outside of Europe and America became more assertive, many devolving into various forms of tyranny, this political division among Western leftists became deeper. One side more and more could only see evil if "imperialism" was the agent. And by extension, it began to look to enemies of the advanced countries as potential allies. The other saw many new forms of oppressive rule outside of Europe and North America in which sometimes even military intervention by the democracies was justified.


The anti-imperialist Left, with the Soviet Union gone and China turning capitalist, looked more and more uncritically to Third World governments and non-state movements that were hostile to Europe and the United States. Many of these were right-wing, theocratic, and antisemitic - Islamic terrorists, or the various anti-Western dictatorships that are fundamentally opposed to political democracy, religious liberty, women's and gay rights, trade unions, or virtually any of the humanistic values that had been essential to at least an important section of the traditional socialist left. A hallmark of this Western leftist politics has been unremitting hostility toward the Israeli Jews, generally including support to calls for the destruction of Israel in the name of Arab rights to the whole of the non-Persian Middle East.


Apart from the section of the Left that had always been totalitarian - the Stalinists and Maoists - this antidemocratic turn by a good part of the remainder was a new phenomenon. It flowed from the reduction of the once-vast socialist states, however deformed, to nothing but North Korea and Cuba, the clear disinterest of workers in the advanced countries in socialist doctrines, leaving as the only meaningful constituency with any power the visible enemies of the advanced countries. Thus an article of faith was retention of an unexamined ideology that Western imperialism remained the greatest evil on the planet, including the Israeli Jews, who were dismissed as a US outpost.


A single example from the real world should indicate the extreme decline of the advanced countries as alleged imperialist powers. From the 1930s to the 1970s the world's most valuable commodity, oil, was dominated by the Seven Sister oil companies. Five of these were American. In 1973 the Seven Sisters controlled 85% of the world's petroleum reserves. Today 77 percent of world oil reserves are owned by state-owned companies, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico, Iraq, China, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Venezuela. Most of these are hostile to the United States and Europe. The only private oil company that even makes the top ten is Exxon. And despite leftist claims that the U.S. fought the Iraq war to capture the country's oil, Iraq today exports to 35 countries, its biggest customer being China, and much of the rest goes to India and Europe.


Norman Geras proved to be a key figure within the socialist Left in rejecting the dead-end path of the die-hard anti-imperialists, though it was not until 2003 that he began most seriously to engage in this debate. In 1995 he joined the board of theSocialist Register, where he served until 2003, resigning when he also retired from teaching. This was still a pretty orthodox Marxist publication, with a Trotskyist leaning. It featured articles by Isaac Deutscher and Ernest Mandel, but also intellectuals from the Communist movement: Georg Lukacs, E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm.


The Euston Manifesto


Norman's final views took shape after he retired. He immediately started his own website, Normblog (http://normblog.typepad.com/). He insisted that his friends call him Norm (I have always had a taste for formality in people's names). He wrote almost daily, on politics, on cricket, music, films, and, with greater frequency over time, on left-wing antisemitism and the growing tendency on the Left to see Islamic radicals as allies. He made a daring initiative in April 2006 as the principal drafter, along withObserverandGuardiancolumnist Nick Cohen and a few others, of the Euston Manifesto (http://eustonmanifesto.org/).


I discovered the Euston Manifesto about a year later, sometime in 2007, coinciding with Nick Cohen's publication ofWhat's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way,which developed the same viewpoint. The Manifesto made a defense of classical democratic values, condemned the growth of corporate power and economic inequality, defended the rights of women, gays, and trade unions, but firmly opposed the drift toward support to totalitarian Third World rulers and movements:


"We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently 'understand', reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy - regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces."


I had withdrawn in 1986 from the last of a series of small Trotskyist groups and largely given up on Marxism. This became definitive in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. A central credo of the Trotskyist brand of Marxism had been that the Communist states represented a superior form of society than capitalism and that the workers of those states would defend the nationalized property relations from any effort by the bureaucrats to compromise it. In the event, no hand was raised to defend the nationalized property. It was not the workers who clamored for reform but the Communist bureaucrats, and their reform consisted in the abolition of Communism, in both the Soviet Union and in China, though with different results. As Bernard Shaw observed inMan and Superman, "There are limits to what a mule or an ass will stand; but Man will suffer himself to be degraded until his vileness becomes so loathsome to his oppressors that they themselves are forced to reform it." This told me that communism was not, as the Marxists imagined, the next inevitable and desirable stage of human civilization, but a hugely costly experiment imposed by implacable ideologues that had gone horribly awry, not different in kind from Savonarola's religious dictatorship in fifteenth century Florence.


By 1987 I was a follower of such defenders of militant democratic liberalism as Isaiah Berlin and Leszek Kolakowski. I would not use the term "progressive," as it had been for generations a euphemism and code word by which American Communists avoided spelling out their full program. I felt the same about the term "socialist," though my sympathies were with the northern European social democratic parties. I did not much think of myself as a leftist, though plainly, while I was against a wholesale nationalization of productive property as inherently preparing the ground for tyranny, I supported a fairly radical redistribution of income, the union, women's, and gay movements, and many other elements of the leftist canon. I pondered whether I belonged with a group that chose to describe itself as leftist rather than liberal, and finally submitted my signature.


Important to me in that decision was the Manifesto's specific rejection of blanket anti-Americanism and its support to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Manifesto added:


"Some exploit the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people under occupation by Israel and conceal prejudice against the Jewish people behind the formula of 'anti-Zionism.' We oppose this type of racism too, as should go without saying."


Most of the signers were British and unknown to me. There were a few I knew of and respected, mainly Nick Cohen, Paul Berman, Marc Cooper, Quintin Hoare, and Walter Laqueur.


A key issue was the war in Iraq, in 2006 in its fourth year. The Euston Manifesto signers came to be widely regarded as supporters of the war. That was largely but by no means exclusively so. The opposition to the war came from two camps. The largest was American liberals who hated George Bush and could care less what happened to the people of Iraq. The other was the far left "anti-imperialists," who on principle opposed any U.S. military action abroad. Many of this last came to be public supporters of the Sunni jihadi "insurgents" and their foreign Al Qaeda-type allies.


What the Euston Manifesto did was to strongly endorse, on humanitarian grounds, the end of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship:


"We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for the successful implementation of democratic change. We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for the Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted - rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention."


This echoed my own view of the situation.


After Norman's death I saw one internet post that claimed he had in 2006 renounced the view that Saddam should have been forcibly removed from power and came out against the continuing the war. I searched Normblog and here in full is the last entry in 2006 that dealt with Iraq, dated October 31:


"The notion that in withdrawing from Iraq we would enhance our security by removing a cause for provocation is the merest superstition. That's Oliver Kamm commenting on a new piece by Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitchens for his own part opposes a withdrawal from Iraq. I liked this passage:


"'Many of those advocating withdrawal have been "war-weary" ever since the mid afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, when it was discovered that the source of jihadist violence was U.S. foreign policy... To this way of thinking, victory is impossible by definition, because any response other than restraint is bound to inflame the militancy of the other side. Since the jihadists, by every available account, are also inflamed and encouraged by everything from passivity to Danish cartoons, this seems to shrink the arena of possible or even thinkable combat. (Nobody ever asks what would happen if the jihadists had to start worrying about the level of casualties they were enduring, or the credit they were losing by their tactics, or the number of enemies they were making among civilized people who were prepared to take up arms to stop them. Our own masochism makes this contingency an unlikely one in any case.)'


"And people don't much consider in this context whether someone's propensity to get inflamed is a useful guideline in determining the actions of others."

Some 2,800 people signed the Euston Manifesto. By the time I submitted my signature the website had gone dead, lists for several letters of the alphabet were left out and new signatories were being ignored. It was a noble effort thrown out into a churning maelstrom of public opinion that ranged from totalitarian-minded conspiracy theorists on the far left to Christian theocrats and racists on the right, with every imaginable variation in between competing to be heard.


I began to regularly follow Normblog. I sent Norman a copy of my memoir, Outsider's Reverie, when it came out early in 2010. We became friends on Facebook and I often shared his posts. He would usually thank me when I commented on them. Most of what I shared were his skewering of biased coverage of Israel.


Israel's 2009 Invasion of Gaza


The most trying event in that regard was the Israeli invasion of Gaza in February 2009 in Operation Cast Lead. I pick it because it is the most extreme example in recent years in which Israel appears in the wrong. Virtually the whole of the liberal Left exploded in opposition. That Hamas claimed to be actively at war with Israel for years beforehand, and had lobbed some 3,000 rockets into Israeli border towns seemed forgotten, as though Israel had acted for no reason at all. It is hard to imagine any country in the world that would have allowed such a bombardment to continue for years on end and not responded, or that when it did, with an opponent entrenched among civilians, that there would not be an unavoidably large number of casualties. Notably, Israel refrained in the end from attacking the hospital under which the Hamas leadership were encamped, counting the inevitable civilian casualties as too high. Few other countries would have done this.


I had at that time for some eight years been in regular correspondence with a Trotskyist friend who I had been close to for almost forty years. She, although Jewish, had become a firebrand supporter of the Palestinian cause, denouncing Fatah and Abbas for being insufficiently militant and praising Hamas and Hezbollah. In my last email to her, during the invasion, I recounted running into a Jewish friend, Martin Weil, a distinguished historic restoration architect who died a few days later. He said to me that he could understand opposition to Israel's action, but that when it was accompanied by a refusal to condemn the Hamas missiles it became antisemitic. I said in my email to my Trotskyist friend that I had agreed. She never wrote to me again.


After Norman died I looked back to see what he had said about the Israeli operation in Gaza. I found a lengthy February 4, 2009, post. He did not deny that Israel could be accused of using excessive force. He began by citing extensive quotations from the British press and political figures of the liberal left accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza. He noted the disproportionate number of deaths from the IDF and those from Hamas's rockets - 1,300 Palestinians killed during the Israeli invasion compared to 20 from the Gaza rockets, not counting injuries and the constant threat of the bombardment. The rockets were generally passed over in silence by the critics. Hamas's greater war crime, he asserted, was committed in Gaza, not in Israel. This was its decision to use unwilling human shields; firing on Israeli troops from civilian-occupied schools, hospitals, and mosques; setting up rocket firing installations in alleys flanked by inhabited civilian housing. He cited numerous reports of these tactics and showed that they are strongly prohibited under the Geneva Convention and ranked as war crimes. Also under the Geneva Convention, military action against armed opponents is not prohibited if there are civilians nearby, and especially not if the opponent is deliberately fighting surrounded by civilian shields. Some of the press reports said that Palestinian civilians were threatened with being shot by Hamas if they protested the firing of rockets from their land or homes.


Norman pointed out that under the Geneva Convention both sides in an armed conflict are required to refrain from deliberately involving civilians, no matter which side claims it has the more moral cause. He raised this while disbelieving that morality lay with Hamas, but to make it clear to those who do so think that this does not give Hamas a pass to deliberately get civilians killed.


That Israel's critics in the Gaza affair almost universally ignored Hamas's human shield policy, as well as its rockets, Norman Geras branded as unconscionable bias. It treated international law "as a mere convenience, something to use rhetorically and polemically when it suits you to do so - but only then. If there are war crimes on both sides of a single conflict and you condemn one side alone as in breach of the law, this is not respect for law; it is an unprincipled politicization of it."


His conclusion summed up core beliefs of his long life and his attempt to rescue a humanitarian kernel of the Marxist project. I close by quoting it as his legacy:


"For some time it has been clear beyond reasonable doubt that a wide swathe of the liberal-left has learned nothing, and will learn nothing, from its sorry historical experience in the 20th century. Fellow-travellers to Stalinism, the greatest political disaster for the left since 'the left' became a concept, then celebrants of or apologists for one undemocratic and illiberal, sometimes murderous, enterprise after another - here Mao, there Castro and Guevara, today Chavez, and more or less every day one bunch of terrorist thugs or another - there are always leftists ready to believe that if a movement has some justice to its cause, a progressive component in its programme or outlook, it is to be supported. And that means its crimes and deficiencies must be passed over, be silently ignored or at the very least played down. Today Hamas is the beneficiary of this complaisance and this complicity. Because the Palestinians have a legitimate grievance (which they do), every 'misdemeanour' of their political representatives is to be overlooked or excused: anti-Semitism, programmatically encased; anti-democratic practices of every stripe; torture of political opponents (torture exactly as lamented and condemned, and correctly so, when countenanced by a Western government); and now war crimes. But say nothing or else mutter inconsequentially - this is the formula of the learn-nothing section of the left.


"To hold Israel to the standards of international humanitarian law, the elementary standards entailed by codes of human rights, is only right and proper. But to hold Israel to those standards, but not also its regional adversaries, suggests a special hostility towards it that needs some explanation. Not all of this hostility can be accounted anti-Semitic. But some of it is. Only the blindest can ignore the plain manifestations of anti-Semitism now evident both amongst Israel's regional adversaries and within the worldwide protests against Israel's actions in Gaza and disfiguring them. As worrying is the fact that the same liberal-left aforementioned that populates these protests and in doing so looks away from the crimes of Israel's opponents, a liberal-left that is, to a man and a woman, proud of its anti-racism, proud of its sensitivity to 'Islamophobia', is silent about this growth of anti-Semitism, shamefully silent, having forgotten in just the one case its avowed duty of solidarity with the victims of prejudice everywhere. Not much more than 60 years after the Jews of Europe were nearly annihilated, before the world stood back aghast to take the measure of what had been done and allowed to be done, the Jewish state has become an object of special opprobrium - opprobrium beyond that criticism which is justified, equitable, applied in equal measure to other nations when it fits. And the Jews of other countries are once again anxious - almost unthinkable, this, only a decade ago - as to how many friends the Jews have.


"In the outpouring of hatred towards Israel today, it scarcely matters what part of it is impelled by a pre-existing hostility towards Jews as such and what part by a groundless feeling that the Jewish state is especially vicious among the nations of the world and to be obsessed about accordingly. Both are forms of anti-Semitism. The old poison is once again among us."

Humanity: Caught in a Progress Trap, Again

 A Short History of Progress. Ronald Wright. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2004. 211 pp.


Leslie Evans


Generally I dont pay attention to very short books that try to trace the entire history of the human race, and worse, present the authors pet theory of why we are now on the verge of collapse. Ronald Wright tackles this daunting task in an undersized binding, 8 X 5.5 inches, and a text before notes and index that runs to only 132 pages in a generous sized type. Still, he has an ear for the mot juste, a sure sense for the revealing anecdote, and a theory that, even in this highly abbreviated presentation, rings true.


The theory is the progress trap. The first great progress trap was the invention of spears and bows and arrows for hunting. The earliest stone tools date back three million years, at the dawn of the Old Stone Age, which lasted until the most recent retreat of the Ice Age glaciers 12,000 years ago. The revolution in hunting weaponry, which Wright suggests may also have been used to exterminate our closest hominid relatives, solidified around 15,000 years ago. By that time humans were established on all the continents exceptAntarctica.


 "Soon after man shows up in new lands," he writes, "the big game starts to go missing. Mammoths and woolly rhinos retreat north, then vanish from Europe and Asia. A giant wombat, other marsupials, and a tortoise as big as a Volkswagen disappear from Australia. Camels, mammoth, giant bison, giant sloth, and the horse die out across the Americas. A bad smell of extinction follows Homo sapiens around the world."


The technical progress in weaponry first produced an era of prosperity and plenty. Then it crashed as the big game were driven to extinction. Wright calls this the first progress trap. Human population swelled from the kills, more people meant more hunters, more hunters meant less game. Over time the spear points become smaller and smaller, as people hunted rabbits instead of mammoths.


Humanity was saved by the next wave of progress, the invention of agriculture, 10,000 to 13,000 years ago This seems a long, long time, but in terms of the timeline of anatomically modern humans, which date from 195,000 years ago, it's a brief moment.


Agriculture developed independently in four regions. In theMiddle Eastit produced wheat and barley. TheFar Eastdomesticated rice and millet.MexicoandCentral Americagrew maize, beans, squash, and tomatoes. AndSouth Americatamed potatoes, squash, peanuts, and quinoa. Wright points out that we live today on the crops of the late Stone Age. "Despite more than two centuries of scientific crop-breeding, the so-called green revolution of the 1960s, and the genetic engineering of the 1990s, not one new staple has been added to our repertoire of crops since prehistoric times."


It is routinely said that the most common reason for extinctions is over-specialization (apart from those caused by predators, particularly human ones). The human primate has been as successful as it has largely because of its enlarged brain and opposable thumb, which, with the taming of fire and the invention of clothing, allowed it to adapt to different climates. There is a chink in that generalist armor. Wright proposes: "In the matter of our food, we have grown as specialized, and therefore as vulnerable, as a saber-toothed cat."


He also cautions, in the manner of British philosopher John Gray, that technical progress does not equate to moral progress. "The Roman circus, the Aztec sacrifices, the Inquisition bonfires, the Nazi death camps - all have been the work of highly civilized societies." He explains this with a computer analogy: "we are running twenty-first-century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago or more. This may explain quite a lot of what we see in the news." That doesn't make him ready to give the whole thing up. In one of the more memorable passages he writes:


"For all its cruelties, civilization is precious, an experiment worth continuing. It is also precarious: as we climbed the ladder of progress, we kicked out the rungs below. There is no going back without catastrophe. Those who don't like civilization, and can't wait for it to fall on its arrogant face, should keep in mind that there is no other way to support humanity in anything like our present numbers or estate."


In pursuit of his thesis that agriculture is itself the next progress trap Wright traces the collapse of the Mayas and Easter Island, treated more extensively by Jared Diamond in his Collapse, published the year after Wright's essay. More applicable to our modern situation are his remarks about ancientSumer in what is now southernIraq. Originally a plain of fertile farmland, the use of river water for extensive irrigation left a buildup of salt that poisoned the croplands.


"By 2000 B.C., scribes were reporting that the earth had 'turned white.' All crops, including barley, were failing. Yields fell to a third of their original levels. The Sumerians' thousand years in the sun of history came to an end. . . . Today, fully half ofIraq's irrigated land is saline - the highest proportion in the world, followed by the other two centres of floodplain civilization,EgyptandPakistan." Notably, the last years ofSumerwere marked by complete denial, extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a few at the top, and grandiose building projects.


Wright proposes to fit the fall ofRomeinto his schema. This is a highly debated topic with a vast literature of its own. Wright makes a few points that sound plausible but I leave their validity to experts.Rome, Wright says, gathered wealth into its center from an ever expanding periphery. As its population swelled and nearby farmland was exhausted,Romebecame dependent on grain imported from its outlying possessions.


"The consequences can be seen in those regions today.Antioch, capital of Roman Syria, lies under some thirty feet of silt washed down from deforested hills, and the great Libyan ruins ofLeptis Magnanow stand in a desert.Rome's ancient breadbaskets are filled with sand and dust. . . .

"Mediaeval history confirms the archaeological evidence: the empire fell hardest at its core, the Mediterranean basin, where the brunt of the environmental cost was borne. Power then shifted to the periphery, where Germanic invaders such as Goths, Franks, and English founded small ethnic states on northern lands thatRomehad not exhausted."


Ronald Wright has to confront an obvious challenge to his thesis. If civilizations are so prone to self-destruction through overpopulation, deforestation, and deterioration of farmland, how is it that the Earth today is supporting such a vastly larger population? His answer is that early civilizations were relatively localized, dependent on nearby food sources. Large parts of the globe were unsettled and open to colonization. Some parts were highly favored with agricultural resources that would take many generations to desiccate. Populations spread widely, and as global trade arose, shortages in one locality could be filled by imports. And there is a process of natural regeneration if the damage has not been too severe. In any case, the lifespan of most prominent early civilizations was a thousand years or so. The damage we do takes some time to manifest.


Still, at base, civilizations survive not by their technology but by the health of the natural environment from which they draw their sustenance. Wright concludes:


"The lesson I read in the past is this: that the health of land and water - and of woods, which are the keepers of water - can be the only lasting basis for any civilization's survival and success."


Wright's last chapter, "The Rebellion of the Tools," is his most interesting. Here he critiques our current situation. He explains why agriculture, like hunting weapons, is a progress trap. He also calls it a runaway train. It leads, he says, "to vastly expanded populations but seldom solving the food problem because of two inevitable (or nearly inevitable) consequences. The first is biological: the population grows until it hits the bounds of the food supply. The second is social: all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures that there can never be enough to go around."


This last also acts to prevent remedial measures. The rich depend on the status quo and have the means to defend it, even as those at the bottom are already caught in the crumbling foundations.


We now have a global civilization, where population is pressing not only on many local and regional resource limits but on planetary ones. As Wright notes, "Adding 200 million after Rome took thirteen centuries; adding the last 200 million took only three years."


In his final few pages, in what almost amount to bullet points, Wright limns the dead end we have arrived at. Our single global civilization is ceaselessly logging, fishing, irrigating, and building everywhere, eating the natural world alive. The defenders of the rich, like their predecessors in every failed civilization, cling to their privileges like grim death and use their power to drive the lower classes away from the table. The political Right has wrapped itself in a mixture of market extremism and religious fundamentalism that has become "a kind of social Darwinism by people who hateDarwin," and is leading a revolt against redistribution that "is killing civilization." The three richest Americans, he tells us through gritted teeth, have combined wealth greater than that of the forty-eight poorest countries. And then his peroration:


"If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature. Ecological markers suggest that in the early 1960s, humans were using about 70 per cent of nature's yearly output; by the early 1980s, we'd reached 100 per cent; and in 1999, we were at 125 per cent. Such numbers may be imprecise, but their trend is clear - they mark the road to bankruptcy."


We have a last chance, he says. Of course, mere redistribution within the overflowing human population, the centerpiece of the traditional Marxist and socialist project, will by itself provide only a short respite for those at the bottom. Both population and resource use must be cut back. Fossil fuels, metals, potable water, arable land, ocean fish, are all at or near their limits compared to the demands being placed on them. If we fail to scale back, he warns, "this new century will not grow very old before we enter an age of chaos and collapse that will dwarf all the dark ages in our past."



The collapse stage of past civilizations was rarely sudden, seen from the perspective of the daily life of its citizens. If a dark age lies ahead, it is likely that there will be a period, perhaps a fairly long one, of a slipping down life on the way there. We seem to be in the early stages of that. We are living in the shadow of that supposed ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

Thinking about Oz

Leslie Evans

Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond. Edited by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen. Las Vegas, NV: 47North, 2013. 365 pp. 

The Living House of Oz. Edward Einhorn. Illustrated by Eric Shanower. San Diego: Hungry Tiger Press, 2005. 238 pp.


Inside cover end papers from L. Frank Baum's Ozma of Oz (1907). Characters from left: Tik Tok, a Wheeler from the land of Ev, Oz soldier, Billena the hen, the Scarecrow riding the Cowardly Lion, Nick Chopper the Tin Man riding the Sawhorse, the Nome King Ruggedo riding the Hungry Tiger, General Jinjur, Ozma, Glinda, Dorothy.



The land of Oz is a beloved American legend. It is known to most people from the 1939 musical film starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Jack Haley, still revived regularly on television and available on DVD. The film captured the look of the place much as it had been envisaged by its creator, L. Frank Baum, back in 1899: a vividly colored fairyland filled with odd but simple people and many magical creatures, from witches to live trees, winged monkeys, and Oz's famous automatons, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. These images are engrained on the American psyche.


Still, the film misrepresented Oz as its history unfolded in Baum's thirteen later Oz books. One oddity was the decision to cast the Munchkins as dwarfs (today: little people). It works well in the film, but as the tales go on into many volumes there is no way to have the people of one of Oz's composite four countries - Munchkins in the east, Winkies in the west, Gillikins in the north, and Quadlings in the south - be far smaller than the others. Actually in The Wizard of Oz Baum describes them:


 "They were not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to, but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age." In the later books Munchkins are no smaller than anyone else, and the American habit of referring to cute little children as "Munchkins" would make no sense in Oz.


The greatest false note was the decision by MGM executives, fearful that such a flamboyant fantasy would corrupt the minds of American children, to make the whole thing a dream. That, and its concomitant and ever repeated message, There's no place like home. Kansas couldn't possibly compete with Oz and anyone who knows what happened to Dorothy afterward knows that she soon left Kansas far behind and Oz has been her home ever since.


Baum styled himself the Royal Historian of Oz. His records show that the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, left to rule Oz after Dorothy and the Wizard departed for America, were overthrown by an army of women led by General Jinjur. She in turn was permanently replaced by Ozma, a descendant of Lurline, the fairy queen from the Forest of Burzee, who had first enchanted Oz so that its people never grew old and imbued it with its magic.


The Wizard, in one of his less savory deeds before the days of Dorothy, had kidnapped the baby Ozma. To prevent her ascending the throne he gave her to the Gillikin witch Mombi. Mombi transformed Ozma into a boy named Tip. Tip's adventures are recorded in the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, which ended with the, for that time, daring transgender transformation in which Glinda turns Tip into Ozma, a young girl. Ozma has ruled Oz ever since, and appears in all of the succeeding books.


Dorothy returned to Oz four times. She is blown off a ship in a storm, falls into an underground kingdom during an earthquake in California, walks there on a magic road, and finally, is brought there by Ozma to live permanently, along with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. Dorothy is made a princess of Oz and never returns to Kansas.


 Dorothy and Ozma


The great attraction of Oz is that it is an American fairy tale. It's a you-can-get-there-from-here place. Its heroes and heroines are mostly American children, not the princes, princesses, or wood cutters of traditional European fairy stories. There is not only Dorothy Gale but Betsy Bobbin, Trot Griffiths, Button Bright, Peter Brown from Philadelphia, and William "Speedy" Harmstead from Long Island, New York. A few adults make it as well: Dorothy's Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, the Shaggy Man, Captain Bill Wheedles, and of course, the great original, Oscar Diggs, better known as the Wizard.


The other unavoidable conflict between the film and the histories was the necessity to make Dorothy's film companions men in costumes. They did it marvelously well. Ray Bolger's Scarecrow was inimitable, and Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion was a classic act. But in Oz the lion was a real lion, the Tin Man, depicted thousands of times over forty years in John R. Neil's illustrations, was really made of tin, with arms and legs that were thin jointed rods with no place in them to conceal a meat arm or leg. And the Scarecrow was filled with nothing but straw, his mouth only painted on. I suppose his voice materializes like the sound from a television speaker which only gives the illusion it is coming from the person pictured on the screen.


Oz is now more than a hundred years old. L. Frank Baum had written fourteen volumes before his death in 1918. After that his publisher, Reilly and Lee (they were Reilly and Britton during Baum's lifetime but changed their name in 1918), engaged Philadelphia children's author Ruth Plumly Thompson, who penned nineteen more, taking the series up to 1939. Then, like Sherlock Holmes, any number of authors have tried their hand at adding to the oeuvre, from artist John R. Neil, who had illustrated all but The Wizard of Oz, who added three undistinguished titles, to Jack Snow, who wrote two more in the late forties, all under the Reilly and Lee imprimatur, to many others in later years from other publishers.


I remember my father reading The Wizard of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and The Road to Oz to me and my sister when I was eight or nine. I looked over his shoulder and absorbed images that have remained with me for a lifetime: The mechanical giant with a hammer who guards the mountain cave in Ev that leads to the vast underground kingdom of the Nomes. The silhouette of the Shaggy Man after the king of Dunkiton had given him a donkey's head, brooding in a wilderness by moonlight. The lost boy Button Bright in his sailor's suit sitting idly and unconcerned by the side of the road, digging in the dirt with a stick. Johnny Dooit's sand boat that will take Dorothy and the Shaggy Man across the Deadly Desert to Oz.


I started collecting Oz books when I was about twelve and by my mid-teens had the whole thirty-three. I gave the set to my first wife's younger sister when I moved from San Francisco to New York in 1967. After I returned to Los Angeles in 1982 I collected them all again.


So today we have Oz Reimagined. Editors John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen have collected fifteen stories by sixteen widely published authors of fantasy, science fiction, and in some cases, other children's books. The mission seems to have been to offer an adult and mostly dystopian take on the fairyland.


Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, provides a Foreword. And though his own Oz books emphasized the negative, he seems, of all the contributors, to best understand what Oz is about. He describes himself "as a man nearing sixty who recognized in Oz, more than half a century ago, a picture of home." I have thought of it that way for even longer. Every Oz story contains an adventure. They are filled with bizarre and often hostile creatures. Eight of the thirty-three Baum and Thompson books involve attempts to conquer Oz. But at the core there is Ozma's court. We know that in the end Ozma, with aid from Glinda, the good witch of the South, and the Wizard, who now knows a good bit of magic, will prevail. The stories epitomize what Jan Struther in her poem Sleeveless Errand called "The savour of the strange, The solace of the known."


Maquire puts his finger on how this juxtaposition is achieved, by a radical disconnect between a large part of the population and even their nearest neighbors. The peaceful portions and the malevolent little enclaves are mostly separated by a remarkable lack of interest in exploration:


"I found the insularity and even parochialism of Oz's separate populations puzzling and, maybe, worrying. Racist even, though I hadn't a word for it yet. Troublingly myopic, exceptionalist. Certainly lacking in intellectual curiosity. When Dorothy first arrived in the land of Munchkins, the kindly Munchkin farmers told her what they'd been told about the EmeraldCity and about the Wizard. But none of them had had the gumption of Dorothy to pick themselves up and go see for themselves. No firsthand experience. Few of them could predict what kind of population lived over the horizon. None of them cared."


This is true not only of the large subdivisions with their predominant color schemes - blue for Munchkinland, yellow for the Winkies, purple for the Gillikins, and red for the Quadlings - but for the endless subcountries with their own kings and courts, and downward from there to city-states, towns, and finally communities of just a few individuals living in clearings in the forest. The larger subdivisions are populated by humans: Oogaboo in the far northwest, whose queen, Ann Soforth once raised an army to try to conquer Oz, Mudge at the diagonally opposite corner; "kingdoms" named Pokes, Patch, Corabia. Then there are the endless magical enclaves: China Country where all the inhabitants are made of porcelain; elsewhere we encounter communities of living books, living torpedoes, mist maidens, people whose feet are fastened to the ground while their furniture runs around as needed.


There are little towns and kingdoms under the ground, on high mountains, and even invisible in the air overhead. Most seem oblivious to the larger Oz, and either hostile to people who wander into their territory or intent on converting them to their own peculiar way of life by transforming them in some usually unpleasant way.

In The Lost Princess of Oz (1917) Dorothy, the Wizard, and several other find their way to the city-state of Thi, a small town surrounded by a thicket of thistles, inhabited by Alice-in-Wonderland type creatures with heart-shaped bodies and triangular heads. On telling their leader, the High Coco-Lorum, that Thi is part of Oz, this person replies:

"It may be, for we do not study geography and have never inquired whether we live in the Land of Oz or not. And any Ruler who rules us from a distance, and unknown to us, is welcome to the job."

These small kingdoms and enclaves usually appear in only a single book and are never heard of again. In some cases, such as Oogaboo or Rash, they are central to the plot of a particular book. Most of the others are just impediments along the way, such as Chimneyville in Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz or the Hoppers and Horners in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. I have come to think of most of these ephemeral places that don't figure in the central story as filler.


In Oz Reimagined only a few of the authors show any awareness of the Oz of the written canon. Nine of the fifteen stories get no further than having a Dorothy, a Wizard, a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Lion. They could have been written after watching the movie. There is some justification for this because of the far wider distribution of the film than the books, but it is also like commissioning a book of new tales about King Arthur in which most only take us as far as the youth removing the sword from the stone and leave out Camelot, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Sir Galahad. And far too many stories have winged monkeys, characters that after the first book are extremely rare in an Oz story.


First, the retellings of the original story:


Rae Carson and C.C. Finlay in "The Great Zeppelin Heist" offer a pre-Dorothy tale in which the newly arrived Wizard proposes marriage to the Wicked Witch of the West, but is tricked out of his engagement gift.


In "Dead Blue" David Farland imagines Dorothy as a technomage, the Tin Man as a cyborg, his flesh parts replaced with microcomputer-controlled bionics, the Wizard a harmless conman who ended in Oz when his star ship slipped through an unexpected wormhole. Dorothy and her companions are on the way back from killing the Wicked Witch of the West and intend to depose the imposter Wizard.


The darkest story in the set is Robin Wasserman's "One Flew Over the Rainbow," where Dorothy, "Crow," "Tin-Girl," and "Roar" are all patients in a mental institution.. Crow got her name because of a massive tattoo of a flock of crows running up her back to her neck. The narrator, Tin-Girl, so named because she cuts herself and is covered with hard scars, tells us that Crow's brains don't work right while she, Tin-Girl, has no heart. Get it? Roar is a big thuggish fellow. Tin-Girl trades painful sex to "the Wizard" in exchange for drugs, and a chance to escape. The man who prescribes their daily tranquilizers is Doctor Glind. Dorothy has hair dyed electric blue and paints her nails black. There is nothing Ozish about this one. It could be called Ozploitation.


Ken Liu appropriates the names of the first-book characters for "The Veiled Shanghai," a science fiction story set during the May Fourth Movement, the anti-imperialist protests in 1919 over the ceding of Chinese territory to Japan in the Treaty of Versailles. This also has nothing to do with Oz. It is given a fantasy gloss by adding an other-dimensional second Shanghai. There is an Uncle Heng and Aunt En and a Dorothy Gee who uses her English name because it is more chic. She lives on Kansu Road, which gives her the opportunity to intone "I'm certainly not on Kansu Road anymore" when she shifts to the other dimensional Shanghai. In the second Shanghai she follows a trail of yellow bricks mixed into the cobblestone streets to find the Emerald House of the Great Oz. She picks up the obligatory companions, a scrawny English boy nicknamed Scarecrow, a robot lumberjack called Tin Man, and a big opium addict called Lion. The Great Oz turns out to be Sun Yat-sen and the Wicked Warlord who Dorothy vanquishes is the real warlord Yuan Shih-kai.


Kat Howard's "A Tornado of Dorothies" runs the film back to the beginning again, with the events of The Wizard of Oz as an endless Groundhog's Day loop in which new Dorothies enter by falling on the Wicked Witch of the East, progress through the story, then become ghosts to be succeeded by the next "Dorothy." The most successful Dorothies move on to become other characters, a Glinda, for instance.


Jane Yolen in "Blown Away" has Dorothy carried off in her house by the tornado, but returning years later, grown up and having been a high wire walker in a circus and never gone to Oz at all.


Orson Scott Card sets his "Off to See the Emperor" in Aberdeen, North Dakota, while Baum and his family lived there before he wrote The Wizard of Oz. He has Baum's son Frank Joslyn Baum go on an other-dimensional adventure where he seeks the Emperor of the Air, making Baum's later wizard story a much altered version of his son's wanderings.


Even the stories that get past 1899 and the first encounter with the Wizard are often dispiriting. Dan Baily in "City So Bright" follows a Munchkin building polisher whose dangerous work high on scaffolding far above the ground is made still worse as his workmates are murdered by the government for even mildly criticizing the Wizard. In Jeffrey Ford's "A Meeting in Oz" Dorothy has grown up back in Kansas and become a murderer. Returning to Oz she tries to assassinate the Wizard but he has her killed instead.


These tales are well written by respected authors, but they have little to do with Oz, even an adult Oz where the perils of sex, old age, death, and betrayal would reasonably find their place. The best of the lot are "Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust" by Seanan McGuire, "Lost Girls of Oz" by Theodora Goss, "The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story" by Tad Williams, and, the most authentically Ozish in the collection, Jonathan Maberry's "The Cobbler of Oz."


Seanan McGuire imagines that the steady stream of outsiders who have found their way to the fairy country has expanded into a flood. The natives become bitterly resentful of the "crossovers," who end in massive slums, wracked by crime and drug addiction. Even Dorothy has to be expelled from the palace, as popular resentment is too great for Ozma to retain a foreigner in her inner circle. In this fraught situation Ozma asks Dorothy to solve the murder of a Munchkin in the center of the crossover slum. As tantalizing asides, Dorothy's roommate is Jack Pumpkinhead, who has had a falling out with Ozma, and she herself is gay and having an affair with Polychrome, the Rainbow's daughter.


Theodora Goss take an opposite tack on crossovers. Rather than trying to keep them out and stigmatizing the ones who arrive, Ozma is deliberately transporting sexually abused girls to Oz. Outraged at their treatment in America, she is building a massive army of rescued girls to conquer the United States and place it under a more civilized ruler. The girls are supplemented by Wogglebug hatcheries producing thousands more of the country's leading intellectual, the giant insect H. M. (Highly Magnified) Wogglebug, T. E. There are Tik-Tok factories turning out legions of the wind-up mechanical men, and Jack Pumpkinheads are being made by the thousands, their wooden bodies being vivified by Dr. Pipt's Powder of Life, now being produced in huge vats in the Gillikin country. Lots of Oz characters make cameos in this story, from Jellia Jamb to Ojo. And the Shaggy Man proves to be no mean fighter with an assault rifle in an encounter with a detachment of hostile nomes.


Tad Williams' story, as promised, is an Otherland tale. Otherland, which I highly recommend, is a four-volume science fiction saga published between 1996 and 2001. The premise is that a group of fabulously wealthy billionaires undertake a secret project to build a series of persistent-world virtual reality simulations with the aim of uploading their consciousness into them to achieve a form of immortality. In his Boy Detective ramble the action takes place within the Kansas portion of a once bilateral Oz simulation. Code corruption has shut down the Oz part, but in this Kansas the Tin Woodman runs a factory while the Cowardly Lion is the leader in the nearby forest. Omby Amby, the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, who here instead of comprising the entirety of the Royal Army of Oz, is known as the Policeman with the Green Whiskers, is found dead, beheaded. The Wizard appears as Senator Wizard of Kansas. The Glass Cat is up to her usual mischief, while the eponymous Boy Detective is a system troubleshooter named Orlando Gardiner. In the real world he is a dead teenager. Here in the Otherland simulations he lives on as an immortal technician, the only character aware that the simulation is not real. This all works rather nicely even if it isn't Oz and isn't "real."


And finally we come to "The Cobbler of Oz." This is the closest to a traditional Oz episode. A young winged monkey whose wings are deformed and too tiny to fly visits the cobbler's shop seeking a pair of walking shoes. He tells her about an ancient pair of magical walking shoes with which a long-gone princess was able to cross the whole country in a few steps. In fact, he produces from a cupboard the very shoes, now badly worn and missing many of the silver dragon scales that gave it its power. He offers to loan them to the little monkey if she will cross the Deadly Desert and try to get replacement scales from the original dragon. Only at the end do we come to understand that these are the silver slippers that will later play a part in Dorothy's first Oz adventure.


In summing up, I would think that the century that stands between L. Frank Baum's fairyland and the hopeless and oppressive Oz imagined by these authors must say something about what has happened to America. Oz had its share of witches - old Mombi long outlived her sisters in the Munchkin and Winkie lands. Ruggedo, the one-time king of the Nomes, was behind four of the eight attempts to conquer Oz. (Baum spelled it Nome, while Ruth Plumly Thompson reverted to the more standard Gnome.) There were the Kalidahs and the giant spider of the original book, and many more dangerous and evil-intentioned creatures who came later. Yet these people, entities, and beasts were all defeated, neutralized, or left alone in their own small corners. Oz is a sunny land with a contented people, happy with their fairy ruler and perfectly satisfied to live under an unelected monarchy.


Ruth Plumly Thompson published the last of her Reilly and Lee Oz books in 1939, the year that Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland, touching off World War II. After years of bloody fighting the Nazi menace was defeated, followed by an unexpectedly short-lived period of American peace, prosperity, and international influence. With the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Sixties radicalization, the rise of the Radical Right, and finally the onset of many measures of U.S. decline from the 1990s it has become more difficult to imagine that the future will be, as our Victorian ancestors believed, a steadily improving triumph of progress, improving standards of living, and a reign of reason and justice. It is easier to imagine Dorothy as a lunatic, a demented killer, a mere name to be pasted onto a long-ago struggle against warlordism in China, or a Wizard or an Ozma running an oppressive bureaucratic state complete with secret police and dehumanizing slums.


* * *


Edward Einhorn is a New York little theater director and novelist. This is his second Oz book. The first, Paradox in Oz (2000), was a time travel puzzle story that only partially captured the spirit of the place and got a bit too complex. In that book he introduced his parrot-ox (pun) Tempus, a creature with the body of an ox but the head and wings of a parrot who can fly backward and forward through time and materialize multiple versions of himself from different time streams. Tempus returns for a small fly-on in The Living House of Oz. This time around Einhorn shows a surer touch and can reasonably be added to the canon. At first I shied away from the live house concept. Center stage is one of those Oz houses originally drawn by John R. Neil: a dome with a wide row of windows on the ground floor that look like teeth, two large upstairs windows that look like eyes, and tall chimneys on each side pointed like arms at the sky.

The Living House


What Neil added in his own The Wonder City of Oz (1940) was to bring his houses to life. They talked, and many of the household objects inside were alive as well, creating a cacophony that was unbearably frenetic. Einhorn has adopted this premise, but tamed it and given it a better grounding. There is only one living house, and yes, everything inside is alive and chatters away, from a mobile hat rack who styles himself the Earl of Haberdashery to every pot, chair, and doorknob. But there is a reason. The human inhabitants are thirteen-year-old Buddy and his mother Mordra. She, it seems, is a dead ringer for the long-deceased Wicked Witch of the West. And she is also a powerful sorceress. The pair are in flight from an other-dimensional Oz ruled by a Wizard every bit as dictatorial as the worst imaginings of Oz Reimagined. Happily this is an offstage land.

Mordra and Buddy are being sought by the Phanfasms. These were evil shape changers first encountered in L. Frank Baum's The Emerald City of Oz, one of the several peoples enlisted by Ruggedo the Nome King in one of his many attempts to become the ruler of Oz. The Living House has a pair of big wooden legs, so when Mordra fears she has drawn too much attention to herself she has the house stand up and walk away to a more secure location, usually setting down in some forest clearing. This is an engaging concept.


While the house is camped in the little kingdom of Tonsoria (naturally, a place absorbed with hair styling, wigs, and full of comb and scissors trees) Buddy is kidnapped. In trying to rescue him, Mordra's sorcery is discovered by Glinda and she is arrested for illegally practicing magic. There are various adventures that get Buddy to the Emerald City to rescue his mother from Ozma and Glinda, Tempus the parrot-ox gives a helping hand, there is a really unexpected surprise, then the Phanfasms appear and, as an old fellow I used to know would say, it's Katy bar the door.


There is at least to some degree a welcome adult sensibility about the Living House. Mordra suffers from her ugliness and is not made pretty at the end. She is unwilling to give up her magic, which protects her child, no matter what the law says. Ozma and Glinda try to resolve the problem and do not become monsters in doing so.


Oz books have always been visual as well as textual. Baum, happily for us, got rid of W. W. Denslow, who illustrated The Wizard of Oz. Denslow limned the first patterns for the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow, but his Dorothy was chubby and far too young, while his other characters were overly rotund and a bit goofy. John R. Neil took over with The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). Neil's first Oz book owed much to Denslow but by his second entry, Ozma of Oz, in 1907, his own style had solidified. Dorothy became a slim, blond, stylishly dressed young girl. The Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow became slimmer and more sober. When Ozma joined the cast at the end of The Marvelous Land of Oz she had red hair and looked like a ten-year-old. By Ozma of Oz she has black hair, looks to be in her late teens, and wears a more form fitting dress. She is always seen thereafter with one large red flower covering each of her ears.

A W. W. Denslow illustration from The Wizard of Oz


Under Reilly and Britton and Reilly and Lee the Oz books contained full color paintings, usually twelve, by Neil. These were canceled to save on printing costs after Thompson's 1935 The Wishing Horse of Oz. Thompson's last four books had only black and white drawings. Except for some facsimile editions by the International Wizard of Oz Club and Books of Wonder, all the editions after 1935 omitted the color plates.


Neil did his most elaborate paintings for the sixth book, The Emerald City of Oz (1910), in the belief that this was to be the very last of the series. But when Baum found that his other books didn't sell as well and that thousands of children were writing to him demanding new stories about Oz he resumed the series with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913.


Neil slacked off a bit a few years into Ruth Plumly Thompson's reign as Royal Historian. At an Oz conference this year one speaker claimed that Neil would dash off all the illustrations for the annual Oz book in a single day.


No matter, his work became so identified with the look of Oz and its inhabitants that post-Thompson writers have often failed to find traction in large part because their illustrators were too inauthentic. On this score Einhorn has been fortunate in teaming with Eric Shanower. A talented artist, Shanower is the author as well as illustrator of his own series of Oz graphic novels such as The Salt Sorcerer of Oz and The Forgotten Forest of Oz. For The Living House, apart from the full color dust jacket, he offers a generous number of fine pen and ink drawings.


His work is more meticulous and detailed than Neil's. His frontispiece for The Living Houseshows it at rest in a leafy glen, adding greatly to the story's credibility. And in his several crowd scenes, all of the traditional Oz characters, both by Baum and Thompson, are readily recognizable, from the Woozy to Tik-Tok, Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant, and Sir Hokus of Pokes. Shanower is not slavishly copying Neil, but stays close to Neil's patterns as the canonical originals.


The character of Oz shifted somewhat when Ruth Plumly Thompson replaced its creator, with The Royal Book of Oz. Baum's folksy dialog disappeared, and Dorothy no longer said "I s'pose" and "it's terr'ble." Gone also were the quaint philosophical discussions and debates between the magical creatures over the relative advantages of their particular construction and the limitations of "meat people." Thompson wrote more traditional fairy tales, used even more puns than Baum, and favored her own characters, such as Peter from Philadelphia and Jinnicky, the Red Jinn, whose body was a large jar in which he lived like a turtle in its shell. Though her tales were smooth and had a good bit of Oz feeling, some of the mystery had departed with Baum's old fashioned prose and odd discussions, usually carried on during the night, when the magic creatures sat up talking, as they had no need for sleep. For those of us who wanted to see Oz continue we accepted Thompson, with just a few silent reservations. Some people speak of a canon of forty books, including John R. Neil, Jack Snow, and the now mostly forgotten Rachel R. Cosgrove and the Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren Lynn McGraw writing duo. Beyond a certain point the image of Oz shimmers and becomes opaque, no longer authentic.


In the end, Oz can take only so much adultifying. Whatever evils or dangers are found or added, it must still be home and a refuge for those of us who must live our regular lives in one or another version of Kansas.

Animals and the English Language


Leslie Evans


Our language is filled with metaphors and similes comparing people to animals, and the very names of many animals are often used as epithets to characterize people. Most of the metaphors and similes (someone is LIKE or AS something) are so long in use that they have become cliches. The terms mostly date from the days when most people lived on farms and many in wooded areas where most of the animals enlisted were actually familiar to the speakers. Today American city dwellers on a daily basis see mainly dogs, cats, pigeons, crows, and squirrels. Less often, rats, mice, and hawks. Still less often, live horses, goats, pigs, and sheep. Except on television and trips to the zoo, many of the others are known only by reputation.


Our predilection is for anthropocentric feelings of superiority to other animals. It allows us, as our numbers swell into the many billions, to construct an ever larger and more horrific and cruel industry that raises animals and birds for food. Pigs whose lives are spent in pens so small they cannot turn around, chickens with their beaks amputated and without room to take a step, slaughterhouses where the cows whose life's goal is to become part of McDonald's billions and billions of burgers end in terror and pain.


All animals feel hunger, fear, and pain. The higher animals, particularly elephants, primates, wolves, dogs, pigs (the most mistreated), the great cats, and, perhaps surprisingly, birds such as parrots and crows, share all the emotions that humans have: love, anger, affection, shame, depression. Gorillas if trained in sign language can carry on a limited conversation. Koko reads children's picture books and has favorite videos. Chimpanzees, our closest relative, share 98 percent of human DNA. The relationship is so close that the two species can accept blood transfusions from each other. Chimps, like humans, have blood types A, B, and O. Their DNA is closer to human than the DNA of horses and donkeys, which can interbreed and produce infertile mules. DNA evidence shows that humans and chimps did interbreed for the first 1.2 million years after the human bloodline diverged from chimpanzees, and a number of scientists today think that a human-chimp hybrid is possible, although a number of experiments by Russian scientists in the 1920s were unsuccessful. Chimps use sticks as tools and hunt in organized groups. They perform better than humans on matching tests on a computer touch screen.


Dolphins hold a sponge in their mouths when foraging on the sea floor to protect their noses.


An NBC online article on the "The 10 Smartest Animals" said of pigs that in experiments in the 1990s, "Pigs were trained to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts and used the cursor to distinguish between scribbles they knew and those they were seeing for the first time. They learned the task as quickly as chimpanzees." (retrieved June 30, 2013). The article added that if allowed to follow their own inclinations that pigs are the cleanest of domestic animals. At worst, they roll in mud because they have no sweat glands and are trying to keep cool. The Humane Society of the United States website writes: "They easily learn to operate levers and switches to obtain food and water, and to adjust ambient temperature to their liking. Pigs have also been observed to work in collaboration to free themselves from their pens. According to Donald Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare at University of Cambridge Veterinary School, who has been conducting mirror reflection tests with pigs: 'Pigs have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds.'" The article concludes: "Pigs share many similarities with humans with regard to emotions and cognitive states, and increasing scientific inquiry into the true nature of these animals continues to recognize their substantial mental abilities and sociable nature, as well as their capacity to experience pain, pleasure, fear and joy."


Dogs who live with humans learn to understand a surprising amount of human speech. The extreme example is a border collie tested at recognizing 1,100 English words.


Alex, an African Grey Parrot trained by Prof. Irene Pepperberg at the University of Arizona for thirty years, 1977 to 2007, had a vocabulary of more than 100 words that he could use intelligently to communicate. He could identify fifty different objects, could distinguish seven colors and five shapes, and understand the concepts of "bigger", "smaller," "same," and "different." When he was told to fetch a specific hidden object that he discovered wasn't there and he had been tricked, he became angry.


Elephants have been known to recognize other elephants from whom they had been separated for thirty years, and to hold a grudge against humans who had abused them for just as long, They, like the higher primates, have close knit families that persist for a lifetime. They are able to recognize an image of themselves in a mirror, an attribute shared only by humans, great apes, and dolphins.


Surprisingly in the list of the most intelligent animals there is also the octopus. An article in the December 2011 issue of Orion magazine reports that octopuses can open a child-proof Tylenol bottle, and like to play with little plastic bottles like balls by blowing water at them to bounce them off aquarium walls, a behavior limited to only the most intelligent animals. At the New England Aquarium an octopus was shown a clear plastic cube with a crab inside that it would want to eat. The cube had a latch to secure the lid. The octopus soon learned to open the latch. In the end the crab was in one box enclosed in a second, which in turn was enclosed in a third, each with a different kind of latch. In a few days the octopus could quickly open all three of the boxes to get its crab.


Yet our language is filled with demeaning, and hostile views of animals. I have collected some of the more common phrases comparing humans to animals, birds, and insects, and as you can see, the negative heavily outweighs the positive. I'm sure I have missed some but these are the most common. I collected them without considering their attitude and sorted them only after I had found them all.


Animal Metaphors (Zoosemy)



cash cow
horse sense
memory like an elephant
straight from the horses mouth
the lion's share
top dog



alley cat
barking up the wrong tree
beating a dead horse
bird brain
black sheep
bull in a china shop
catting around
chicken out
chicken livered
clammed up
cold fish
crocodile tears
dead duck
dog tired
eating crow
fat cats
ferreted it out
fish eye
fish out of water
funny duck
get on (off) a high horse
get someone's goat
go hog wild
have a tiger by the tail
have bats in one's belfry
his goose is cooked
his tail between his legs
hold your horses
horse face
in the dog house
it sounds fishy
kangaroo court
monkey around
monkey business
old crow
old goat
pack rat
pigging out
play cat and mouse with someone
play possum
pussy foot
silly goose
sitting duck
smell a rat
snake in the grass
ugly duckling
weasel out of it
wolf down
wolf in sheep's clothing



800 pound gorilla
deficit hawk
elephant in the room
hoof it
horsing around
lone wolf
night owl
separating the sheep from the goats
squirreling something away
the straw that broke the camel's back
walrus moustache




brave as a lion
busy as a beaver
crazy like a fox
eager as a beaver
fought like a tiger
free as a bird
gentle as a lamb
graceful as a gazelle
happy as a clam
happy as a lark
hungry as a horse
strong as a bull
strong as an ox
swims like a fish
wise as an owl



blind as a bat
breed like a rabbits
crazy as a loon
dead as a dodo
drunk as a skunk
like a bat out of hell
like herding cats
naked as a jaybird
packed like sardines
poor as a church mouse
prickly as a porcupine
sick as a dog
slippery as an eel
sly as a fox
spineless as a jellyfish
stubborn as a mule




eats like a bird
quiet as a mouse
silent as a clam
weak as a kitten


Animal Names Used to Characterize Humans


mouse (can be affectionate toward a woman but can also be a negative)


guinea pig







Why the Middle East Is Always in Crisis

Leslie Evans


A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. David Fromkin. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989. 643 pp.


Why write about a book that is almost twenty-five-years old? The best reason is that it uncovers, layer by layer, the consequences, intentional and unintentional, of the confrontations in and after World War I that dismembered the Ottoman Empire and drew the map that built into itself the incendiary ingredients that have made the Middle East perhaps the most explosive portion of today's world. The results of the final partition of the former Ottoman lands in 1922 directly laid the groundwork for today's civil war in Syria, now spreading into Lebanon, the emergent second civil war in post-invasion Iraq, the rise of jihadi Islam, and the perennial Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Only by looking at the region as a whole, pulling back from a narrow focus on the abuses of this or that Arab dictator or the Israeli occupation in the West Bank can the underlying dynamics and its actors' motives be fully understood. David Fromkin's classic work offers a convenient peg on which to hang a look back at how the Middle East mess took its modern form and what that tells us about where we are now.


Fromkin makes two points that are helpful to place at the beginning. First, it is common on the liberal-left to frame the post-World War I creation of dependent states in the Arab portion of the Ottoman territories as simply predation by Western imperialism. It is more accurate, he argues, to see that all the major actors in the war were empires and that is how all the important states involved in the conflict conceived of international politics. In the days before the League of Nations and its successor United Nations, empires, even if internally involving colonization and inequality, were the internationally unifying entities of the day. The first world war pitted the British, French, and Russian empires against the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Turkish empires. All had colonies, the Turks no less than the Europeans, as all of the Arab peoples had lived under Turkish domination for five hundred years. And during the war the Germans were directly involved in command positions in the Ottoman armies. Ironically, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Lenin's Bolsheviks, after announcing to the world that they were the militant opponents of colonialism, used the Red Army to crush independence movements among the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and imposed Russian-dominated governments over them that lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.


Second, and this is a point that has misled latter day liberals and leftists as much as it did the British and French imperialists of the last century, the central unifying element of the Ottoman peoples, particularly the Arabs, was and remains religious rather than national. And in the case of the overwhelmingly dominant Islam, it is a creed that consists largely of an extensive legal code that regulates every aspect of human life, rejects the comparable rules of every other faith, and does not accept the separation of church and state. There is a consequent extreme intolerance of religious difference, both within Islam between its warring sects, and with other confessions, particularly Jews, but also Christians.


The victors in World War I sought to create Western style nations based on patriotic identification with a territory. The ceaseless instability and endless bloodshed of the Arab East stems from the weak attraction of this concept among the peoples on the ground. Virtually every Arab state has been a theocracy, publicly acknowledged or cloaked behind a thin veil of secularism. And among the Arabs the split between Sunnis and Shi'ites, which dates from the late seventh century, remains a blood line. As I write, Bashar al-Assad's government, nominally a secular Ba'athist regime, but dominated by the Alawite branch of Shiism, prohibits all the Sunni pilots in the air force from flying, while in adjacent Lebanon the Shi'ite Hezbollah, which supports its coreligionist in Syria, is engaged in running gun battles with Lebanese Sunnis.


Because religious homogeneity is the touchstone of stability and legitimacy in the Arab Middle East, it has been the best predictor of what states that emerged in 1922 would have relative peace and which would be forever internally torn. Fromkin ranks them in three levels. First, those states that have a very long preexisting continuity have been at least geographically stable. These are mainly Egypt and Persia. Next are those new states with a very strong rulership. He lists these as Saudi Arabia (which actually dates from 1932) and Turkey under Mustapha Kemal Pasha and his successors. He proposes that there remain a group of states whose existence in its present form remains contested. He lists these as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel. In each case it is religious intolerance by the state's opponents that puts its survival in question. He cites as an analogy the long period of national consolidation that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. This was not completed until the unification of Germany and Italy in the late nineteenth century, fifteen hundred years after the fall of Rome.


This is a book largely about British actions in the Middle East between 1914 and 1922, and reactions by Turks, Arabs, Jews, and Persians. This is reasonable, as Britain was by far the most active Western power in the region in those years. French and Russian involvement are discussed to a lesser degree. To a surprising extent, even considering that it was a long-ago pre-Internet age, British information about the peoples it was dealing with was extraordinarily skimpy. This led to the proliferation of what today would look like bizarre conspiracy theories, such as the persistent belief in high government circles that Turkey was controlled by a pro-German Jewish cabal.


The Ottoman Background


The Ottoman Empire for Britain in the late nineteenth century was seen mainly as a welcome buffer to block Russian expansion, supplementing Afghanistan in the Great Game to protect British India. Though the Ottomans were notoriously in sharp decline, British policy up to the outbreak of the first world war was to stay out and leave the Empire intact, excepting Egypt, which had come under British control in 1882.


The Liberal Party in Britain in the 1880s strongly protested their government's aid to the Ottomans, circulating reports of Islamic persecution of Christians. Disraeli, England's Jewish prime minister, a Tory, supported aid to the Islamic Caliph in Constantinople. His successor in 1880, Gladstone, a Liberal, halted it. Thereafter the Turks cultivated relations with Germany instead.


Though in decline, the Ottoman Turks, as the holders of the Islamic caliphate, had for centuries pursued Muhammad's vision of total world domination. They had acquired by colonial conquest the whole of the Arab Middle East and North Africa. Long after they lost Spain they seized most of Eastern Europe - Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and much of Hungary. They were stopped from taking Western Europe only by being repulsed during two brutal sieges of Vienna, in 1529 and 1683. Greece broke away in 1832, Bulgaria in 1878, and the last of the Ottoman Balkan colonies gained independence only in the Balkan wars of 1912-13. There were still in 1914 large Armenian and Jewish minorities as well as Coptic and Maronite Christians. Though the Empire was a theocracy, twenty-five percent of its subjects in 1900 were not Muslims and there were seventy-one sects of Muslim. The government became increasingly weak, but the Ottoman army remained formidable.


In 1908, the Young Turks, a largely secular secret society organized in the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), staged a successful revolution, imposing a constitutional monarchy on the Sultan and restarting the Empire's moribund parliament.


If one were to say what is surprising about Fromkin's study it is how little each side knew about the other leading up to and during the war. Major decisions, particularly by the British, were based on almost hilariously wrong information. As an example we have Gerald FitzMaurice, chief assistant to the British ambassador in Constantinople. The Young Turk rebellion had broken out in Salonika, today part of Greece but then still under Ottoman rule. Because Salonika had a large Jewish population, FitzMaurice, a virulent antisemite, believed claims by their Islamist enemies that the Young Turk movement was a front for an international Jewish conspiracy. He convinced the ambassador and they developed this thesis in reports to the British government in London, which believed them because they came directly from their own people in Constantinople. This conspiracy theory became an article of faith for the British until near the end of World War I. Over the years it was further embroidered. When the Ottomans allied with the Germans in the Great War it was believed that the international Jewish power was in cahoots with Germany. Then Russia, Britain's ally, abandoned the war after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, in which many of the leaders were Jewish. Now high British officials concluded that the Bolsheviks were a German-Jewish front organization whose sole purpose was to stage manage Britain's defeat.


Belief in these fantastic notions played a major role in the decision to issue the Balfour Declaration. Fromkin writes:


"FitzMaurice drew an obvious conclusion from his misconception: that the world war (in which Britain was by then engaged) could be won by buying the support of this powerful group. Its support could be bought, he decided, by promising to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. . . . This reasoning helped to persuade the Foreign Office that it ought to pledge British support to the Zionist program - which it eventually did in 1917."


In 1913 the Young Turks took over direct control of the Ottoman government and appointed themselves as its heads. From then until the end of WWI in 1918 the principal figures in their government were Mehmed Talaat, Minister of the Interior; Enver Pasha, who headed the Ottoman military; and Djemal Pasha, Military Governor of Constantinople, and later of Syria and Palestine. They abandoned their program of 1908, which had pledged equal civil and religious rights for all, and now concentrated dominant power in the hands of Turkish Muslims in preference to Arabs and imposed still harsher conditions on Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Christians, and Jews.


Internationally the CUP government made its top priority securing an alliance with a major European power, to protect their Empire from the other powers. They first approached Britain. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was for it but the Foreign Office rejected the proposal. On August 1, 1914, the Young Turk government signed a secret treaty of alliance with Germany. The die was cast when two German warships, the Goeben and the Breslau, evading a British blockade in the Mediterranean, made harbor at Constantinople and were publicly welcomed by the Grand Vizier. When Britain protested, the Ottoman government issued a false claim that it had purchased the two ships, as cover inducting the German officers and crew into the Ottoman navy.


While it was still not certain that the Ottomans were really in the war on the German side, a British official met with the Ottoman ambassador in London to find out their leanings. The Turk's explanation was that they leaned toward the Germans because they feared Russia, which had tried for a century and a half to dismember them, and which was allied with Britain and France. The Ottoman government, generally called the Porte, from the gate to its central buildings, initially thought to remain neutral when the fighting started. But the stunning German victory over Russia's Second Army at the end of August 1914 led Enver Pasha to commit the Ottomans to the war on the German side in hopes of seizing Russian territory. In September the Turks mined the straits at the Dardanelles, closing off Russian access to the Mediterranean from the Black Sea, through which 50 percent of Russian exports passed. Britain declared war on the Ottomans in November.


In the war crisis Whitehall appointed Lord Herbert Kitchener as War Minister. Soon his face with its imposing moustache appeared on recruiting posters across the country, his finger pointing right at the viewer with the message in large type: "Your country needs YOU!" Kitchener had conquered Sudan for Britain, avenging the murder of General Charles George Gordon in Khartoum. He commanded successfully in the Boar War, and had served as head of the British army in India. Most recently he was governor of Egypt. He had vast and unquestioned influence with the mass of the British public. He was the first to tell the Cabinet that the war would last for years and that it would be won on the ground and not with Britain's vaunted navy. He saw the European theatre as the only one of importance and opposed any significant response to the Ottoman Empire.


It was assumed that Kitchener and his staff were expert on conditions in the Middle East. Consequently the Prime Minister and the Cabinet almost invariably deferred to him, or in practice to very junior members of his staff who were presumed to be conveying Kitchener's opinions, though this was often not the case. In fact, even those British officials on the ground in Egypt knew very little about conditions in the Arab lands. There was not at that time a single authoritative book in English on the history of the Ottoman Empire, the best thing available being a German work written in 1744. Of course, this ignorance was mutual. Little was known about British and French issues on the Turkish and Arab side.


Kitchener continued to rely heavily on his team in Khartoum and Cairo. Mainly this was Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Reginald Wingate, British Governor-General of Sudan, based in Khartoum, Wingate's Cairo deputy, Gilbert Clayton, who was also Director of Intelligence for the Egyptian army, and Kitchener's former secretary, Ronald Storrs. In London, a central figure in the Kitchener group became the young MP Mark Sykes, later coauthor of the Sykes-Picot Treaty.


Wingate and Clayton became devotees of Gerald FitzMaurice's crackpot theory that the Young Turk heads of the Porte regime were pro-German Jews. Their working hypothesis was that they should try to break the Arab colonies away from the Turkish heartland of the Ottomans. These British officials were misled here by a few self-seeking Arab radicals, who greatly exaggerated Arab discontent with Turkish rule, to imagine that liberation and then administration by a Christian power would be seen as an improvement.


This was a view fatefully promoted in London by Kitchener and his staff. They were at that time opposed by central figures in the then-Liberal Party government: Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, and Winston Churchill (then a Liberal) were against any acquisition of Ottoman territory by Britain.


Kitchener's reasoning ultimately shaped British war aims and from there, much of our contemporary Middle East. He grasped that Islam was the unifying element in the Muslim East, but he erroneously supposed it to be rigidly centralized. From this he concluded that whoever controlled the Muslim caliphate would command the whole of the Middle East. He believed, along with Wingate and Clayton, that the caliphate was already in the hands of pro-German Jews, and expected that even if the Allies won the war that it would then fall into the hands of the Russians, who it was plain hoped to conquer Constantinople to protect their route to the Mediterranean. Either a German or Russian Caliph would be a mortal threat to Britain's colonies in Egypt, Sudan, and India, which contained half the world's Muslims. Kitchener believed that Tsarist Russia had ambitions to conquer India. So he advocated breaking the caliphate away from the Turks and giving it back to the Arabs. His candidate was Hussein bin Ali, the Ottoman Sharif of the Hejaz.


Hussein's Hashem family, the Hashemites, were descended from Muhammad's daughter Fatimah, and had ruled the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in western Arabia since the tenth century. Under the Ottomans they held the title of Sharif and were in charge of the Hejaz, a narrow strip on the west of Arabia that ran from the Gulf of Aqaba in the north to the border of what is now Yemen in the south. Britain did not consider the alternative contender for control of Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Saud. Kitchener on September 24, 1914, had Storrs in Cairo send a messenger to Hussein's son Abdullah asking if the Hejaz would support Britain in the war.


To the Kitchener crew in Cairo the proposal that the Hejaz ruler become the Caliph was seen as a religious and moral authority like that of the Pope in Christendom. To Hussein, in accord with Muslim tradition, the Caliph was the fully empowered political ruler as well, so the offer was taken to mean kingship over the whole of Arabia at minimum and more likely over the whole Arab world.


The British Raj in India, based at its summer capital at Simla, was appalled. They wanted to maintain the Afghanistan-Arab buffer between the British colony and the European powers, but did not want to see a unified Arab state in place of the weak and more distant Ottoman Empire. This split between British officialdom in Simla and Cairo persisted throughout the Great War. A further difference was that Simla had opened relations with Ibn Saud in eastern Arabia while Cairo was negotiating with the Hashemites of the Hejaz in the west. And while Simla opposed immediate Arab independence from the Ottomans, Kitchener's people were issuing proclamations calling for an Arab revolt.


Meanwhile in Constantinople, Enver Pasha, against the advice of his German advisers, had delusions of grandeur. In December 1914 he launched an invasion of Russia, attacking in the mountainous Caucasus in the dead of winter. After defeating Russia he planned to conquer British India. Forced to leave his artillery behind in the snow, and with inadequate food, a typhus epidemic scattered his forces, the Russians finishing off the job.


In Europe the invention of barbed wire and the machine gun, combined with greatly improved artillery, produced static trench emplacements in northern France that were almost impossible to breach. Hundreds of thousands of casualties fell in single battles. Kitchener and the rest of the War Cabinet grasped early in the fighting that this would be a long war with prodigious human costs. They began to look for some way to outflank the Germans. In December 1914, Maurice Hankey, secretary of the War Cabinet, submitted a memorandum proposing an attack on Constantinople by breaching the straits of the Dardanelles, then, in alliance with her Balkan allies - Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania - a march on Austria-Hungary and Germany from the east. Later historians agree that this could have easily been accomplished, but the effort was bungled at several stages, leading to one of Britain's most costly defeats in the war.


Kitchener, responding to Russian appeals that the seaway from the Black Sea be reopened, approved the plan, but only on the condition that only the navy would take part. He refused to allow troops to be diverted from the Western Front. At the last minute, in February 1915, he agreed to send one British division along with new units from Australia and New Zealand. The plan still called for the navy alone to open the straits, with the troops following later. The Turks anticipated the attack, but had no plan to repel it, expecting to lose. British warships fired the first shot on February 19. The Ottomans were in such extremis that they proposed to the Germans to try to get Russia to switch sides in the war to defend them.


Fromkin gives us the oft-told tale of Britain's missteps that followed. Newly appointed Admiral John de Robeck opened the main attack on the straits on March 18, 1915. His first day was a disaster. A French ship exploded. Three of Robeck's ships struck mines, two of them sinking. He withdrew, cabling London that he would resume hostilities in a few days. In London they received intelligence reports that the Turks had run out of ammunition. Fromkin writes:


"All that stood between the British-led Allied fleet and Constantinople were a few submerged mines, and Ottoman supplies of these were so depleted that the Turks were driven to catch and re-use the mines that the Russians were using against them. Morale in Constantinople disintegrated. Amidst rumors and panic the evacuation of the city commenced."


At this juncture de Robeck lost his nerve and refused to continue. The War Cabinet decided to send in its limited army units without naval support. In the interim the defense of the Dardanelles was assumed by Mustapha Kemal, the Turkish officer who later was to rule Turkey as Kemal Ataturk. The British forces, under Sir Ian Hamilton, attacked the northern side of the straits, the Gallipoli peninsula. There was a delay of almost a month while Hamilton assembled his troops. The assault began on April 25. Taking the ridges in several places, the British lost the initiative by camping overnight. By the next day Mustapha Kemal's reinforcements had arrived. The British dug trenches as in France and the same bloody stalemate ensued. The Turks held the heights while the British were pinned down on the beaches.


Despite the fact that the army had taken over the campaign, Winston Churchill was blamed for the defeat. It had been Kitchener who had insisted that the navy go it alone and initiated the separation of the two services, but he was above reproach while Churchill had been prominent in the public eye in the lead-up to the Gallipoli landing. He was dismissed from the Admiralty on May 19. In the end there were 200,000 English, Australian, and New Zealand casualties in the Gallipoli campaign.


The vast loss of life at Gallipoli ironically led to the feeling in Britain that it had made a great investment in the Middle East and had a stake that should be pursued territorially at the war's end, as Fromkin puts it, "to give some sort of meaning to so great a sacrifice."


The public, the press, and initially the Tory critics of the Liberal prime minister, Herbert Asquith, and his second in command, who would succeed him in 1916, David Lloyd George, were convinced that Britain's setbacks, in Gallipoli and in France, were due to civilian meddling with Kitchener's military. Over time, both the leaders of the Liberal Party majority and the Tory minority came to realize that Kitchener was out of his depth and having increasing difficulty formulating a course for Britain's military. This became a closely guarded secret of the high command.


While British victory over the Ottoman Empire, as well as over Germany, now looked remote, an effort was set afoot to explore plans for a postwar Middle East. A central figure in this was Sir Mark Sykes, a young prot̩g̩ of Kitchener who had spent a good deal of time in the region. The first version had a unified Arabic-speaking domain, in which religious authority would be exercised by Sherif Hussein in Mecca while temporal authority was exercised by the King of Egypt, with Kitchener to be British High Commissioner behind the throne. The British in India had some idea of administering Mesopotamia (later Iraq) from India, but opposed the consolidation of any large Arab state. They were supported by the Foreign Office, but Kitchener backed Sykes and won out. An Arab Bureau was created in December 1915, headquartered in Cairo, where it was effectively dominated by Kitchener's proteges Wingate and Clayton. A low-level functionary brought in semi-officially was T. E. Lawrence, soon to win fame as Lawrence of Arabia.


The British at that time had no definite agreement with any Arab leader or group. It seemed providential, then, when Ottoman staff officer Lieutenant Muhammed Sharif al-Faruqi presented himself, claiming to speak both for Sharif Hussein and for allegedly powerful secret Arab societies. The reality behind this was that Hussein had learned that the Porte intended to depose him. Reluctantly, he tried to interest the British, sending them a letter in the summer of 1915, expressing his understanding of what the caliphate meant, that they should make him ruler of the whole Arab-speaking realm. In making this demand he had been in contact, through his son Feisal, with Arab secret societies in Damascus who thought they could stage an insurrection with several units of the Ottoman army in which Arabs were the majority. The British did not take his demands seriously.


Al-Faruqi had been a member of one of the underground groups. By the time he approached the British in Cairo at the end of 1915 Djemal Pasha had discovered the plot and crushed the Damascus plotters. Al-Faruqi in effect tried to hoax the British by claiming he spoke for the Ottoman army officers in Damascus as well as for Sharif Hussein. He clearly knew the details of Hussein's correspondence with the Arab Bureau in Cairo, and claimed the insurrection was still ready to go. He played a role something like that of the informer Curveball in the lead-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.


The British were convinced now that Sharif Hussein both wanted an alliance and that he had significant military backing from within the Ottoman army. Al-Faruqi insisted that the price of the pending revolt was a British pledge to support an independent Arab Middle East. On the basis of al-Faruqi's assurances the War Cabinet opened negotiations to try to persuade France to give up its claims to Syria.


From here unfolded the famous Arab Revolt of 1916. In a lengthy correspondence between British High Commissioner in Egypt Henry McMahon and Sharif Hussein the British used formulas that could be read to mean a vague promise of postwar Arab independence but were intended to be unenforceable, while Hussein on his part opposed conceding "a single square foot of territory" to France in what are now Syria and Lebanon. While not winning that commitment he joined the Allied side anyway, as he had few options on the Turkish side.


If the British assurances of independence were false, so were the Arab promises made by Sharif Hussein, al-Faruqi, and by Aziz Ali al-Masri, a leader of the Damascus secret societies, who also participated in the exchanges. Fromkin writes:


"Hussein had no army, and the secret societies had no visible following. Their talk of rallying tens or hundreds of thousands of Arab troops to their cause, whether or not they believed it themselves, was sheer fantasy."



The next step was London's negotiations with Paris that ended in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed in May 1916. Francois George Picot represented the hard-colonialist elements in the French government. Their war aims in Asia Minor were to directly administer the coastal cities of Syria, plus all of what became Lebanon, and to control the interior of Syria through Arab puppet rulers. They had some hopes of getting northern Mesopotamia as well, specifically the area around Mosul, now in northern Iraq. Britain was privately sympathetic to these aims, as it would provide a French buffer between British-dominated areas and Russia. The secret treaty Sykes and Picot negotiated gave France everything it asked for, while giving to Britain the provinces of Basra and Baghdad in Mesopotamia, and the loosely defined area the British called Palestine, which was based on the Ottoman vilayet called the Sanjak of Jerusalem but with larger boundaries. There was no area called Palestine under Ottoman rule. Variants of the term Palaestina appear in Herodotus among the ancient Greeks, in Roman writings, and among the Byzantine Greeks, possibly referring to the Philistines, but the term was not used by either Turks or Arabs until the British introduced it, and in British minds it was meant to signify geographically the biblical Jewish Holy Land. "Palestine" was to be placed under an as-yet undefined form of international administration, because of the Holy Land it contained, though the treaty made no mention of the Jews. The French, almost immediately after the signing, made another secret agreement with Russia, in which France, not some international body, was to control Palestine.


Sykes, who had a lifelong fear of Jews, came soon to feel, in contrast to Picot, that Britain ought to promise the Jews a place in Palestine to head off damage to the British cause this mysterious and powerful global force might be inclined to perpetrate. Around the same time, in the spring of 1916, the inveterate conspiracy enthusiast FitzMaurice persuaded a friend in the Foreign Office to submit a memo suggesting that "if we could offer the Jews an arrangement as to Palestine which would strongly appeal to them we might conceivably be able to strike a bargain with them as to withdrawing their support from the Young Turk Government which would then automatically collapse."


In actuality, Djemal Pasha, the Young Turk administrator in Syria and Palestine, at the end of 1914 had ordered the destruction of the Jewish settlements and the expulsion of the Jews. This was partially carried out before the Germans got him to stop, for fear of pushing foreign Jews into the Allied camp. Ironically, David Ben-Gurion in 1914 offered to raise a Jewish army to defend the Ottoman Empire. He was deported to the United States, where for a few years he continued to propose his pro-Turkish force, switching to a plan for a pro-Allied Jewish army only in 1918.


No one intervened when, early in 1915, the Islamic Porte's xenophobic hostilities turned on the Armenians, far outdoing the massacres of the mid-1890s. Fully half of Ottoman Armenians were deliberately killed or died under the severe conditions of a forced-march deportation. A common figure is that the dead reached 1.5 million. The massacre did strengthen opinion in the West that the Ottomans should not be left in control of non-Islamic peoples after the war, and perhaps not even of non-Turkish Muslims.


Sykes seems to have been a rather naïve young man and believed his treaty's phraseology about independent Arab states. Picot was pleased to use such verbiage so long as France's sphere of influence was included, while Sykes' colleagues back in Cairo felt the same way about "independent" Arab regimes where Britain was to be their advisor.


The Kitchener era ended abruptly on June 5, 1916. Asquith, afraid of the public's reaction if he had the failing hero removed from command, but unwilling to allow him to continue, sent him on a long voyage to confer with their Russian allies. His ship, the Hampshire, struck a German mine a few hours out of port from the naval headquarters at Scapa Flow. It went down with almost all aboard. A South African Boer adventurer, Fritz Joubert Duquesne, who had tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Kitchener during the Second Boer War, later claimed that he had given the Hampshire's course coordinates to the Germans. During a stint in America Duquesne served as Teddy Roosevelt's trainer for big game hunting. While living in Brazil during some part of World War I he planted time bombs disguised as mineral samples that sank twenty-two Allied ships. He was finally arrested in New York in 1942 during World War II as the head of the biggest German spy ring ever discovered in America.


The Arab Revolt

Emir Hussein proclaimed his long-awaited revolt the same week that Kitchener died. Only a few thousand Bedouin tribesmen joined in, but no regulars from the Ottoman armies. The British navy guarded the Hejaz coast, while a few units of British Muslim troops from Egypt landed to support the Emir. The Arab secret societies, insofar as they existed, much as they wanted independence from the Turks were firmly opposed to British rule and did nothing. Even Hussein himself kept a diplomatic line open to the Porte, offering to change back to the Turkish side if they would guarantee his rule in the Hejaz. The British spent 11 million pounds on the revolt that fizzled (about US$886 million in 2010 dollars).


Just as it seemed that the revolt would come to nothing at all, T.E. Lawrence, then working as a translator in the Cairo headquarters, proposed to have the Emir's small force engage in a guerrilla campaign. It should be placed, he said, under the command of Hussein's son Feisal, and that Lawrence himself was the only liaison Feisal would accept. Thus Lawrence got his foot in the door of the Arab Revolt. He was five foot five inches and had been turned down by the regular army as too short. He left Cairo to join Feisal on November 25, 1916.


In the course of 1916 and 1917 all three of the Allied governments that had entered the war in 1914 fell. The Liberal government in Britain was replaced by a coalition dominated by the Unionist-Conservative Party of Andrew Bonar Law, which endorsed the Liberal Lloyd George as prime minister. Unlike Asquith, Lloyd George ranked British conquests in the Middle East very highly. And unlike his colleagues, who had been schooled in Greek and Latin, he had been raised on the Bible, and viewed the Holy Land as a coherent whole that should be placed under the protection of the Jews, its original inhabitants, though he expected a Zionist state to accept British tutelage.


In November 1917, after several earlier and inconsequential changes of government, France gave the premiership to the seventy-six-year-old Georges Clemenceau. He differed from his predecessors in being more implacably anti-German, and in being less interested in colonies or Middle East affairs, seeing Europe as the political essential. Fromkin comments:


"The fortunes of war and politics had brought into power in their respective countries the first British Prime Minister who wanted to acquire territory in the Middle East and the only French politician who did not want to do so."


And of course, there were the two Russian Revolutions of 1917, that ended with Lenin's Bolsheviks in power and Russia out of the war.


Fromkin includes an interesting account of one more element in the British high command's misinformation and conspiracy theories, in which they amalgamated Lenin and the Communist Revolution to the notion that the Ottoman Empire was controlled by a pro-German Jewish cabal. The fact that Lenin returned to Russia in the famous sealed train, provided by Berlin, and that Lenin within the year took Russia out of the war, to Germany's great advantage, convinced many of Britain's leaders that the Bolsheviks were a mere front for German policy. One figure provided what looked like solid evidence for that theory. This was Alexander Israel Helphand (1867-1924).


Helphand, a Jew born in a shtetl in what is now Belarus, became a Marxist in the late 1880s. He helped Lenin found the newspaper Iskra, was friends with Rosa Luxemburg, and was best known, under the name Parvus, for developing the theory of permanent revolution, which he then shared with Leon Trotsky. He was active in the Russian Revolution of 1905, when he was arrested and imprisoned. He later made a great deal of money in various businesses. And here is how he intersects our current story. He moved to Constantinople, where from 1912 he became close to the Young Turk leaders. He became an arms dealer, where he supplied the Ottoman armies during the Balkan Wars. At the outbreak of World War I he lobbied the Turks to ally with Germany against Russia. In 1915 he went to Berlin to try to persuade the German high command to throw their support to Russian Marxist revolutionaries with the goal of getting Russia out of the war, and if possible inciting a revolution there that would dismember the Russian state. He especially told them to put their money on Lenin. The Germans assented, and gave Helphand a million marks to put his plan into operation. Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg broke with Parvus. Lenin did so formally, but Fromkin says that Lenin's correspondence shows that he secretly received money from him "via a Polish and a Russian Social Democrat." And, most important of all, Helphand arranged the German sealed train for Lenin's return to Russia in April 1917.


The British intelligence services knew most of this and added it into the conspiracy: Here is a highly placed Jew who advises the Ottoman government, has extensive business connections with it, but is also a pro-German agent who secures German aid for the Russian Bolsheviks to undermine Britain's wartime ally. Case proved. As Fromkin writes, "British observers of the Russian revolutions in 1917 were struck by the apparent conjunction of Bolsheviks, Germans, and Jews." The Turkish angle just clinched it.


The colonial aspirations of the British and French were complicated when the United States entered the war in April 1917, in response to the sinking of American ships by German submarines. The U.S. was particularly outraged by the telegram German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman sent to his Minister in Mexico instructing him to try to get Mexico to join the German side, and in the event the U.S. entered the war, to seize Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The British intercepted and decoded it and turned it over to the U.S. in late February. Woodrow Wilson strongly opposed the creation of any new colonies and called for the right of nations to self-determination. This and a general climate that was emerging in which colonialism was getting a bad name, explains why at the war's end French and British administrations in the Middle East were framed as temporary Mandates rather than as colonies as would have been the case a generation earlier.


The Balfour Declaration and the British Conquest of Palestine


Interestingly, the international Zionist movement remained firmly neutral throughout World War I. A cardinal reason was fear that siding with Britain in the war would provoke the Turks into taking reprisals against the Jews of Palestine, as they had done with the Armenians. The British connection to the actual Zionist movement came through Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a noted chemist and naturalized British subject, who headed a British Zionist Federation. He held no position in the international Zionist movement and opposed their policy of neutrality. He would at the end of his life become the first president of Israel.


In early 1917 Weizmann arranged to meet Mark Sykes. Sykes was still trying to adhere to the terms of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, so told Weizmann a Jewish state in Palestine would have to be under a joint French-English international condominium. Weizmann responded that he favored British only. As it happened, this was already Lloyd George's view and Sykes was working with a policy the highest ranks of his government had abandoned. Lloyd George eventually met with Weizmann directly and backed his mutually agreeable position. The main obstacle to a public announcement was seen to be France and its ambitions rather than either the Turks or the Arabs. In fact, figures such as Lloyd George and Mark Sykes viewed themselves as equally pro Arab and pro Jewish, thinking both would benefit from escaping from Turkish rule, and that Jewish knowhow and financial backing could rapidly raise the standard of living in Palestine, to the benefit of both peoples. This view simply failed to grasp how Islam was viewed by its faithful.


Nevertheless, Lloyd George believed he needed French agreement to issue anything formal. The problem was solved by putting forward yet another fantasy: that a pledge of a Jewish homeland in Palestine would enthuse the millions of Russian Jews sufficiently to keep Russia in the war. The negotiations with the French took place before the Bolshevik seizure of power. Nahum Sokolow, an official of the international Zionist movement, told the French government that he would undertake a mission to the Jews of Russia if they would in return make a statement of support to a Jewish Palestine. The French issued a carefully worded document that in practice promised nothing, but it was enough for the British to move ahead and have Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour draft a statement. This was held up for several months in one of the complications typical of everything involving this issue, when several prominent British Jews, particularly Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, strongly opposed it, seeing the creation of a Jewish country as a threat to Jewish acceptance in Britain and raising charges of divided loyalty.


When it was finally released, on November 2, 1917, the famous Balfour Declaration consisted of only three sentences, only one of which was substantive. It read:


"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."


Britain adhered to this affirmation for a number of years, but by the late thirties had abandoned it.


*    *    *


The devastation in Europe was so extreme and the trench warfare so difficult to break through that there was little to fight for there, even though the fight could not be escaped. There were hopes of winning something in the Middle East despite the Gallipoli disaster. The new effort got off to a rocky start. Britain's Indian Army made a push toward Baghdad in late 1915, but were mauled by the Turks the following spring. Under a new general, Stanley Maude, the Anglo-Indian Army of the Tigris entered the Mesopotamian provinces in December 1916 and captured Baghdad on March 11, 1917. Close to a majority of the city's inhabitants at that time were Jews, their occupancy predating the Muslim conquest by a thousand years. The British thinking was to place the provinces of Baghdad and Basra under King Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, ignoring the fact that the two provinces as a whole were strongly Shi'ite.


Also in the spring of 1917 British forces based in Egypt set out to march north and capture Palestine. The first British commander, Sir Archibald Murray, was twice defeated in Gaza by Ottoman troops commanded by German officers. Djemal Pasha, the military governor, began a new campaign of suppression of unreliable elements. He expelled the entire Jewish and Arab populations of Jaffa, many of whom died in the process. He announced he intended to deport the whole civilian population of Jerusalem, the majority of whom were Jews. In June General Murray was replaced by General Sir Edmund Allenby, who was ordered to take Jerusalem by Christmas. He did, but by the time he got there only about a third of the Jewish population remained. Fromkin writes: "[M]ost of the rest had died of starvation or disease."


T. E. Lawrence had his first success with his Arab guerrillas in July 1917, when he accompanied a Bedouin chief who staged a daring raid, capturing Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea in what is now Jordan. Lawrence showed up afterward near Cairo in Arab dress to recount the exploit. Always ready to exaggerate his own role and prone to retail fantasy for fact, Lawrence was en route to becoming a national hero.


The Aqaba battle marked the first breakout of the Hejaz forces, who had been blockaded by the Turks. Now their fighters, though not numerous, took part in guerrilla actions supporting the British drive into Palestine. Feisal was made a general in the British army to command these troops. He never had more than about 1,000 Bedouins and another 2,500 former Ottoman prisoners of war. Small as this force was, it was welcome when, after the Bolshevik Revolution and Russia's definitive exit from the war, Germany transferred most of her Eastern Front units to the west, and almost all of Allenby's troops were recalled to Europe. What saved the British in Palestine was a decision by Enver Pasha to launch a major offensive in the other direction, to try to capture for the Ottomans a big piece of Russia's Central Asian territories, mainly Azerbaijan and Turkestan, although he had megalomaniacal hopes of conquering Persia, Afghanistan, and India as well. He succeeded in occupying Baku, but was forced to evacuate his troops by the terms of the armistice as the war ended. He was dismissed as War Minister in October 1918.


*   *   *


Implementing the Balfour Declaration did not fare well on the ground. And this was not particularly because of Arab opposition, but due to anti-Jewish feeling among the British leadership in Cairo. Fromkin writes:


"Even by the standards of the time, Clayton and his colleague, Wingate, were strongly disposed to be anti-Jewish." Sykes began as an antisemite, but once he committed himself to the idea of the Jewish homeland he remained steadfast. On the whole, Clayton and Wingate sabotaged the Balfour commitment.


Early in 1918 Chaim Weizmann led an international Zionist delegation to Palestine. He met with Prince Feisal and the two got on well. Feisal above all wanted British support to become the ruler of Syria and had little interest in Palestine. He was content for the Jews to have it if it meant British backing for his own cause. Feisal followed through by a public endorsement of Zionism at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. Unhappily, the British remained split, with the former Kitchener people in Cairo backing the Hashemites while the Indian government was supporting Ibn Saud. How firmly to back Feisal was put to a test as Allenby approached Damascus in September 1918. In London there was division over whether the Sykes-Picot treaty was still valid. If it was, Syria was to be ceded to France. If not, then most likely Feisal would be named king.


Allenby raised Feisal's flag over Damascus on October 2, but Feisal and his troops did not arrive until the following day and played no part in the city's capture. Allenby met with Feisal that afternoon and laid down Britain's conditions. France was to have direct control of the coastal cities, including Damascus. The Arab sector would be inland Syria, but excluding Lebanon and Palestine. Even in the Arab sector Feisal would be "under French guidance and financial backing" (from the minutes by France's representative at the meeting).


The French had very limited forces in the region. They had hoped to capture what is now Lebanon and Syria, if not Palestine as well, but lacked the troops to do so. They were able to win out in only a part of Lebanon. Allenby brought T. E. Lawrence to London to argue for rejecting all French influence in Syria. Feisal, Lawrence said, did not want French advisers but would prefer British or else, surprisingly, American Jewish Zionists. There was a heated debate on whether to set aside the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which had made the promises to France, with Sykes and the Foreign Office opposing but most of the rest of the government, including the Prime Minister, in favor.


Publicly London now advocated an independent Syria under Feisal, free of French interference. Behind the scenes they expected Britain to pull Feisal's strings.


In March 1918 Germany concluded its armistice with Lenin's Russia, touching off a race between the Germans and their erstwhile Turkish allies to seize Russian dominated Transcaucasia, consisting of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The area briefly declared its collective independence. Azerbaijan and its capital Baku were the main prize because of the plentiful oil. A small British force allied with a loose coalition of local ethnic and radical leftist groups briefly held Baku, but were overwhelmed by the Ottomans in September 1918. The Bolshevik Red Army invaded Azerbaijan in April 1920 and it, along with the other Transcaucasian states were incorporated into what became the Soviet Union in 1922.  One of the strangest confrontations of the war took place in Turkestan, when the British and Ottomans fought together on one side against Bolsheviks joined by contingents of German and Austrian prisoners of war.


Bulgaria sued for peace on September 26, 1918, opening the way to Germany's eastern flank, within days bringing the long war to an end.


Remaking the Middle East

At the war's end Britain had 1,084,000 troops in the Middle East, and had seen 250,000 of its men killed or wounded there. The French had only a tiny force and the Americans, who had joined the war late, nothing at all. Based on its strength on the ground, Britain made large-scale demands for territory. As its troops left for home, however, and its armies on the spot rapidly dwindled away, these demands became impossible to enforce. Her position was worsened by a major domestic recession in 1920-21. Lloyd George continued as Prime Minister, and Churchill returned to the government, as Secretary of State for both War and Air, placing him in charge of the demobilization and also of whatever military moves would be made in the former Ottoman territories.


Unexpectedly, Italy, which had been on the Allied side but had nothing to do with the Middle East, laid claim to a portion of Anatolia and landed troops at Smyrna. Stories of Italian atrocities raised international outrage. The Allies, with strong American support, asked Greece, which was nearby, to send in its own forces to expel the Italians. This set up a major confrontation between the Greeks and the Turks. Smyrna had been a Greek city since the days of classical Athens, and the Anatolian Mediterranean coast was dotted with Greek towns and offshore islands that had been colonized by Greece for some 2,500 years. Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference were sympathetic to the idea that a portion of Anatolia around Smyrna should become part of Greece. It might seem that Europe and Asia are naturally separated in that area by the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara, yet in the end these natural borders didn't hold, but it was the other way around, and Turkey incorporated a portion of European Greece.


Through astute manipulation of the agenda, Lloyd George managed to keep virtually all of Britain's holdings in the Middle East off the floor at Versailles: its occupation of Mesopotamia/Iraq, its influence in Persia, its alliances in Arabia with both Hussein and Ibn Saud, and even the fate of Palestine. Only France's claim to Syria was up for debate. Woodrow Wilson spoke forcefully for national self-determination, but returned home early and the Senate refused to ratify either the Treaty of Versailles or American membership in the League of Nations. The commission on the Middle East excluded almost all the interested parties. It was initially composed of five states, then reduced to a Council of Four - the United States, Britain, France, and Italy. Italy soon withdrew, and when Wilson went home there were just Britain and France.


The details were worked out not at Versailles but in a series of succeeding conferences and treaties, concluding in a final redrawing of the Middle Eastern map in 1922. Fromkin notes that "Lloyd George, between 1919 and 1922, attended no fewer than thirty-three international conferences." The most important ones for the Ottoman Empire were the First Conference of London (beginning February 1920), a meeting in San Remo, Italy, in April, and a treaty at Sevres near Paris signed in August 1920.


The greatest omission from the settlements were the hoped-for creation of a homeland for the Kurds, the largest ethnicity in the world that had no state of its own. The British had hoped to sponsor one or more Kurdish homelands, but when they occupied the area in 1919 the Kurds rebelled against them and the project was dropped. Today the Kurds are divided between Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, their unrealized hopes for nationhood leading to perennial clashes in all four states.


The intent of the armistice terms were to break off the Arabic-speaking territories from the Ottomans and shrink their empire to its Turkish core, under various restrictions and impositions of external control. When popular opposition arose to the limits on national sovereignty, the new sultan, Mehmed VI, who intended to cooperate with the Allies, imposed a dictatorship. Outside of Constantinople the government's authority collapsed, replaced by roving bands and local administrations. This became an international problem when Muslim bands attacked Greek villages near Samsun on the north Black Sea coast. The Sultan appointed Mustapha Kemal to suppress the unrest. Kemal set out on May 6, 1919, but his real intent was to recruit an army in the Turkish interior to resist excessive Allied demands.


As the Greeks were massing in the west at Smyrna, Mustapha Kemal revolted against the Sultan in the interior. He called a national congress at Sivas and declared Turkey independent. In February 1920 Kemal led an army of 30,000 in defeating a small French unit in southern Anatolia, providing the first indication to the Western powers that his army existed. Kemal was an exception in the region in that he was a secular nationalist, while for all the prominent Arab leaders Islam was the center of their politics.


Parallel to Kemal's uprising in Turkey, Arab resistance to the French began to stir, based in Damascus but extending into Lebanon. It was led by former Ottoman officers and pro-Ottoman land owners, now committed to Arab independence from Turkey but persisting in their hostility to the Western Christian powers. These elements were far weaker than Kemal and divided among themselves, but the British, the only serious Western military force nearby, withdrew in September 1919. That left Feisal, who was claiming to rule Syria in alliance with Britain, caught between the Arabs who wanted independence and the French who would have none of it. When Clemenceau, who had been willing to concede a good deal to Feisal to maintain relations with Britain, was defeated for the French presidency in January 1920, replaced by hard-line colonialist Alexandre Millerand, the period of negotiations with Feisal abruptly ended.


The terms arrived at in London and San Remo in 1920 provided that the Arabic-speaking portion of the Ottoman Empire would be split off from Turkey and divided between France and Britain, under League of Nation Mandates that were nominally temporary. France would get Syria and Lebanon; Britain, Mesopotamia and Palestine. Arabia would be independent, but its kings were allied to Britain. Turkey's finances were to be administered by France, Britain, and Italy, while the Dardanelles were to be under international control. It didn't work the way it was planned.


Local unrest soon broke out throughout the British-occupied areas: Rioting in Egypt in 1919, a war in Afghanistan, anti-Jewish riots in western Palestine in the spring of 1920, and a revolt in Iraq that summer. France and Communist Russia also faced Muslim revolts. Fromkin devotes a brief chapter to each of the trouble spots that confronted the British.


In November 1918 an Egyptian delegation, led by Saad Zaghlul, a founder of the Wafd Party, had a meeting with Sir Reginald Wingate, the British High Commissioner in Cairo, asking to attend the Versailles Conference. This was refused, and when Zaghlul persisted, he was arrested and deported to Malta. Protests erupted, there were massive strikes, railroad lines were torn up. Two British officers and five soldiers were murdered. Things were brought under control only when General Allenby returned to Cairo and ordered Zaghlul's release. Fromkin writes: "The principal British fantasy about the Middle East - that it wanted to be governed by Britain, or with her assistance - ran up against a stone wall of reality." Britain continued to rule, without the consent of the governed, mainly because of its concern with control of the Suez Canal. It issued a unilateral declaration of Egypt's independence on February 22, 1922, which reduced but did not eliminate Britain's military presence. Saad Zaghlul was elected Prime Minister in 1924. The last of British influence essentially ended with the Egyptian officers' revolution in 1952, the last British troops leaving in 1954.


On February 19, 1919, Amanullah Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan, a British protectorate, issued a declaration of independence. He planned to sponsor a national anti-British uprising in India. Afghan troops crossed into India on May 3, 1919. The British won the skirmish, bombed several Afghan cities, but in August  conceded complete Afghan independence.


In Arabia both monarchs were being financed by Britain, but they were engaged in a religious war against each other. The Saudi family were allied with the fanatical and puritanical Wahabi sect, which viewed all other forms of Islam as heretical. In May 1919 a Bedouin force of Wahabi militants, numbering just 1,100, armed only with swords, spears, and some antiquated rifles, completely destroyed a Hejaz force of 5,000 camped with the latest European equipment. In 1924 Ibn Saud and his Wahabi warriors totally destroyed the Hashemite system and incorporated the Hejaz into what was soon renamed Saudi Arabia.


Turkey proved the biggest surprise for the Western powers. As late as the beginning of 1919 Lloyd George was considering a plan in which Turkey would be divided between Greece, France, Italy, and the United States. By 1920 he came around to the idea of keeping the country unified, but under strictures of foreign control. In Turkey, in contrast, national elections were held late in 1919 that produced delegates quite unwilling to accept Britain's terms. The new delegates held an informal meeting at Angora (now Ankara) where they endorsed a declaration called the National Pact that proclaimed Turkey an independent Muslim state. In January 1920 when the new Chamber of Deputies formally convened in Constantinople they voted to adopt the National Pact and announced this publicly on February 17. Fromkin comments:


"If the political theme of the twentieth century is seen to be the ending of Europe's rule over its neighboring continents, then the Ottoman Chamber's declaration of independence signaled the dawn of the century."


A new war began. Mustapha Kemal delivered a smashing defeat to the French in Cilicia near the Syrian border. Then, in mid-March, the British occupied Constantinople. Prominent officials and members of the Chamber of Deputies were arrested and deported to Malta. This simply released Mustapha Kemal from any obligation to the Sultan and his government. Free members of the Chamber of Deputies made their way to Angora, where they declared a new parliament and elected Mustapha Kemal president.


The British took a while to grasp what Kemal represented. They first thought he was an agent of the Sultan. Then, when he signed a treaty with the Bolsheviks in March 1921, they thought that he was acting either for the Communists or for Enver Pasha, who had been given asylum at the end of World War I. All these assumptions were wrong. Kemal and Enver were enemies, and Kemal soon outlawed the Turkish Communist Party and had its leaders killed. The Communists ignored this and began to pump money and military supplies into Turkey on the grounds that driving out the British was more important.


Because the Ottomans had just been defeated in a long war, the British did not believe that Kemal could mount a credible opposition. This was a grave miscalculation. After a Kemalist attack on a British battalion outside of Constantinople in June 1920 London, looking for reinforcements at low cost, asked Greece to send troops. So began the Greek-Turkish war. The Greeks opened an offensive from their base at Smyrna, capturing most of Asia Minor. A second salient in mainland Greece captured Thrace, the portion of European Greece long held by the Ottomans. On August 10, 1920, the captive Sultan in Constantinople was compelled to sign the humiliating Treaty of Sevres. They were ignoring Kemal's forces deep in the interior.


The decision was cast to push further when Greek elections brought to power the pro-German leaders who had been in exile during the Great War. They were determined to try to conquer Turkey outright. France and Italy took this as a sign that they should make peace with Kemal. Churchill and most of the cabinet were opposed to war with Turkey on financial grounds. Lloyd George almost alone remained committed to defeating Mustapha Kemal.


In Syria, Feisal was still in uneasy charge. He called a General Syrian Congress on June 6, 1919. The congress demanded total independence for a Greater Syria that would include what is now Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. Feisal, in Europe, negotiated an agreement with Clemenceau offering very minimal French oversight for Syria, but on his return to Damascus the Arab nationalists rejected this. They also issued declarations opposing British rule in Mesopotamia and Palestine. The British, in consequence, withdrew their military protection of Damascus. The French in Beirut marched on Damascus. Feisal at the end of July 1920 was sent into exile.


Now the French made one of the great mistakes for which the world is still paying. Their core concern was to protect the Maronite Christians of the Levant. With their momentary military advantage they added to what is now Syria a Great Lebanon that  expanded far beyond the territory where the Maronite Christians were the majority. The Maronites had historically, for security from Muslim threats, retreated into the Mount Lebanon range that parallels the coast inland. The French now added the coastal cities of Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre, as well as the long Bekaa Valley, all of which had large Sunni or Shi'ite populations, making Lebanon in the long run almost ungovernable.


The British had their own problems. A main public reason for them to be in the Middle East was to support Prince Feisal, who had fought on their side in the Great War. Now Feisal, to retain his Arab following, had declared his opposition to both French and British presence in the region.


What Happened to Palestine?

Now that the French had a strongly pro-colonialist government that aimed to grab whatever it could in the Eastern Mediterranean, the generally undefined borders of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine left open the opportunity to lay claim to the whole of it. To discredit Britain's Balfour policy they dug deep into the arsenal of French antisemitism. Fromkin quotes the Oeuvre des Ecoles d'Orient, the representative of French Catholic missionaries in the Middle East, claiming there was a world Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy "seeking by all means at its disposal the destruction of the Christian world." The president of this organization declared, "It is inadmissible that the 'Country of Christ' should become the prey of Jewry and of Anglo-Saxon heresy. It must remain the inviolable inheritance of France and the Church."


The original Mandates for Syria to France and Palestine to Britain were issued by the San Remo conference in April 1920, pending final approval by the League of Nations. The most important decisions concerning the Palestinian portion were made at a Cairo Conference held in March 1921. These were already in place by the time the League of Nations took up the issue and confirmed the British Mandate on July 23, 1922. Throughout these three international gatherings, "Palestine" was defined consistently as the territory that today constitutes Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, west of the Jordan River, and what is now Jordan on the east side. Though the Mandate specified that Palestine was to provide for a Jewish national home, the British, for reasons outlined below, decided at the Cairo Conference to exclude the Jews from 75 percent of Palestine, in order to set up an Arab state in what was then called Transjordan. It has been argued ever since, with some justice, that already in 1921 the Palestinian Arabs were given 75 percent of the total land of Palestine.


The eastern part of Palestine, Transjordan, posed a problem for the British after the bulk of their military had gone home. They had essentially no administration there. The French were looking for an excuse to invade Palestine and take it from the British, and the road in would certainly be through the undefended Transjordan. The British adopted a strategy of trying to get the local Arab groups to fight among themselves to divert them from staging raids over the border into Lebanon that would give the French an excuse to invade. The British saw a solution at the Cairo Conference both to put an administration in place on the east side of the Jordan and to win back the Hashemites as their main Arab allies in the Middle East. Their proposal was to offer the throne of Mesopotamia to Feisal, and to create what was supposed to be a temporary monarchy in Transjordan for Feisal's brother Abdullah. Part of the reason here was that Abdullah, with 300 Bedouin followers, had shown up in Amman in November 1920, claiming he was on his way to attack the French in Damascus. This seemed highly improbable, but the British wanted to take no chances on provoking the French, and so tried to persuade the Hashemite prince to stay where he was. Churchill, who presided at the conference, insisted that both the terms of the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration would be met if the Arabs got the larger portion of the land, east of the Jordan, while the Jews got the 25 percent that remained west of the Jordan.


Abdullah agreed to govern Transjordan for six months on a trial basis. He ruled until  July 20, 1951, when he was assassinated by a Palestinian of the clan of the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. His descendents continue to rule Jordan today. As many as 20,000 Palestinians were killed in 1972 when they staged an unsuccessful uprising to try to overthrow the Hashemite dynasty.


On the west side of the Jordan many of the British officers, even those who publicly claimed to agree with the idea of Jewish immigration, secretly opposed it. This gave encouragement to Arab exclusionists who opposed both Jewish and Christian communities, of no matter how long standing. There were attacks on Jews by Bedouin tribesmen in the Upper Galilee in 1919. Several Jewish settlers were killed by Arab marauders in early 1920. There were three days of anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem in April 1920 in which many Jews were killed and hundreds wounded. The British government mostly ignored the rioters but meted out long prison terms to members of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's self-defense force, which had prevented violence in the section called New Jerusalem. Local British authorities blamed the Jews for the violence, but an investigation by the head of Military Intelligence from Cairo determined that the Jewish witnesses were telling the truth. His investigation showed that a British colonel was conspiring with the Arab Mufti of Jerusalem to start further anti-Jewish riots.


It seems that there were two dominant families among Jerusalem's Arabs, the al-Husseinis and the al-Nashashibis. The former were strongly anti-British and antisemitic, the later more conciliatory and willing to live in peace with the Jews.


Priming the Iraqi Powder Keg

Submerged in the broader Ottoman matrix, the many otherwise hostile groups in the territory of Mesopotamia were held in check by the far greater power of the Empire. When the borders shrank down to the state renamed Iraq in 1920, the hostilities seemed more able to be acted on. We have seen a similar pattern since, when the Tito dictatorship ended in Yugoslavia and Saddam Hussein was overthrown in Iraq. Authoritarian regimes have for a time successfully repressed internal animosities, but when the bonds are loosened all hell breaks loose.


Britain began with the Ottoman vilayets of Basra and Baghdad, but was able to add Mosul in the north, a Kurdish enclave, desirable because of its oil. The national majority were the Shi'ites, who strongly opposed being governed by the Sunni minority. The Kurds were against any Arab ruler. And there was a large Jewish minority, especially in Baghdad, as well as Nestorian Christian refugees from the fighting in Turkey. The Jews would be expelled en masse after the founding of Israel, as part of the one million Jews driven out of the Arab, Turkish, and Persian lands between 1945 and 1960. This would sweep up virtually the entire Jewish populations of Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, people's whose unbroken residence long-predated that of the Arabs. These refugees, who became the majority in the new State of Israel, seem in the minds of many progressives and leftists in the West, who know only about the smaller number of Palestinian refugees in the mass exchange of populations of that period, to have neither existence nor a right to a place to live.


In June 1920 the British got a taste of what they were up against as revolts by a multiplicity of the mutually hostile groups became focused on driving out the Europeans. Outposts were overrun and soldiers killed, communications were cut. In August some of the rebels proclaimed an Arab provisional government. By the time order was restored Britain had 450 dead and 1,500 wounded.


Placing the Pahlavis on the Persian Throne

It is astonishing to recall just how geographically widespread was Britain's influence even after its armies had been repatriated. As World War I ended she had four small military groups in Persia. Russia had occupied northern Persia in 1911, a status disavowed by the new Bolshevik government in Moscow. In London, Lord Curzon undertook to install a postwar pro-British regime, but had little in the way of forces with which to do it. He somehow managed to get Persia to sign a treaty in August 1919 that delegated to British officers construction of a railroad and put British experts in charge of the country's national finances. Britain was to offer a loan that would cover the railroad and the staff salaries, recovering it from custom duties. He did not grasp that the Persians were no longer worried about the Russians and now looked on the British as unwelcome guests. Twenty-five of Teheran's twenty-six newspapers denounced the agreement.


On May 18, 1920, a flotilla of Bolshevik battleships attacked the Persian port of Enzeli, drove off the small contingent of British defenders, and seized a number of ships that had been taken over by the Persians from defeated anti-Bolsheviks. In the autumn London sent Major-General Edmund Ironside to see what he could do in northern Persia. He quickly concluded that only an indigenous military force could expect to remain functional as Britain retreated further. He set his eyes on the Persian Cossack Division. Originally a creation of the Russian Tsars, it served as a bodyguard for the Persian Shahs. After the Bolshevik Revolution it was financed by the British. Ironside took it over, sacked its anti-Bolshevik Russian commanders, and put Reza Khan, a tough Persian colonel, in their place.


On February 21, 1921, Reza Khan, encouraged by Ironside, marched into Teheran at the head of a small force of 3,000 men in a coup in which he appointed himself commander in chief of the Persian army. In 1925 he overthrew the Shah and named himself Reza Shah Pahlavi. He was the one to change the name of the country to Iran, in 1935. He drove out both the British and the Soviets and established a modernizing secular regime like that of Mustapha Kemal in Turkey. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini's Shi'ite Islamic revolution in 1979, affirming, after more than half a century of secular rule, that Islamic religion remained dominant over nationalism.


Lenin's Russia in the Middle East


Despite its colonial rule in India and Egypt, Britain was fairly well regarded among Muslims before World War I because it was seen as their protector from Tsarist Russia. This changed dramatically after the war with the Ottomans and the Bolshevik Revolution. Now it was Britain that was imposing restrictive treaties in Muslim lands while the new Russia had renounced its secret treaties and publicly encouraged Kemalist Turkey and revolts in Persia and Iraq. This opened a debate in London between Lord George Curzon, former Viceroy of India and currently Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the current Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu. Curzon viewed the Bolsheviks as a military threat and advocated a tough military presence in the Middle East. Montagu, an anti-Zionist Jew, saw Curzon's policy as making enemies of the Muslims. He opposed the division of the Ottoman Empire, and saw Soviet influence as political rather than military, proposing to counter it by support to Muslim and Arab nationalism. Montagu , Fromkin writes, held that


"It would be a mistake for Britain to maintain a military presence in the Middle East . . . or even a merely economic one, for it might lead native leaders to conclude that the real threat to their independence came from London."


Montagu also called for changing India's status from a colony to a dominion as with Canada and Australia.


Montagu largely won the argument when the War Office ruled against Curzon on the grounds that there were neither the troops nor the money to mount an interventionist policy.


As for the Soviets, while in their propaganda they were anti-imperialist, in practice they used military force to subdue the Muslim peoples of Central Asia who had been colonized by the Communists' Tsarist predecessors. The first of these conquests was the seizure of Azerbaijan. This former Russian colony declared its independence in May 1918 and created a parliamentary republic. It gave women the vote, which was unique among Muslim states. It also created a modern university at Baku. The Bolshevik 11th Red Army invaded on April 28, 1920, ending the brief experiment in independence. They did the same in the Christian states of Georgia and Armenia.


Around the time of the October Revolution Muslims in Central Asia gathered in Kokand in what is today Uzbekistan and declared an autonomous government. The Bolsheviks had a Soviet of their own in nearby Tashkent, composed entirely of Russians without a single Muslim. The Red Army moved in a crushed the Kokand Muslims. Survivors, in 1919, organized the Basmachi rebellion, that fought for an independent Muslim Turkestan and saw the Bolsheviks as no better than the Tsars. Heavy fighting continued for four years, with the main Basmachi forces defeated by the Communists in 1923, but continuing on as guerrillas for another decade.


There were two existing Muslim states besides the armed efforts to create new ones. These were the former Tsarist protectorates of Khiva and Bukhara. The Red Army captured Khiva in September 1920 and executed its leaders. They lost a small war with Bukhara in 1918. A second assault with armored vehicles and aircraft overthrew the emirate and Bukhara became a People's Republic. It became a province of Uzbekistan in the 1990s after the Soviet collapse.


Our old acquaintance Enver Pasha played a role in these events. Exiled from Turkey, he went first to Germany. There he contacted his friend, General Hans von Seekt, who was interested in establishing contacts between defeated Germany and Soviet Russia. Enver contacted Communist leader Karl Radek, went to Moscow, and for a time served as director of the Soviet government's Asiatic Department. In November 1921 Lenin sent Enver to Turkestan to bolster the Communist forces fighting the Basmachis. Enver changed sides and soon rose to Basmachi supreme commander, supported by the Emir of Bukhara. He was killed in a battle with the Communists on August 4, 1922.


One consequence of Enver's negotiations on General von Seekt's behalf was the second Treaty of Rapallo, in April 1922, between Weimar Germany and the Soviet Union. A secret annex of July of that year provided for mutual military training. German factories were set up in the USSR to manufacture military aircraft, poison gas, and explosive shells. Fromkin adds that "The German army established training and academies for its tank commanders and fighter pilots on Soviet territory." Soviet officers received training in Germany as well.


The Soviets, by military force, subjugated a vast Muslim territory in Central Asia. These were organized into Soviet Republics, all of which broke away from Russia as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. They comprise the five present-day nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Fromkin writes:


"Soviet Russia's liquidation of the last of the Turkish independence movements in Central Asia completed the process by which the Bolshevik authorities revealed that they would not keep their promise to allow non-Russia peoples to secede from Russian rule. It was now evident that they intended to retain the empire and the frontiers achieved by the czars."


Finalizing the Situation in Palestine and Turkey


The final shape of the postwar Middle East took form in 1922. Foreign colonial control, masked as temporary Mandates for the British and French, and as socialist liberation by the Russians, was codified, in the establishment of the Soviet Union in December 1922, and in the final series of conferences among the Western Allies.


Winston Churchill played an outsized role in the final deliberations of the Western powers, but his views nevertheless did not prevail. He favored continuing his country's nineteenth century strategy of maintaining Turkish power intact as a buffer against Russia. Hence he called for recognizing the Mustapha Kemal government and establishing good relations with it. And now that the Arabs were separated from the Ottomans, Britain should try to stay on good terms with them as well. He was particularly opposed to the Greek military in Smyrna and their campaign against  the Kemal forces. He warned that Britain could not prevail if she were enemies with the Russians, Turks, and Arabs all at once, and that Greek opinion didn't matter in the bigger picture. Though their views did not coincide, Lloyd George in January 1921  made Churchill Colonial Minister. The Indian office had finally reached agreement with Cairo to support the Mandate protectorate plan for Iraq and Palestine under the rule of Hussein's sons and not press for direct control.


T. E. Lawrence had an important influence on Churchill's conclusions. From the time of the Aqaba raid in 1917 Lawrence had persistently exaggerated the role played by Feisal and his small band of Bedouins in the British campaign in Palestine and Syria. This falsely led Churchill and others to believe that Feisal represented a powerful military force and was widely popular among the Ottoman Arabs. None of this was the case, but it underlay the ultimate decision to give Iraq to Feisal and to split off the majority of Palestine and give it to his brother Abdullah. By the early 1920s, with Britain deep in recession, the eagerness of its high officialdom to possess large tracts of the Middle East had definitely waned, and this now looked more like a useless drain on an exhausted treasury. One advantage Churchill saw in installing two Hashemite kings was that it would simplify future disagreements. Pressure on one could likely extract compliance from the other. Churchill was more ready to look to some level of force to get what he wanted from Arab leaders while Lawrence advocated the free adherence of Arab states to the British Commonwealth.


At the Cairo Conference in March 1921 the plan for Feisal to rule Iraq and Abdullah Palestine were approved. In the debate over how Britain could supply the resources to maintain its influence, Churchill proposed a scheme in which a few regional air bases backed by small military units with armored cars were to manage internal security. As this would be much cheaper than large numbers of troops it was accepted.


Feisal was made king by the Mesopotamian/Iraqi Council of Ministers on July 11. His principal opponent for the position, Sayyid Talib, who campaigned under the slogan "Iraq for the Iraqis," was conveniently deported to Ceylon just before the vote.


Abdullah in Transjordan proved to be a weak and lackadaisical ruler. Initially sorry they had chosen him, the situation was stabilized by the appointment of the competent Colonel F. G. Peake to run a Transjordan Bedouin military, consolidated in 1923 as the Arab Legion. The Legion gained fame later under its British commander, John Glubb (Glubb Pasha), 1939 to 1956.


The Cairo Conference decisions plainly ran counter to the Balfour Declaration and the understanding that underlay the League of Nations grounds for Britain's Palestine Mandate, whose draft was then under discussion and scheduled for a formal vote in 1922. Fromkin writes:


"But to maintain Abdullah - an Arabian - as ruler of Transjordan and to maintain Transjordan as an Arab preserve, in which Jews could not settle to build their homeland, was to depart from the Balfour Declaration policy of fostering a Jewish National Home. If the British were indeed planning to make Palestine into a Jewish country, it was hardly auspicious to begin by forbidding Jews to settle in 75 percent of the country or by handing over local administration, not to a Jew, but to an Arabian."


Churchill responded by changing the text of the Mandate declaration to read that Britain was not required to implement the Balfour Declaration east of the Jordan River. Chaim Weizmann wrote to Churchill strongly protesting ceding Transjordan to the Arabs. He also objected to Churchill's agreement to let the French take a goodly strip of northern Palestine and incorporate it into Lebanon. A similar protest was sent by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. The Zionists were assured that the prohibition on Jewish immigration to Transjordan was likely to be purely temporary. It was not.


Putting a Hashemite in charge of Transjordan did not bring peace to the country. In 1922 Ibn Saud's Wahabi warriors staged an invasion that almost toppled Abdullah, who was saved by Churchill's airplanes and armored cars.


Fromkin concludes about this situation:


"The recurring suggestion that Palestine be partitioned between Arabs and Jews ran up against the problem that 75 percent of the country had already been given to an Arab dynasty that was not Palestinian. The newly created province of Transjordan, later to become the independent state of Jordan, gradually drifted into existence as an entity separate from the rest of Palestine; indeed, today it is often forgotten that Jordan was ever part of Palestine."


Meanwhile in western Palestine Arab violence against Jews was mounting, with the secret encouragement of sections of the British officer corps. On May Day 1921 a small demonstration of Jewish communists was met by an Arab riot in which thirty-five Jews were killed. This quickly spread to the rest of the country. A key event that would echo down the years to our own day was the selection of a new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on the death of the existing one on March 21, 1921. Under rules that were inherited from the Ottoman Empire, a Muslim electoral college was to select three candidates and the final decision was referred to the civilian government. The winner this time was not even one of the three approved candidates. A violently antisemitic officer in the British High Command secretariat, Ernest T. Richmond, rigged the selection to give the position to Amin al-Husseini, one of the most anti-Jewish of the Arab leaders, who had been sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in the anti-Jewish riots of the previous year. Fromkin writes:


"Richmond must have believed that he was striking a blow against Zionism. As time would show, he had struck a crueler, more destructive blow against Palestinian Arabs, whom the Grand Mufti was to lead into a bloody blind alley. An all-or-nothing adventurer, the Grand Mufti placed Arab lands and lives at risk by raising the stakes of the Arab-Jewish conflict such that one or another - Jews or Arabs - would be driven out or destroyed. Eventually the Grand Mufti's road was to lead him to Nazi Germany and alliance with Adolph Hitler."


The Jews, for their part, tried to avoid confrontations with the Arabs by purchasing unused land from the large landowners. This rapidly inflated land prices and even those Arabs who were anti-Jewish were eager to make money selling land to the Jews. Fromkin says that at least a quarter of the elected leadership of the Arab Palestinian community sold land to Jews between  1920 and 1928. Churchill and his government supposed that the hostility toward the Jews arose from the land purchases and took at face value the publicly professed Arab complaints that the land could not support a larger population than existed at that time. Fromkin comments:


"Arab opposition to Jewish settlement was rooted in emotion, in religion, in xenophobia, in the complex of feelings that tend to overcome people when newcomers flood in to change their neighborhood. The Arabs of Palestine were defending a threatened way of life."


Arab hostility was fanned by anti-Jewish British officers who assured them that Britain would renounce the Balfour Declaration. Fromkin reports that Churchill believed "that 90 percent of the British army in Palestine was arrayed against the Balfour Declaration policy." In fact, back in London the House of Lords on June 21, 1922, passed a resolution by 60 to 29 that the Palestine Mandate and the Balfour policy were unacceptable. Churchill responded in the House of Commons with a brilliant speech in which he said that while he had no part in creating the Balfour policy that Britain was morally bound to carry out its obligations and that most of those who had voted to abandon the Jewish cause in Palestine were on record as favoring it in the past. His position was passed in the Commons by a vote of 292 to 35.


The Palestine Arab Congress sent a telegram to Churchill saying they rejected the League of Nations Mandate in its totality. The Zionists, having little choice, supported it even in the greatly reduced territory it left open to them.


Elsewhere, in the fall of 1921, the French signed a separate peace with Turkey, a major victory for the Kemalists but disconcerting to Britain and Greece. The French in the process supplied weapons to Turkey to use against Greece, which Britain was supporting, putting the two allies from World War I on opposite sides of a new small war. Fromkin traces the roots of this disunity back to the decision of the Asquith government in 1915 agreeing to Russian demands to be given Constantinople and control the straits of the Bosphorus. So long as British policy had been to keep the rest of Europe out of the Ottoman Empire it was not a source of contention. But once opened for division, each country was staking its own territorial claims, if possible at the expense of its rivals.


This led to the last major event in remaking the Middle Eastern map: the Greek invasion of Turkey. Lloyd George at the conclusion of the London Conference in March 1921 sent a message to the Greek delegates that his country would not oppose a new Greek offensive in Turkey. The Greek troops at Smyrna opened hostilities on March 23. They reached the Anatolian plateau but were repulsed by Kemal's forces. The Greeks decided to renew the offensive in the summer. It began on July 10, 1921. Initially they met with success, capturing a major rail center at Eskishehir. Kemal asked the new assembly for, and received, dictatorial powers. He pulled back his troops to the Sakarya River, less than fifty miles from Angora, where they dug in on the hillsides on the east bank.


The Greeks succeeded in crossing the Sakarya, and even fighting their way to the top of the ridges. There, cut off from supplies and harassed by the Turkish cavalry, they abandoned the campaign on September 14 and began the long trek back to Eskishehir. The battle resumed the following year and in early September the Greek front crumbled. Athens sent an evacuation fleet. The defeat had historic consequences. The largest of the Greek settlements on the Turkish coast was Smyrna, the greatest city of Asia Minor, which had been Greek since the 11th century BC. The Turkish forces burned it to the ground, sparing only the Turkish quarter. Fromkin estimates that by the end of 1922 1.5 million Greek civilians were driven out of Turkey. The fact that their occupancy predated the arrival of the Turks by thousands of years carried no weight at all.


The expulsion of the Greeks, following on the Armenian massacre a few years before under the Ottoman government, was a clear sign of the ethnic and religious intolerance that would come to mark all of the Middle Eastern Muslim regimes, even those that, like Kemalist Turkey, tried to be secular.


An Allied occupation force still held Constantinople, but hasty negotiations in October 1922 confirmed that Turkey would have full control of the old capital, of the Dardanelles, and of the former Greek territory of eastern Thrace on the European side. In November Mustapha Kemal expelled the Sultan from Constantinople. Only then did the Ottoman Empire officially come to an end. The Greeks put their whole top leadership who had waged the war against Turkey on trial and executed six of them, including Prime Minister Gounaris. In London, Lloyd George, who had supported the Greek invasion of Turkey, resigned. Much of the British press demanded a full withdrawal from Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine. Even Winston Churchill lost his seat in Parliament.


What Was Settled in 1922?

If 1922 ended with the map redrawn, what did the settlement amount to? First, the new Soviet Russia's southern borders were settled, while Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan had managed to remain independent. Next, the long awaited demise of the Ottoman Empire had finally taken place. The results were recorded in not one but in a score of different agreements, treaties, and decisions by national assemblies. While the British Mandate for Palestine was signed off on by the League of Nations, the comparable status of Iraq rested on a treaty Britain concluded with Feisal, also in 1922.


The bonds between Britain and Egypt were loosened under the terms of the Allenby Declaration of 1922. The Kurds were abandoned and split among several countries, which was also a decision, if a negative one.


While a vast territory changed hands, the days of direct colonialism were already numbered. Control of new lands was being entered into shamefacedly and half-hearted. Fromkin writes:


"By the time that the war came to an end, British society was generally inclined to reject the idealistic case for imperialism (that it would extend the benefits of advanced civilization to a backward region) as quixotic, and the practical case for it (that it would be of benefit to Britain to expand her empire) as untrue. Viewing imperialism as a costly drain on a society that needed to invest all of its remaining resources in rebuilding itself, the bulk of the British press, public, and Parliament agreed to let the government commit itself to a presence in the Arab Middle East only because Winston Churchill's ingenious strategy made it seem possible to control the region inexpensively."


The British had begun in 1914-15 by viewing French claims to Syria as reasonable in the course of the World War, with the Ottomans as an enemy state. By 1918 they looked on them as a disaster. On their own side they were shackled to the Hashemites, who Kitchener had chosen for them early in the world war. "By 1918," Fromkin writes, "British officials had come to regard Hussein as a burden, who was involving them in a losing conflict with Ibn Saud. By 1922 British politicians and officials had come to view Hussein's son Feisal as treacherous, and Hussein's son Abdullah as lazy and ineffective. . . . Palestine was another case in point: in 1922 Britain accepted a League of Nations Mandate to carry out a Zionist program that she had vigorously espoused in 1917 - but for which she had lost all enthusiasm in the early 1920s. . . . British policy-makers imposed a settlement upon the Middle East in 1922 in which, for the most part, they themselves no longer believed." (emphasis in original)


Here Fromkin launches on a meditation about the nature of modern states, mainly to say that the Western concept of secular, territorially based states as the universal standard is not accepted in the Muslim Middle East. There religious sect remains the core of loyalties, and the states created in the Ottoman breakup drew borders that locked together peoples with historic hatreds of each other, or in the case of Palestine, consolidated within a single portion of the Empire one such people who all the Muslim sects hated.


Fromkin, writing in 1989, points to Wahabi militancy in Saudi Arabia, Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Egypt, and the Shi'ite Islamic revolution in Iran as volcanic fault lines. He reminds us of the millennium and a half after the fall of Rome that it took to weld together the modern states of Europe out of ethnically and religiously divided smaller entities. And of course, the places where the religious divides were deepest, even in 1989, were Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. These states do not have settled legitimacy because legitimacy in the region is measured by adherence to particular shades of Islam. And in a 2009 afterword, David Fromkin adds that parliamentary democracy is not an accepted form of rule in the Muslim Middle East. He quotes an article from The Economist in 2004 that said, "The Arab League's 22 states remain the most uniformly oligarchic slice of the world. Not a single Arab leader has ever been peacefully ousted at the ballot box."


In Europe there were great wars and terrible persecutions over religious doctrines. Catholics slaughtered Albigenses, Protestants slaughtered Catholics, Protestants murdered each other as their branch of Christianity fragmented into scores of sects. The bloodletting over religious difference ended only with the abolition of state religions, when belief became a private matter. Islam does not accept that. At its core are the legal rules of the Quran and the Hadith that regulate every aspect of human life.  Most of the Middle Eastern states are theocracies and those that are not, such as Turkey and Egypt, have powerful Islamic forces within them that are profoundly opposed to non-Islamic creeds. Legitimacy in that context is bought by religious agreement or acquiescence, not by legal rules about rights of free speech, religious tolerance, or respecting electoral outcomes.


This inheritance does not inspire one to believe that peace is a likely outcome in the near future, between Sunnis and Shi'ites, Turks and Kurds, Lebanese Maronites and Hezbollah, Egyptian Muslims and Coptic Christians, or, of course, in the most famous conflict of all, between Israelis and Palestinians.

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