l e t t e r s  t o  t h e  e d i t or  


Living with Guns

To the Editor:

Subject: Your Agenda Belies Your Mission

After reading Mary-Sherman Willis’ postscript to “The Fight for Kansas” it was clear that what went before was simply prologue to her anti-self defense stance, and especially her puerile attacks on President Bush, in particular, and those of us who honor the Constitution in its details, in general.

Equally telling was the editor’s own bias as exemplified by her thesis on the “Living with Guns” series that “...will contemplate how, historically, philosophically, metaphorically, ethically, and even legally, Americans have allowed ourselves to justify and bear ever more lethal weapons, and how we have lived (and died) with the choice that is perhaps not that of a majority....”

With such a clear statement of purpose it is obvious that the series will be little more than propaganda, preaching to the choir, and massaging the politically correct ego of the editor. Alas, the artsy-fartsy left misses another chance at relevance.

Douglas Rife
Bakersfield, CA

Living with Guns” appeared in Archipelago, Vol. 6, Nos. 3/4 . “The Fight for Kansas” appears in the same issue.


On student strikes against the coming war

March 6, 2003

To the Editor:

Still tacked to the walls at Dawson College [Montreal], red posters in Times New Roman font:














While the possibility of a war edges closer in Iraq, the raping of democracy is at Dawson, turning this Montreal cégep into a pulsating toll of misdemeanor. Rape of democracy, believe it. But first let me tell you some definitions of the word: strike (Gage Canadian Dictionary): “Hit (someone or something); deal a blow to: to strike a person in anger. Set or be set on fire by hitting or rubbing: to strike a match. Cause to impact forcefully (with something): she struck the cymbal. Make an attack: the enemy will strike at dawn! Of a snake, etc., wound, or try to wound with fangs, claws, or sting. Refuse to work at a factory, business, etc. in order to get better pay or achieve other demands.”

These definitions, and the remaining twenty-three, show to organizers of the strike that they misused the word, strike, or that they used it to create a sensation. Encourage students to vote yes to a walkout from classes to go to an anti-war demonstration. Ninety-three percent of Dawson students who voted marked yes on the ballot. But to those who voted yes, did you strike? That is the question – against whom?

Strike United States President George Bush Jr.? Not personally, what would that accomplish if they did? Strike Hussein? No. Did they attack a foreign government’s foreign policy? Were it that, backed by sound arguments, facts, then I, and everyone else, would hear what all the screaming was about. But no, Dawson Against the War in Iraq (DAWI) students expressing dissent, which was their democratic right hard, won, put to shame. Shame! Shame, shame, shame on them! Who instead of scathing American foreign policy cried: Don’t go to classes! Block Bush! Peace and love NOW! Don’t go to class! Protest! Bush is a despot! So is Hussein! Make love, not war?

In the days preceding the DAWI campaign, if you can call it that, I was expecting the organizers to show, at the least, propaganda films supporting their angst. Well, one anti-American booth with all to boot, and one tear jerk film about the plight of Iraqi women and children looking disfigured and almost dead. No discussion about the U.N.’s buzzing activities, no rhetoric, no charismatic or other Americans discussing their views on the war, no variety of literature for and against, not one partisan or MP from any of our political parties, provincial or federal, and no debate, in our Plant or Cafeteria. No debate!

Many students, myself among them, were struck by the Dawson Student Union position on the strike. They supported DAWI. Aren’t student unions supposed to remain cautious, at least by promoting all views, especially to an issue as hot as American war? Dare I say, referendum?

I was surprised that some members of DAWI struck at Premier Ministre Bernard Landry – his position! Quebec is, has long time been, against fighting wars for Canada! (unless you are a closet federalist) The Parti Québécois is against federal initiatives of any kind! Ever since President Bush launched his campaign, Monsieur Landry remains firm no Quebec offensive in Iraq, and no support to an increase in federal military spending. Then, Jean Chrétien, Canada’s Prime Minister, was made to look like an asshole when really he says friendly everyday, as a Liberal, as a Canadian, he’s open for debate and for sending peacekeepers, but there will be no military attack in Iraq until it is approved by the United Nations. So. Why bark up the wrong tree unless … breath is worth wasting?

But I digress. The word that DAWI has chosen echoes foul in the hallway now, of victory. This strike, like a scythe, slays me. The day of the protest, DAWI rhetoric criticized some Dawson teachers for being standoffish; worse, cold in a hot bed because they continued to give lectures, homework, and tests. That caused student traffic howl. Protesters felt penalized for choosing not to attend class. They lashed out against those teachers who did not cancel classes. (The choice to cancel or teach was given by Dawson Administrators).

But Katherine! Students who work to pay for their books and tuition fees, and rent, etc. also pay TAXES and that tax money pays teachers to do their job: teach. Cégeps are, with few exceptions, publicly funded. We students are the employers; teachers are employees. Employer strikers: does that sound logical to you?

Of those students who voted yes to strike, how many actually went to the demonstration? How many protested? Back further: how many voted out of conscientious objection to a war in Iraq and who just wanted a day off school? Who are anti-American and can’t convince me they are? Who weren’t sure what they voted for? Each time I visited the polls, students were lined in droves, ready, smiling, more than you’d expect saying, I’LL VOTE YES TO STRIKE if it means I’ll have time to smoke a splif, stay home and sleep. I’m not suggesting total apathy amongst voters, neither absolute slack nor stupidity.

What I have witnessed this past week is a raping of democracy. Rape of democracy is when you use a strike and make a joke of it, not showing your convictions. This is a sad time for democracy indeed.

Hats off to Pericles, who, so greatly (I imagine) delivered a speech, written by his beloved Aspasia, about democracy. I read THE HISTORY OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR, by Thucydides, and I share it with you:

Even those who are most occupied with their own business are extremely well informed on general politics – this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all…. We Athenians, in our own persons, take our decisions on policy or submit them to proper discussions: for we do not think that there is an incompatibility between words and deeds; the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences have been properly debated.

When the day DAWI starts chatting about complacency with this ‘U.S. war on terrorism’ or whatever you call it — like, why Germany, France, and Russia want no part in it (because wouldn’t they rather keep their loans to Iraq alive and well than have the country obliterated), will the kettle call the teapot black? When Americans of all political stripes get aired on Dawson radio, and in turn, the voices of all the players, watchers and outcasts — when everyone at Dawson is welcome to listen and to speak — then, and only then, will democracy ring in my ear and toward DAWI. Let’s rethink democracy before we all get too lazy, tired, forgetful about its meaning. Recall how long it took to get it back.


For commentary,

Tracy Robinson

Montreal, Quebec (Canada)

Tracy Robinson is the author of “What War Is,” Archipelago, Vol. 6, No. 2.


The following are representative of the flood of e-mails sent in response to the Editor’s appearance at the Virginia Festival of the Book, on the panel “‘Patriotism’ and the Right of Free Speech in Wartime.” The discussion was broadcast on C-Span March 21, ff. Streaming audio of the panel discussion is available at Virginia Festival of the Book  (scroll down).

March 21, 2003

To the Editor:

Thanks for doing this. We all need to step up to the plate right now.

I spoke as “the artist” at a public panel discussion about the war. There are many artists making anti-war art work now, but very few who are explaining their thinking at rallies and on panels and at teach-ins. It is a huge mistake for we who are actively engaged with the culture as producers to let the anti-war discourse be controlled by the professional activists. We who work in art and visual culture have an understanding of media, advertising, and the power of images that is quite different than that of the ordinary, non-art informed citizen. We’ve got to explain our analyses to people who are outside of the art world. So I had to do it because I couldn’t find any other artist willing. Plus, I keep thinking about Paul Wellstone these days, and how lucky we who had him as a teacher really were.

Got to get out there and do stuff like speaking in public just to pass on what we all learned from him.

Hope all is well in Charlottesville – and peace,

Dan Wang

Dan Wang’s “Rosa’s Argument,” a collaboration with Alan Sondheim, appeared in Archipelago, Vol. 4, No. 4.


March 22, 2003

To the Editor:

I agree with the views you expressed on C-Span March 22, 2003. The country is going through a period of redefinition, and I fear for the worse. 9/11 has provided the cover needed for a small group of extremely wealthy and powerful individuals to institute changes that would never have gotten through otherwise.

Especially appalling is the concentration of media power. Anyone confined to American television and hometown newspapers as a source of information gets a totally biased and warped view of what is going on in the world. The Pentagon is actually co-opting journalists.

How can a relatively small number of media outlets controlled by giant corporations dependent on other giant corporations for ad revenue give an objective worldview?

The nightly newscast from the 3 major nets features anchors who earn upwards of $20,000,000 a year for their services. What kind of news comes out of their mouths? FOX news is the most egregious example of lying, hypocrisy and propaganda out there.

FOX is a disgrace. It is reminiscent of a Nazi propaganda organ.

Please continue to be a voice for freedom and democracy. I fear voices like yours are slowly dying out. The giant corporations either buy you or cut you out. No one even recognizes or mentions their almost totalitarian grip on the United States and its people. Many of these transnational corporations are larger than most countries, yet answerable only to a handful of people and corrupt beyond belief. Who can stand up to an entity with $45,000,000,000 in cash on its balance sheet and platoons of lawyers and politicians on retainer in every country in the world?

Garland Campbell


March 23

To the Editor:

Today I happened to catch a program on C-Span in which you participated. I wanted to congratulate you on your urgent remarks regarding America’s redefinition as imperium, combining both an extension of power internationally and an intensification of that power domestically. I must admit that I had not heard of Archipelago until seeing you on TV today.

The war on terror – a war without limits – is an example of Carl Schmitt’s notion of the state of exception/state of emergency: a situation wherein the sovereign is legally permitted to suspend the law and act beyond the constitution in order to protect it. On the opposite side of the political spectrum from Schmitt, the radical Italian social theorist Giorgio Agamben, author of the Homo Sacer series, has traced the ancient theologico-political lines of the state of exception from Roman law through Auschwitz. This project however is always rooted in the present. Such an alternative perspective offers a solid foothold in understanding the logic of the creative-destructive discourse and events that have defined the post-9/11 landscape.


Eugene R. Sheppard

Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish History and Thought

Brandeis University

Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies

Assistant Director of the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry


March 24

To the Editor:

I’m a librarian and am happy to be introduced to your online journal. I just wanted to thank you for your clear and passionate remarks at the Book Festival last week. I caught it on c-span during a moment of deep despair over what was presented to us on the other channels.


Jane Taylor

Reference Librarian

Edmond, OK


March 21

To the Editor:

Whether the Iraq invasion goes easy or hard on the Iraqis, or on American and British forces, it is still illegal, still immoral, still dangerous – still wrong. The payback will come in ways we cannot anticipate, any more than we anticipated 9/11 as a result of stationing American troops in Saudi Arabia. It may take the form of terror. It may take the form of mass insurrection. It may take the form of a resumption of the Cold War, with Russia and or China hardening their attitude vis-à-vis the Pax Americana, entering into alliances with other nation-states, and threatening us belligerently with “weapons of mass destruction.” Or it may take the form of a collapse of the U.N. and the loss of the precious instruments of international humanitarian law. For the fact is that three fifths of the world now considers the U.S. to be an enemy, bent on extending and consolidating its own wealth through military power. Our alliance with Israel is especially repugnant, and in general our growing disregard for human rights exposes us to charges of practicing the rankest hypocrisy. What baleful precedents do we set in place by this invasion? How do we justify the hundreds, the thousands of burned and maimed and crushed people resulting from our gleeful display of the new Blitzkrieg strategy advanced by the Pentagon – “Shock and Awe”? And how will we ever justify to the people of the world this government’s malicious will to arrogate to itself all the powers of life and death?

Andrew L. Wilson

Andrew L. Wilson is editor of Linnaean Street, and coeditor of Gargoyle: Arts & Letters on the Web.


March 22, 2003

To the Editor:

A friend saw you on a Panel Show on TV, and said I should visit your Web site, as we have similar views. I found your site very interesting. My friend has seen an e-mail exchange between another (Conservative) friend, “Frank, and I,” and feels my view was roughly what you were saying on the Panel Show.

It has taken a hundred years of Distorted History to produce an American public that can accept what the Government is doing today. I fear we are lost; how can we change around and bring back the American Constitution to America?


Emmett F. Fields

Bank of Wisdom, LLC


March 23, 2003

To the Editor:

I watched the panel of which you were a member on C-Span yesterday and appreciated your cogent remarks. In particular the concern over losing freedoms in America and the nature of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. I pulled up your Archipelago WebPage and was introduced to the work of Robert Fisk – a writer of extraordinary talent and objectivity. His stories are a welcome push into reality.

I suspect your social agenda is Liberal. We would part ways in that area.

Also, thank you for the quote from Amira Hass. Journalism’s primary mission, at least in the free world, is to, “monitor power and the centres of power.” On the Conservative (I hate that word – it no longer describes what I mean), there are litanies of issues that are assiduously avoided in the American press.

Anyway, thank you for the serendipity of Robert Fisk.

Al Cronkrite

Robert Fisk’s “The Keys of Palestine” appeared in Archipelago, Vol. 6, Nos. 3/4 . An interview with him from Baghdad, March 25, is on Democracy Now.


March 23, 2002

To the Editor:

I had the pleasure this morning of hearing on C-Span – quite by accident – your splendid remarks apparently delivered yesterday at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Thank you for saying what you did. Expression of such sentiments is unfortunately becoming both increasingly necessary and increasingly rare.

Best regards,

Carl Estabrook, Visiting Scholar

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Dear Prof. Estabrook:

Thank you for your note. I will say more frankly today than, perhaps, on Saturday, that I am afraid for this nation, and for Israel, too.

I do not know if the Democratic Party can recover itself nationally. I worry that the estimable Green Party may weaken it further, while not gaining enough strength itself to be able to reverse our descent into empire. (The Republicans have driven out or aside their moderate wing.) Frankly, I wish we had a politician in either party as worthy as Joschka Fischer. Perhaps we do – perhaps we will see his (probably not her) rise this year?

Yours truly,

Katherine McNamara

Dear Ms. McNamara:

I’m afraid I share some version of your fears

As a member of the Green party and a Green candidate for Congress in Illinois last year, I agree that there are serious questions about Green party strategy for 2004. It does unfortunately depend on what the Democrats choose to do, and they seem to me to be setting new standards of fecklessness in the current situation.

Local Greens asked me to run for Congress in 2002 because a one-term Republican incumbent was not going to be opposed by the Democrats! As you write, “The system of redistricting congressional seats is weighted toward the incumbents.” Our congressional district (about which the Wall Street Journal editorialized last Election Day) is a flagrant result of what the chief of redistricting for the Republican National Committee called “sweetheart gerrymandering” – Republicans’ and Democrats’ providing safe seats for one another. I very much hope that the Democrats can nominate a presidential candidate opposed enough to this war that we Greens and others can unite behind him (yes, probably not her) to dismiss Bush-43 as we did Bush-41. But if as seems likely the Democrats nominate a candidate in favor of imperial war, like Lieberman or Kerry, then I think the Greens should seriously consider another independent candidate.

On another note, I read with interest your “A Year in Washington, A Visitation of Ghosts.” I agree that “The Vietnam War poisoned my generation, and I think we have not healed from it.” It’s necessary for us to say where the sickness came from. Bush-41 said the most important effect of the Gulf War was that “The Vietnam Syndrome is dead.” I don’t think so, although you’re undoubtedly right that “all is veiled by propaganda and fear.”

Best regards,

Carl Estabrook

Cf. “A Year in Washington,” Archipelago Vol.6, Nos. 3/4


March 23, 2003

To the Editor:

“In the long-run every government is the exact symbol of its people, with their wisdom and unwisdom.” (Thomas Carlyle, 1843)

Reckless behavior of legal or illegal residents of the United States, not including criminal behavior ranging from shoplifting to high crimes and misdemeanors in virtually all organizations-corporations, governments, unions, churches, nonprofit organizations, media-in a few words, from the thief stealing from the Girl Scouts’ cookie jar to the political payoffs perpetrated by members of our highest government offices, is nothing new. We have more criminals in jail than ever before; we tax ourselves oppressively; we enjoy freedoms but with a growing decline in responsibility for the enjoyment; we allow the government to control more and more of our lives; we pour money into foreign countries recklessly, not demanding strict accountability; we pledge allegiance to the United Nations when it’s convenient; we’ve come to tolerate most anything or anybody as we march toward Balkanization, toward a Disunited States of America.

Balkanization might not occur. The drift into chaos might stop, or, we might see the United States crumble from within, aided by outside forces sharing a common hatred for the United States. As we increase respect for group rights, we diminish individual liberty, which promotes the Balkanization of the United States where one shot heard around the world can plunge the world into global warfare.

We expect perfection, but we don’t demand perfection from ourselves-thus we condemn this or that government administration or this or that form of capitalism or this or that form of virtually anything or anybody merely because it’s our right to protest. Problem is, unprincipled protesting is more destructive than it is constructive. After the gates are stormed, what’s next?

Take the anti-Iraqi War protestors. They, through the courts, have enlarged the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances extending beyond civil disobedience to include violence, destruction of property, injury to people or to inconveniences affecting traffic, safety, commerce, and a host of activities not associated with the protestors’ rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government. Protesting has become a cottage industry, sponsored by people promoting their causes, their ideologies, enlisting protestors from all ages, all walks of life, all occupations, or from all political or religious (nonreligious) persuasions-”Let’s go protest!” becomes something to do, which might be and often is, unprincipled, undisciplined, and done without awareness of the agenda of the promoters who might be using funds from their nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations.

If Karl Marx observed how badly he miscalculated the future of capitalism during his time, he’d be forced to revise his opinion of the bourgeoisie and proletariat dichotomy, of what constitutes wealth-and most assuredly revise his observation that religion is the opiate of the masses. The material wealth created by private ownership of property, capitalism, enforcement of contracts (among other things) has surpassed Marx’s most optimistic vision of his idealistic community where no one works, but everyone enjoys prosperity, which is the magnet that draws the feelings of victimized people to unite with and to support the flawed ideology of paradise on earth.

If anything, the United States, enjoying its brief romance with history or destiny, demonstrates that governments, like the humans who discredit them, are works in progress.

When an American student allows herself to be run over and killed by a bulldozer, people who support suicide-homicide bombers murdering innocent bystanders, consider her a martyr. That’s berserk freedom of choice. Do you suppose if she’d personally carried out a suicide-homicide attack she’d be enshrined in the Palestinian Martyrs’ Hall of Fame or maybe have Saddam Hussein send her family a fat check for her bravery? In the United States heroes trespass in forests where they take up residence in trees, drive spikes into to trees to kill or maim loggers, or throw themselves on a highway to protect a snail darter or a rat.

So as we march into the Iraqi War we’re faced with a Mission Impossible: remove Saddam Hussein without killing him, his soldiers, or Iraqis. American or coalition casualties don’t matter. Make sure we feed, clothe, and otherwise take care of Iraqis-including repairing their infrastructure, restoring their oil capability, and allowing France, Germany, and Russia free access to Iraq’s oil.

Since we’ve already killed and been killed, the Mission Impossible script is right on, but no matter how well-intentioned or how well we execute the Iraq War operations, we will have failed the World Community. We can apologize to the United Nations, but the U.N. will not accept our arrogant apology.

We deserve whatever disaster falls upon the United States – the big bully who causes the world’s problems, stationing troops in 140 or so locations; who bribes nations to go along with us; who gives false hope to suffering nations but sharing only a miniscule amount of our GDP with the Third World; who uses an egregious amount of the world’s natural resources while polluting the earth--and as an example of the ultimate insult, proposes to use dolphins to detect mines in Iraqi waters! That’s crueler than the proposal to use chickens to detect poison gas to alert our military forces. Karl Marx would love it!

The United States lacks moral authority, having succeeded only because of the ability to exploit people and nations. If we’d listen only to Allah, we’d know right from wrong and not have become criminals.

Jim Skeese


March 25, 2003

To the Editor:

After listening to you at the Virginia Festival of The Book, you have further proven yourself an Anti-American spineless liberal who like all other liberals of late, are simply being ignored and laughed at. Notice your ally Michael Moore being booed off stage Sunday Night at the Oscars when he opened his anti-American mouth and bashed our president and our war efforts. However, as a 29 year old member of the South Carolina State Guard, I will say this: it is heroes like the soldiers in Iraq right now that have spilled their guts in order for you to open your ignorant mouth against the country that they have died to defend their love for. Do us all a favor and leave our beloved nation, we do not want you here.


Victor N. Webster

South Carolina


March 24, 2003

To Katherine McNamara,

I am watching now your C-Span2 appearance from Saturday. You were awesome. I plan to read Archipelago now.

Tom Wagner


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