This podcast is a talk I gave titled “Russophobia in America: A Genealogy” at Kennan Institute on April 11, 2017. It’s been re-purposed here with the kind permission of the Kennan.
I refer to many images in the talk. You can view the accompanying presentation below:
Made for TV, “So Afraid of the Russians,” 1983.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Note to Readers: I’m veering away from Russia for a bit to revisit Florida’s Education Omnibus Bill.
For the last few days I’ve been looking for more media coverage of Florida’s Education Omnibus Bill (House 7087) which, among many things, provides standards for teaching history in Florida public schools. I first addressed the issue a few days ago here. Upon further research and thanks to a column written by David Davisson posted on George Manson’s University’s History News Network, it seems that Jonathan Zimmerman’s opinion on the matter is not entirely accurate. Davisson notes that Zimmerman’s quote, which I also quoted, “The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth…. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed,” does not appear in the final version of the law. (Davisson also does us a service by providing us a link to the law so we can read it for ourselves. Readers can find it here. For the legislative history of the bill you can go here for the Florida Senate and here for the House.) This above quote appeared in earlier versions of the law, but was deleted from the final version. The LA Times has also printed a correction to Zimmerman’s column on this matter. The paragraph in question comes from this draft of the law. The entire paragraph reads:
“(g) The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” (italics mine)
This paragraph was added by Florida State Senator Mike Fasano (R). The italicized sentence above was removed from the paragraph and reads in the final version like this:
“(f) The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” (Section 1003.42, p. 22-3)
As both Davisson and Zimmerman note, all history is constructed. Historians gather evidence, interpret it and assemble it into a narrative. So to say that American history is factual is correct in the sense that something we call “facts” are used to write it. But to say that it is not constructed is a complete misunderstanding of a historian’s craft. People need to remember, history is not a science and historical narratives are not without interpretation. What one historians interprets in a text (and here I mean text in the broadest sense), may be interpreted differently by another. It is rather ironic that legislators, who spend hours arguing over the minutia of legal texts, can believe that texts, whether they are legal or otherwise, can stand above interpretation. All one needs to do is look at the legislative history of amendments and deletions of this law.
The fact that “postmodern” and “revisionist” are removed from the bill also doesn’t mean that they are not implied in the final version. To say that American history is not constructed is a veiled attack against those, like myself, who look at historical phenomenon as a result of contingency, power, ideology, culture, economics, politics etc, etc. To say that any history is based on incontrovertible facts suggests that facts stand outside of historical processes and matrices of power. To practice history the way Florida is suggesting is to essentially make history ahistorical. While people brandish “postmodernism,” “revisionist,” and “relativism” as political bludgeons, the truth of the matter is that those very people they accuse with such polemics are looking for, in my opinion, a deeper truth. It is not that so-called “postmodernists” say that there is no truth. They are saying that there is no truth without power, and mostly importantly these truths have very real material and ideological effects.
There is more in the law that suggests what I alluded to in my last piece with my reference to Louis Althusser and the role of education in maintaining hegemony of a particular class. In his seminal essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” Althusser writes,
“[I]t is by an apprenticeship in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, i.e. the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the school as a neutral environment purged of ideology . . .” (Lenin and Philosophy, 156)
This ideological concealment is found in sections of the law such as the following:
“(r) The nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy.” (Section 1003.42, p. 23)
“(t)(r) In order to encourage patriotism, the sacrifices that veterans have made in serving our country and protecting democratic values worldwide. Such instruction must occur on or before Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day. Members of the instructional staff are encouraged to use the assistance of local veterans when practicable.” (Section 1003.42, p. 24)
We shouldn’t pretend, whether you disagree with them or not, that these two sections are in any way ideologically neutral. To teach students the importance of “free enterprise” (they can’t even bring themselves to say capitalism) is to reproduce it as a foundational truth of American economy and society. It is to maintain the belief that there is no other “truth” but that one. It also functions to reproduce, as Althusser suggests, “the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited” since social relationship capital forms between those two groups is at the heart of “free enterprise.”
Such is also the case for the second quoted section. Not only does it sit well with the first since we are always taught that free enterprise and democracy have no contradiction, it serves to maintain, perpetuate and veil American foreign policy for the last century as an essentially selfless and virtuous enterprise committed to spreading “democratic values.” In addition, this ideological message is to be made real by employing those who have sacrificed for us and the unstated Other. American policy is not just for us; it is “worldwide.” As Althusser argues throughout his essay, the coordination of institutions (veterans organizations, the school), ritual (holidays mediated by the State like Memorial Day and Veterans Day) and ideology interpellates subjects making them into “concrete individuals” that embody the dominant ideology (for the discussion on interpellation see Althusser, p. 170-183).
There is more in this bill. Some of which is horrendous like “(3) Any student whose parent makes written request to the school principal shall be exempted from the teaching of reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS, its symptoms, development, and treatment” (Section 1003.42, p. 24) Sex education whatever, but HIV/AIDS!? The bill also places sexual abstinence under “comprehensive health: “(n)(m) Comprehensive health education that addresses concepts of community health; consumer health; environmental health; family life, including an awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy” (Section 1003.42, p. 23). I guess students can’t get a written parental exemption to avoid being subjected to the tortures of abstinence rhetoric.
Some of the bill is good. It calls for including African-Americans, “Hispanics,” women’s contributions of the United States. It also includes a provision against Holocaust denial. And many other provisions stress community, charity, tolerance to religions, races, culture and ethnicities (though tolerance to different sexualities isn’t included). There is even a provision for teaching “kindness to animals.” Even with all this included in the history curriculum, we should be clear: they are present because they are part of or have been subsumed into the narrative of American history, a history where even with its paeans to tolerance, diversity, democracy is constructed to reproduce, not challenge the dominant ideology of the ruling class.
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By Sean — 6 months ago
By Sean — 2 years ago
It’s hard not to notice the plethora of articles once again warning about Russia invading the Baltics. The prospect has come up on a number of occasions over the last two years, and I have to say, I can’t help but have increasing sympathy for RT’s skepticism that the new volley just happens to coincide with the Pentagon budgetary requests. I really hate it when I nod in approval to RT articles. I really do. But that is what happened. So Russia declares the US as a threat, and the US names Russia as a threat. Wonderful. And on and on it goes as military contractors in both countries smile at the prospect of Cold War Part Deux.
But that’s not all.
Leave it to the Atlantic Council to recycle well-worn rhetoric about how talking to the Russians is “counterproductive” and how olive branches “don’t work.” So in terms of solutions we get the ever so wise, “only tightening the noose will” and hackneyed reiterations about the need to send weapons to Ukraine. Yes, because in addition to provoking further conflict is to bet on the fact that “by 2017, [Russia] will go bust, say experts.” Yes, experts like Alexander Motyl who said “Goodbye to Putin” in Foreign Affairs in February 2015 only to say pretty much the same thing again in January 2016? No thank you. David Marples deserves a lot of credit for actually engaging Motyl’s arguments. My instinct is to just roll my eyes so far back that I can see my medulla oblongata.
It’s obvious some experts aren’t heeding Michael Kofman’s “Seven Deadly Sins of Russia Analysis.” I mean, c’mon people, assuming Russia is doomed is deadly sin number frickin’ one! But we didn’t need Kofman to remind us (though it’s nice that he did) to be wary of such “analysis” since the Russia’s imminent collapse trope has been around since the mid-19th century.
But forget about all that. The main problem with all this blustering by all the politicians, analysts, pundits, military, and think tankers is not so much they are wrong, but that they are ultimately playing with other people’s lives. After all it won’t be them or their children who fight their wars. It will be somebody else and somebody else’s children.
It is this context that inspired me to translate the following short article from Hromadske about a group of Ukrainian soldiers at the front in the Donbas. It’s not a great article. Nor is it penetrating information. It’s just a small story about a small group of soldiers trying to make the most out of a bad situation. And like with most armies, while the military, the government, and politicians hold these people up as heroes for the home front, they all force these heroes to unnecessarily live like animals at the battlefront. Well, this group of guys got sick of it.
In Nikolaev, soldiers sleep practically in the snow and feed themselves with their own money. Many are sick because they haven’t bathed and have begun to contract scabies.
On February 8, soldiers from the 53rd Mechanized Brigade set out marching from the Shirokii Lan firing range in Nikolaev. Forty-six soldiers fed up with the terrible living conditions decided to go to the military prosecutor to complain about their commanders.
The 53rd Brigade has already been at the Skirokii firing range located 30 kilometers from Nikolaev for four days. But the catastrophic situation with food, sleeping accommodations, and hygiene has been around for a long time—since the soldiers withdrew from the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) zone to the range in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
In Nikolaev, the soldiers practically sleep on the snow and feed themselves with their own money. Many are sick because they haven’t bathed and have begun to contract scabies. Having not gotten any answers from their command, the soldiers decided to walk to Nikolaev to complain to the military prosecutor’s office about the battalion’s commander, Aleksander Marushchak.
“We got MREs twice a day since February 1st. Today is February 8th. We fed ourselves with our own money and slept on the snow. Half of us sleep on the APC because there isn’t anywhere else to sleep . . . People come here with sciatica and kidney problems and sprawl all out in a tent. A guy is laying there with pneumonia. There are doctors here but you have to get in line, and they might take you to the hospital the next day, or maybe in a week. It is far from certain where they’ll put you if this happens,” says Vitaly Putilin, a gunner in the 8th squadron.
According to him, the last time he bathed was last year on December 25th. And then, only because he paid for a room with his own money for part of the way from Lvov to training. His comrade, the draftee Igor, says that he doesn’t remember the last time they were at the banya.
“Yesterday, we tried to go out and buy firewood on the APC, and the battalion commander told us to also refill it with our own money when we buy the wood. We still don’t have water and melt snow . . . I get that we’re at the frontline but I can’t understand why they’ve mistreated us here for over two months. People simply can’t take it anymore. Today we found an older chief of staff, and told him—can you at least tell us how much longer do we have to live like this. And he told us to keep quiet . . . We’ve got scabies because we haven’t bathed. They aim for people with white bandages, the itchy type, and so it continues. The scabies already began at Cherkassy firing range, and we haven’t washed since. Look at us.”
A third soldier, also walking to Nikolaev, explains that this is not a one-off rebellion, and has been an urgent problem for a long time.
“Every time we take our demands to command, every time they promise to deal with them, but ultimately they don’t solve anything,” says drafted soldier from the 53rd brigade.
A representative from the military command met the soldiers along the way to the city. He offered to take a few representatives from the brigade to Nikolaev to meet with the prosecutor. The soldiers refused, saying all the participants in the march want to see the prosecutor.
“We are simply asking that they need to provide the conditions as they are written in the Status of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It clearly spells out there must be a bath at least once a week, and it should be in a banya, not with one machine that heats the water in one and the cold water is in another and with two washtubs we all wash in. All of us! If you want to bathe, you have buy or bring diesel and the water from who knows where, and then you can bathe,” says the gunner Vitaly Putilin.
The result is that the regional administration sent the soldiers a bus half way from range in Nikolaev. It took the soldiers to the city for a meeting with the military prosecutor, in which all the draftees voiced their complaints.Post Views: 280