insidescientology

Janet Reitman (BSS #399)

Janet Reitman is most recently the author of Inside Scientology.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Always on the run.

Author: Janet Reitman

Subjects Discussed: Scientology and cults, the way Scientology works, Orthodox Judaism, Michael Sklar, tax-exempt religions, the religious elements used to form Scientology, esoteric religious movements in early 20th century Los Angeles, L. Ron Hubbard’s design as “a matter of practical business,” Hubbard’s connection with Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, tapping into what people are looking for, Hubbard’s migratory lifestyle, finding respect for L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology and materialism, the financial worth of exclusive knowledge, how Reitman managed to obtain access to the Church of Scientology’s inner sanctum, how fact-checking can be used to generate journalistic access, personal phone calls from Tom Cruise, Rolling Stone‘s editorial reaction to the Church of Scientology, Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker profile, efforts to remain objective about the Church of Scientology, the Church’s tendency to bury its critics in paper and lawsuits, the Church’s battle against the IRS, efforts to determine why the IRS abandoned its fight against the Church of Scientology, Operation Snow White, David Miscavige’s persuasive abilities, top officials at the IRS being harassed, missing cats and dogs, anonymous sources, L. Ron Hubbard’s “cure for homosexuality,” the Church of Scientology’s support for Proposition 8, attempts to determine if the Church remains homophobic, Paul Haggis quitting the Church over gay marriage, comparisons between the Church of Scientology and the Mormon Church, Scientology’s regular purging of its top officials, David Miscavige’s good points, Cathy Lee Crosby, Narconon, Scientology’s involvement with the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, Nancy Cartwright, scant political oversight of “drug rehabilitation programs,” the death of Lisa McPherson, Joan Wood’s amended cause of death for McPherson, the Church using its financial resources to hire top forensic investigators in the McPherson case, discussing the underlying facts of the McPherson case, charges that the Church destroyed evidence in the McPherson case, Scientologist couples being split apart, various waivers, easily replaced Sea Org workers, behavior tolerated by Miscavige, strategic alliances between the Church of Scientology and other religions, efforts to expand the Church in the Internet age, the Church targeting the African-American community, money coming in from celebrities and normal people, offshoot groups from Scientology, and Scientology’s ethical code.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: You write that Scientology “was not a ‘cult’ insofar as it did not require separation from mainstream society — though it encouraged its acolytes to ‘disconnect’ from those who were critical of Scientology.” Now sociologist Howard Becker’s idea of a cult generally emphasizes the private nature of personal beliefs or a group of people that isn’t especially organized. Given how private and sequestered Scientologists are about their beliefs, I’m wondering. If you took away the organization, could you call them a cult? How is Scientology not a cult?

Reitman; I don’t like to use the word “cult.” Because I find that as soon as you use that word, it immediately stigmatizes a group and also marginalizes them. And it also delegitimizes them and takes them less seriously. The reader, the listener, will immediately say, “Oh yeah. Whatever.” Right? So one of the reasons I don’t use that word is because in order for me to write a book about them, I have to take them very seriously. And they are legitimized in our country as a religion. Now we could have a five hour argument over whether or not various other religions are cults. And we could have pros and cons on each side of that argument.

Correspondent: Well, why can’t you be a cult and a religion?

Reitman: You probably can be. I’m not a cult expert. But what I say about Scientology in the book and what I believe is that, at its innermost core, it is a completely, totalistic, all-encompassing organization that demands absolute 100% adherence to the rules and to the leadership of David Miscavige, the head of the Church. And it was also like that with L. Ron Hubbard when L. Ron Hubbard was the head of the Church. But there are stratums of the way Scientology works. I’m not a cult expert. So I’m not really qualified to answer a lot of questions about cults. But one of the points about Scientology is that in the outermost level of your dedication, which is where a lot of the celebrities are, to them, to those people, it is not a cult. It’s either a religion or a process of self-help or a bunch of techniques that help their lives. And that’s the way it begins for them. Now I think that’s the way it begins for lots of other believers of other totalistic groups, right? But you can be in Scientology for twenty or thirty years and remain on that outside periphery. Somehow there are people who have remained in that strata. Most people do not. Most people enter further in. And the further in you go, the more controlling it is. But I think the main point is that, whether it is a “cult” or not, in our country, it’s legitimized as a religion. They are given tax exempt status. They’re recognized. They have more protections than the Orthodox Jews in certain regards. Scientologist parents can write off their children’s education, for example. There was a very famous case recently [Michael Sklar] of an Orthodox Jewish family that attempted to do the same thing. It went all the way up to the Supreme Court. They claimed the exact same protections as the Scientologists did. And theirs was knocked down.

Correspondent: Internally, you can’t call them a “cult.” But externally, by virtue of their tax exempt status, you can or cannot call them a “cult”?

Reitman: I don’t think that it really makes a difference whether or not they’re a “cult.” Do you know what they are? They’re a global corporation. That’s what they are. And they have all the dysfunction of any gigantic global powerful corporation. And that’s how I look at them. I tend to look at them that way. They have religious components absolutely. If you believe in them, that’s great for you. I’m not going to judge their beliefs. I don’t judge their beliefs. My book is about their practices, their organization, their impact, their influence on people who have subscribed to them and bought, literally bought, into Scientology. Because you can’t just do Scientology. You have to purchase Scientology. They’re a very commercially driven spiritual enterprise. That’s what they are.

Correspondent: I’ll get to Scientology in a minute. But just from a philosophical standpoint, because it is a business proposition, this does away with the “cult” nomen?

Reitman: I’m not going to comment on whether or not they’re a “cult.” It’s not interesting to me.

Correspondent: No problem. In your original Rolling Stone piece, you wrote that Scientology was “rooted in elements of Buddhism, Hinduism and a number of Western philosophies, including aspects of Christianity.” Yet you note in the book that L. Ron Hubbard wrote in this 1953 letter that he incorporated the religious angle as “a matter of practical business.” In the interests of staying objective, what specifically qualities of Scientology a unique religion? I mean, how much of this hodgepodge you identify in the Rolling Stone article was designed as “a matter of practical business?”

Reitman: I don’t think any of it was designed as “a matter of practical business” originally. I mean, I think that L. Ron Hubbard grew up in the ’20s. He was born in 1911. He essentially grew up, so to speak, into the ’20s and the ’30s during the Depression. He was a young man in the Depression. And he found himself in Los Angeles after World War II. And Los Angeles, during that period of the mid to late ’30s and the ’40s (and also the ’20s), was this booming religious ground, where all kinds of weird offshoot faiths, new faiths and offshoots of Christianity as well, were then really popular. And one of those areas was the Western esoteric tradition that he found himself getting to know very well through this association he had with Jack Parsons, who was a famous astrophysicist and secret wizard. Follower of Aleister Crowley. It’s one of everybody’s favorite stories: L. Ron Hubbard’s association with Jack Parsons. But I think that he took those aspects of esoteric thought, which were things like secret knowledge, ascending the ranks to gain more and more knowledge. And that was very common in L.A. It wasn’t just through Crowley. The Rosicrucians had a big church. There were lots of societies that were based on that kind of tradition. The sort of alternative, new-agey stuff that was really popular in the early 20th century and then became popular again towards the end of the 20th century. And I think that Hubbard was a guy who was really interested in philosophy and was interested in power. And he took probably some of the best parts, as well as some of the dysfunctional parts in terms of Freudian thoughts that Freud had discarded years earlier. But he took a wide variety of ideas. He manufactured them in a way that made them palatable to people who were not well-educated. That’s very important to know. People who did Scientology were very middle-class. They weren’t uneducated people. Some of them were extremely well-educated. But they were, for the most part, very average, mainstream in that this was religion or this was self-help or psychiatry, or an alternative to psychiatry for the masses. And at the time, these things were very exclusive. You couldn’t do psychiatry for example. You couldn’t go to a psychiatrist unless you had a tremendous amount of money to pay for a psychiatrist. There were only a few psychiatrists even in the United States practicing.

Corresepondent: Or you lived in New York. (laughs)

Reitman: You had to live in New York. You had to live in Los Angeles. Seriously. Maybe Chicago. Or in Washington. Maybe three or four cities in this country. His philosophy — his Dianetics philosophy — clearly tapped into something people were looking for. And Scientology, which was the offshoot of Dianetics, did as well. And the reason that it had this religious component was that people began to experience these past life recall moments, where they would be in these trances that you got into when you were doing these auditing sessions. And they would, all of a sudden, be thrown back to some previous life. This was spiritual to L. Ron Hubbard. It was spiritual to the people that were doing it. Whether or not they saw it as religious is very different than spiritual. It was spiritual to them. He then thought, “Hey, I can package spirituality and make it religion. And I can get a tax deduction. Or I can avoid having to deal with the U.S. government.” He was extremely paranoid of the government. It was a big deal. And remember this was during the Cold War.

Correspondent: And always on the move.

Reitman: Always.

Categories: Ideas

marah

Mara Hvistendahl (BSS #398)

Mara Hvistendahl is most recently the author of Unnatural Selection.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Considering cold water solutions if he attempts to sire sons.

Author: Mara Hvistendahl

Subjects Discussed: Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 address on the occasion of the UN’s 20th anniversary, the relationship between birth rate, sex selection, and development, the history of amniocentesis in India, cultural relativism, U.S. efforts to push population policy in the 1960s, forced sterilization programs, Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb, Bernard Berleson’s “Beyond Family Planning,” cheap ultrasound machines flooded into the East, fetal sex determination in India, China and South Korea, efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortion, the influence of GE ultrasound machines, where the pursuit of “market demand: creates skewered sex ratios, surplus men in China who won’t be able to find wives, the UN Population Fund using the term “prenatal sex selection” instead of “abortion,” the global gag rule, abortion clinics advertising on Chinese television, abortion perspectives in Asia, the effect of a 1990 South Korean crackdown on sex-selective abortion upon sex ratio and abortion rates, the ethical dilemma of controlling “unnatural” sex selection through “unnatural” methods, the effect on ideology and technology on sex ratios, marriage agencies in East Asia, despondent women who are dependent upon their husbands for immigration status, abuse of mail brides in Taiwan and Korea, the relationship between lonely men and violence, parallels between surplus men in China and the problems with too many males during the Wild West, prostitution, a thought experiment about transferring surplus Chinese men into surplus single women New York (and vice versa) to solve sex ratio problems, why Paul Erlich can’t remember the details of his over-the-top ideology decades later, whether Paul Erlich is a crackpot, contraceptive mists over other nations, and the effects of right-wing agitation on global population policies.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: In 1965, as you point out in the book, Lyndon Johnson delivers a speech on the occasion of the United Nations’s 20th anniversary. And he says before this crowd in San Francisco, “Less than five dollars invested in population control is worth a hundred dollars invested in economic growth.” Now development, as you point out, typically accompanies a plummeting birth rate. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this issue of sex selection, which is in your book, goes away. You point to a Christophe Guilmoto study believing that the Middle East will be the next region to develop this gender imbalance. I have to ask. Are there any circumstances in which this plummeting birth rate or an increased development doesn’t create this gender imbalance? Is this something that we should look at nation by nation? Does one have to consider an individual nation’s cultural values? Let’s open up the ball of wax here.

Hvistendahl: Yeah. Sex selection imbalance is not something that’s automatically going to crop up in a country just because it’s developing. What we have seen in the countries where we have sex selection today, they are developing very rapidly. And the birth rate’s fallen dramatically. A woman who maybe had six kids in Korea in the 1960s. The average woman over her lifetime had six children. And today it’s just a little over one child per woman. There are other ingredients. Abortion needs to be legal and readily available. Because the method that many women use now is sex-selective abortion. New technology comes in. Ultrasound. But it doesn’t mean that every country that reaches a certain level of development will have this gender imbalance.

Correspondent: Well, we’ve got the predictions in the Middle East. What about other countries along these lines? I mean, how much of a correlation is there between birth rate, development, and sex selection?

Hvistendahl: For me, that’s kind of a triangle of trends. But obviously you need to have gender discrimination. Women need to want boys. Their husbands need to want boys. But gender discrimination alone doesn’t explain where sex selection occurs. In fact, in most countries around the world, women want at least one son. Either they tell researchers that. They say we want one son. Or demographers can look at where couples stop. This is actually called a stopping rule. So what was the sex of the last child? And it turns out, in most countries, women tend to stop when they have a son. That was even true of the U.S., until recently. So that’s the case in much of the world. And yet we only have sex selection in this area where you have a triangle of trends.

Correspondent: Well, let’s turn to a specific country: India. You describe the early days of amniocentesis there. Government hospitals, they serve the poor and the indigent. And they begin using this test, which is initially designed to detect fetal abnormalities. And, of course, word spreads among the middle and the upper classes. “Hey! We can also use this test to also look for gender.” As you describe, what’s astonishing here is that none of the doctors considered the ethical underpinnings of such a practice. And they viewed this as a way of making the world a better place. So what ultimately accounted for this attitude in India in the 1970s? It can’t just be tradition, as the Indian activists have said, or even cultural relativism. What causes something like this to happen?

Hvistendahl: Well, I told that story by way of explaining how the population control movement in the U.S. has played a role in shaping population policies in Asia. So the medical school where these tests happen is called the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. It’s the top medical school in India, basically. And in 1975, they were the first hospital in India to use amniocentesis. So that’s where you withdraw a small amount of amniotic fluid from a pregnant woman’s abdomen. And you can test fetal cells in that fluid for sex. It was an early way of determining sex. They were the first hospital to do that. They opened the test up to poor women, as you said. And there were close to a thousand women who aborted female fetuses by the time the test was over. So that story’s pretty well known in India, especially among people who are working on this issue. What I discovered was that this logic that sex selection is a good method of population control actually originates in the U.S. So the doctors in 1970s India were espousing this. “Isn’t this great? We’re doing something to control the population.” But that idea had been around in the U.S. since the 1960s.

Correspondent: Yes. Well, how do you contend with the issue of cultural relativism when you’re dealing with tradition in India versus contraceptive traditions in the United States?

Hvistendahl: Well, the United States in the 1960s, the population control movement was really looking at how to reduce population and birth rates around the world. They were not just looking at the United States.

Correspondent: Yes.

Hvistendahl: So there were projections from the United Nations showing that people were living longer than ever before. And then the projections showed populations kind of spiraling out of control. And there was a lot of concern about this issue on both the right and the left. It was a kind of bipartisan effort. Environmentalists were very involved. Also McCarthyists, who thought that a growing population would lead to Communism. And people were casting about for solutions. So organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and International Planned Parenthood Foundation — they were working very actively in developing countries to look at the ways in which you might reduce the birth rate. And one of the things that came up is that women kept having children until they had a son. Again, it’s this stopping rule. So then this idea emerged, “Well, what if we can guarantee them a son on the first try or the second try?” I mean, you have to understand that, at the time, there were all these radical solutions being tried. Forced sterilizations were happening in some parts of the world.

Correspondent: And in the United States too. Among poor people.

Hvistendahl: Yeah. We flirted with eugenics in the United States. People were talking about unveiling birth permits. What is now the one-child policy in China. So all of these strategies were on the table. And sex selection was voluntary. It was something that researchers knew what parents would choose to do on their own. They wouldn’t have to be forced. I think also that the fact that women and people of color didn’t play a very big role in the population control movement, that was a factor too. But you remember this book, The Population Bomb?

Correspondent: Yes, Paul Erlich.

Hvistendahl: Paul Erlich.

Correspondent: Who we’ll get into in just a bit.

Hvistendahl: Okay. He mentions sex selection as a good population control method. The President of the Population Council [Bernard Berelson], which is a very active group, at the time wrote an article for Science in 1969 ["Beyond Family Planning" -- PDF here], saying sex selection is a great method. If we can just find a way to guarantee couples the child that they want — and he knew that was basically a boy — then we can production population growth.

Categories: Ideas

gleick

James Gleick (BSS #397)

James Gleick is most recently the author of The Information.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Giving little bits of your entropy.

Author: James Gleick

Subjects Discussed: Claude Shannon, the origin of the byte, Charles Babbage and relay switches, measuring information beyond the telegraph, bit storage capacity, being right about data measurement, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” information overload, TS Eliot’s The Rock, email warnings in 1982, information compression, George Boole’s symbolic logic, information overload, Ada Lovelace and Babbage, James Waldegrave’s November 13, 1713 letter providing the first minimax solution to the two person game Le Her, game theory, Lovelace’s mathematical aptitude, the difficulties of being too scientifically ambitious, connecting pegs to abstraction, Norbert Wiener and cybernetics, Wiener’s contribution to information theory, Wiener vs. Shannon, mathematical formulas to solve games, Ada Lovelace’s clandestine contributions, Luigi Menabrea, a view of machines beyond number crunching, entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, James Clerk Maxwell’s view of disorder as entropy’s essential quality, dissipated energy within information, Kolmogorov’s algorithms and complexity, links between material information and perceived information, molecular disorder, connections between disorganization and physics in the 19th century, extraneous information, Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shifts, Richard Dawkins’s defense of dyslexia as a selfish genetic quality, new science replacing the old in information theory, the English language’s redundant characters, codebreaking, Shannon’s scientific measurements of linguistic redundancy, the likelihood of words and letters appearing after previous words and letters, Bertrand Russell’s liar’s paradox and Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Gregory Chaitin and algorithmic information theory, Alan Turing, uniting Pierre-Simon Laplace and Wikipedia, extreme Newtonianism, and the ideal of perfect knowledge.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I wanted to first of all start with the hero of your book, Claude Shannon, who of course is the inventor of the byte. He built on the work of Charles Babbage. Shannon conducted early experiments in relay switches, creating the Differential Analyzer. He made very unusual connections between electricity and light. He observed that when a relay is open, it may cause the next circuit to become open. The same thing holds, of course, when the relays are closed. Years later, Shannon, as you describe, is able to demonstrate that anything that is nonrandom in a message will allow for compression. I’m curious how Shannon persuaded himself to measure information on the telegraph. In 1949, as you produce in the book, there’s this really fantastic paper where he draws a line and he starts estimating bit storage capacity. As you point out later in the book, he’s actually close with the measurement of the Library of Congress. How can he, or anybody, know that he’s right about data measurement when of course it’s all speculative?

Gleick: Wow. That was a very fast and compressed summary of many of the ideas of Claude Shannon leading into Claude Shannon. Well, as you’re saying, he is the central figure of my book. I’m not sure I would use the word “hero.” But he’s certainly my starting point. My book starts, in a way, in the middle of a long story. And that moment is 1948, when Claude Shannon publishes his world-changing paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.” Which then becomes a book, The Mathematical Theory of Communication. And for the first time, he uses the word “bit” as a unit of measure for this stuff. This somewhat mysterious thing that he’s proposing to speak about scientifically for the first time. He would go around saying to people, “When I talk about information as an engineer and a mathematician, I’m using the word in a scientific way. It’s an old word. And I might not mean what you think I mean.” And that’s true. Cause before scientists took over the word, information was just gossip or news or instructions. Nothing especially interesting. And certainly nothing all-encompassing. I guess the point of my book, to the extent that I have a point, is that information is now all-encompassing. It’s the fuel that powers the world we live in. And that begins, in a way, with Claude Shannon. Although, as I say, that’s the middle of the story.

Correspondent: Got it. Well, as you point out also, information overload or information anxiety — this has been a truism as long as we’ve had information. You bring up both TS Eliot’s The Rock — “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” — and, of course, a prescient 1982 Computerworld article warning that email will cause severe information overload problems. To what degree did Shannon’s data measurement account for the possibility of overload? I didn’t quite get that in your book and I was very curious. There is no end to that line on the paper.

Gleick: No. Shannon didn’t really predict the world that we live in now. And it wasn’t just that he was measuring data. It’s that he was creating an entire mathematical framework for solving a whole lot of problems having to do with the transmission of information and the storage of information and the compression of information, as you mentioned. He was, after all, working for the telephone company. He was working for Bell Labs, which had a lot of money at stake in solving problems of efficiently sending information over analog copper telephone wires. But Shannon, in creating his mathematical framework, did it simultaneously for the analog problem and the digital problem. Because he was looking ahead — as you also mentioned in your very compressed run-up. He thought very early about relays and electrical circuits. And a relay is a binary thing. It’s either open or closed. And he realized that open or closed was not just the same as on or off, but yes or no or true or false. You could apply electrical circuits to logic and particularly to the symbolic logic invented by George Boole in the 19th century. So Shannon created his mathematical theory of communication, which was both analog and digital. And where it was digital, it had — we can see now with the advantage of hindsight — perfect suitability to the world of computers that was then in the process of being born.

Correspondent: It’s fascinating to me though that he could see the possibilities of endless relay loops but not consider that perhaps there is a threshold as to the load of information that one can handle. There was nothing that he did? To say, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe there’s a limit to all this.”

Gleick: I’m not sure that was really his department.

Correspondent: Okay.

Gleick: I don’t think you can particularly fault him for that or give him credit one way or the other.

Correspondent: It just didn’t occur to him?

Gleick: No, it’s not that it didn’t occur to him. It’s that — well, I would say, and I do say in the book, that this issue — I’m hesitating to call it “problem” of information overload, of information glut — is not as new a thing as we like to think. Of course, the words are new. Information glut, information overload, information fatigue.

Correspondent: Information anxiety.

Gleick: Information anxiety. That’s right. These are all expressions of our time.

Correspondent: There’s also information sickness as well. That’s a good one.

Gleick: One of the little fun side paths that I took in the book was to look back through history at previous complaints about what we now call information overload. And they go back as far as you’re willing to look. As soon as the printing press started flooding Europe with printed books, there were lots of people who were complaining. This was going to be the end of human knowledge as we knew it. Leibniz was one. Jonathan Swift was another. Alexander Pope. They all complained about — well, in Leibniz’s words, “the horrible mass of books.” He thought it threatened a return to barbarity. Why? Because it was now no longer possible for any person, no matter how well educated, no matter how philosophical, to keep up with all human knowledge. There were just too many books. There were a thousand. Or ten thousand. In the entire world. Well, now, there are ten thousand books printed every hour in the world. Individual titles. So yes, we were worried about information overload. And yes, you can say that Claude Shannon, in solving these problems, greased the skids. But I don’t know whether it’s true or not that he didn’t foresee the issue. It just was an issue that wasn’t in his bailiwick.

Correspondent: Got it.

Categories: Ideas

hochschild

Adam Hochschild (BSS #396)

Adam Hochschild is most recently the author of To End All Wars.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Conscientiously objecting and objectifying consciousness.

Author: Adam Hochschild

Subjects Discussed: What is considered morally permissible in war, mustard gas, deadly military technology, Ray Bradbury’s “The Flying Machine,” the women’s suffrage movement and World War I, Emmeline Pankhurst and the Women’s Social and Political Union, splits within the Pankhurst Family, Women’s Dreadnaught, James Keir Hardie’s antiwar speeches, attempts to get socialists to agree, the duties of history to remember the losers, parallels between World War I and current wars, Osama bin Laden’s death, Wikileaks and the Czarist Archives, Margaret and Stephen Hobhouse, conscientious objectors, I Appeal Unto Caesar, Edmund Dene Morel’s hard labor sentence, the tendency of wealthy families and connections to carry more weight, Bertrand Russell, jingoistic writers during World War I, John Buchan’s imperialism, Rudyard Kipling, PG Wodehouse’s The Swoop!, the political stances of writers, contributions of famous writers to British propaganda, The 39 Steps, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Germany spy conspiracies, responding William Anthony Hays criticism about “stack[ing] the deck by presenting such particularly unappealing characters as foils to the pacifists and liberals he seeks to praise,” attempting to find positive qualities about Douglas Haig (World War I’s worst general), Winston Churchill, Sir John French’s likable qualities, Haig vs. General Eisenhower, the Lansdowne Letter, attempts to understand why the World War I peace movement failed to catch on, relativistic courage, untrained pilots going up against the Red Baron, and the dangers of speaking out what you believe in.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: It’s an unsuccessful story. Should history really be in the business of remembering the losers?

Hochschild: Well, first of all, for me, as a writer, it was a challenge to see if I could write a narratively interesting and emotionally meaningful story about a movement that failed. My last book was about the anti-slavery movement in the British Empire. That was a successful movement. Slavery did come to an end. These people failed to stop the First World War. But I still find them very, very much writing about. Because it takes a special kind of courage and nobility to go against patriotic madness that’s in the air. And very often, a movement like this, it doesn’t succeed the first time. We still haven’t stopped war today. We’re caught up in at least two unnecessary wars, in my view, in the United States right now. I would like to see people who opposed those wars take some inspiration from these earlier folks. Even though they failed.

Correspondent: On the other hand, I wanted to bring up your recent TomDispatch article, in which you draw parallels between our present times and World War I. I’m wondering if it’s an appropriate parallel simply because in World War I, there was considerably more death. Presently, you say, “Well, why aren’t we protesting the war?” Well, we did in 2003. It was the biggest protest in America against the conflict in Iraq.

Hochschild: Yeah.

Correspondent: So I’m wondering if really the parallels should line up or whether we should consider the full scope of any kind of war when considering it. Is there a danger here of parallel relativism? Or what? Maybe you can expand upon this.

Hochschild: Well, I don’t think the parallels to anything are ever exact or anywhere near exact when there’s nearly 100 years in between. But I guess some of the parallels I saw between the First World War and those that we’re in today are several. First, look at how the First World War started. Austria-Hungary was eager to make war on little Serbia next door. They felt the existence of Serbia was a threat. Because there were a lot of restless Serbs within the border of the old Austria-Hungarian Empire. They had actually drawn up invasion plans to invade Serbia and dismember it. Then Archduke Franz Ferdinand gets assassinated by an ethnic Serb, but an Austo-Hungarian citizen. And there’s no evidence that the top officials of Serbia’s government even knew about the assassination plot. But they immediately used this as an excuse to make war on Serbia. I see some resemblance between that and Bush using the September 11th attacks to make war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with those attacks. So when countries are hungering to go to war for one reason or another, they can easily use something as an excuse. That’s one similarity. I think another is that most of the time when a country starts war, they expect it to be over very quickly and easily. Kaiser Wilhelm II, when he sent his troops off to France in 1914, said, “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.” And the Germans had this masterplan that they’d worked on for years that very systematically and with great exactitude showed how they were going to subdue France, conquer Paris, and force the French surrender in exactly 42 days. Of course, it didn’t happen that way. But countries always expect it to happen that way. Like when Bush landed on the aircraft carrier in 2003 in front of that big sign MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Correspondent: Sure.

Hochschild: Well, I’m still not sure what the mission was in Iraq. But whatever it was, it hasn’t been accomplished.

Correspondent: Well, we just recently had another MISSION ACCOMPLISHED allegedly with Osama bin Laden.

Hochschild: Yeah.

Correspondent: And I’m sure you saw some of the New York Post headlines here. They were really, really grisly. On the other hand, I should point out that there is a fundamental difference between al Qaeda, which is networked all around the world, versus the German nation, which is starving, which is machine gunning the soldiers. And the soldiers on the other side are machine gunning them. And there’s this trench warfare and all that. There’s even a sense of gentlemanly accord in World War I that one doesn’t see in the present conflict. Especially when you also factor in communications. I mean, there’s nothing even close, parallel-wise, to Wikileaks, for example, that you could have in World War I. That’s why I’m unclear as to the parallels. Are the parallels more in the way that governments inform the people and governments persuade the people to become involve in a conflict? Or what?

Hochschild: Well, as I say, the parallels from a hundred years are never completely exact. But there was a sort of Wikileaks episode in World War I, which was this. In 1917, there came the two Russian Revolutions: the February Revolution, when they overthrew the czar, and the October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks seized power in a coup. At that point, the Bolsheviks got into the Czarist Archives and they made public all the secret treaties that Russia, France, and the agreements between Russia, France, and Italy had. That showed how the Allies were planning to divide up the possessions of Germany and its allies once the war was over. And it had tremendous reverberations. In the same way that the Wikileaks material did in recent months. Because it showed that even though the Allies liked the Germans — they were saying they were fighting to defend civilization itself — nonetheless, they’d actually drawn lines on the map as to how they were going to divide up spheres of influence in the Middle East, for example.

Correspondent: Okay. I wanted to shift back to conscientious objectors. The case of Margaret Hobhouse. She’s a well-to-do woman. Her son Stephen is imprisoned as a conscientious objector. This suggests to some degree — this whole incident where she writes a book that is, of course, ghostwritten by Bertrand Russell, I Appeal Unto Caesar — that it takes the rich or the privileged in order to shift things. Because she manages to persuade 26 bishops and 200 other clergyman to sign a statement arguing for more lenient treatment of COs. Similarly, in 1916, some COs are sent to France. They’re fed bread and water. They’re forced to the front line. The No Conscription Fellowship is on the case trying to seek them out. But, of course, because they don’t have this Hobhousian connection, it’s a great difficulty to track these folks down. At the beginning of 1918, there were still more than 1,000 COs behind bars. You have Basil Thomson noticing that pacifism was on the rise. Now this comes after I Appeal Unto Caesar was published. Why was there such a delay between 1916 and 1918 in drawing attention to these maltreated COs? Does it take a book? Does it take a privileged person speaking on behalf of COs to ensure humane treatment for all classes? What of this?

Hochschild: Well, obviously, at all times and places, I think that when the people from wealthy families and so on speak out loudly on behalf of something, their voices carry much more loudly. That’s unfortunately the way the world works. One thing that was interesting to me about the war resisters in Britain was that they came from across the class spectrum. You had people in jail like Stephen Hobhouse, who you mentioned, who was from this very ancient wealthy family filled with connections to lords and bishops and so on. And a very close friend of the family was in the Cabinet — Alfred Milner, who was minister without portfolio on charge of coordinating the war effort. At the same time, there were labor unionists in jail, who didn’t have those powerful connections. And these folks all felt a real sense of solidarity with each other across those class lines.

Correspondent: But was the book really the linchpin? I mean, I don’t want to draw any false correlations here, but I’m curious how this connection to Basil Thomson saying, “Oh, pacifism is on the rise.” Is that more the increased awareness of COs? Or is that more people in grief? Because bodies are coming back. Or they’re not coming back. And they’re getting messages that their loved ones are dead.

Hochschild: Well, actually, the book you mentioned by Margaret Hobhouse, because it was allegedly written by Margaret Hobhouse, who was the wife of a prominent churchman and a big landowner and everything, it had considerable effect. Although in fact Bertrand Russell secretly co-authored it. The book helped bring about the release of several hundred conscientious objectors who were in poor health in one way or another. But that’s about all it did. The government still kept locking up conscientious objectors who refused to do alternative service. It still cracked down with increasing harshness on people who spoke out against the war. Bertrand Russell, despite being himself being the son of an earl; he later inherited the earldom from his brother, was sent to jail for six months in 1918. Edmund Dene Morel, really the country’s leading investigative journalist, spent six months in jail for his antiwar writings. Served hard labor. And it broke his health and he died a few years later.

Categories: Ideas