Monthly Archives: August 2006

On "Bestowing the Gift of Development"

In opposition to the development policies pursued by non-Western states, international NGOs focused on alternative grass-roots models of development. This approach is explained by David Korten, a former worker for the United States Agency for International Development:

The widespread belief that development is primarily a task of government has legitimised authoritarianism and created major barriers to true development progress in the [global] South and over the past four decades the people have been expected to put their faith and resources in the hands of government. In return governments have promised to bestow on the people the gift of development. This promise has proved a chimera born of a false assessment of the capacity of government and the nature of development itself.

As [global] Southern states were crippled by the debt crisis and later by the World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes, state provision of welfare collapsed in many societies. International relief NGOs, with Western government funding, attempted to fill in the gaps. As two Oxfam workers explained:

Gallantly stepping into the breach come the NGOs very much in the neo-colonial role. Whole districts, or once functioning sections of government ministries, are handed over to foreigners to run especially in health or social services. This process is enhanced as Structural Adjustment Programmes bite even deeper … 40 percent of Kenya’s health requirements are now provided by NGOs … The more the NGOs are prepared to move in the easier it is for government to reduce support.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), p. 33 [reference citations removed]

Today’s NGO employees are the direct inheritors of the colonial project not so much in the manner of the imperial civil services as in the manner of the religious missionaries, who were often at odds with the imperial powers in their respective mission fields, and who often provided a good measure of whatever health, education, and welfare services governments failed to provide. The religious missionaries of my parents’ (“greatest”) generation were succeeded by the secular missionaries of my (“boomer”) Peace Corps generation and the current horde of NGOptimists all over the globe—all of whom have gone to do good, and many of whom have done rather well indeed, just like the older missionary elites (or nouveaux évolués), whose offspring often ended up as area specialists in government or academia (or both). On this score, I know very well whereof I speak.

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On "the Military Wing of Oxfam"

The strongest critique of needs-based humanitarian action is from the human rights movement itself, which argues that responding to crises by sending humanitarian relief is merely an excuse to avoid ‘more vigorous responses’. Humanitarian relief is increasingly seen as giving Western governments the appearance of ‘doing something’ in the face of a tragedy while providing an alibi to avoid making a riskier political or military commitment that could address the ‘roots of a crisis’. Under the cry that humanitarianism should not be used as a substitute for political or military action, they are in fact arguing for a new rights-based ‘military humanitarianism’. As journalist David Rieff notes: ‘humanitarian relief organizations … have become some of the most fervent interventionists’.

The rights-based critique of humanitarianism provided the military in Western states with the opportunity to portray their actions as increasingly ethical in the 1990s. Ironically, this occurred at the same time as armed interventions moved away from the UN Blue Helmet approach that overlapped with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and consent. As Michael Pugh observes, ‘military humanism’ is no longer an oxymoron because military action has increasingly been justified through defending human rights goals. From the perspective of the military establishment, this new role is important and the cultures of the military and the human rights activist are increasingly being brought together through the idea of helping the ‘victim’, as can be seen from recruitment advertising in Britain and the United States. The humanitarian motives for military action have been so heavily stressed that some critics have warned that the British Army is in danger of being flaunted as ‘the military wing of Oxfam’.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 48-49 [reference citations removed]

Well, sure, but the Atlantic slave trade could not have been suppressed without the intervention of the British Navy. Nor could slavery have been suppressed in the United States without the intervention of the U.S. Army (against whom my own ancestors fought). Would selective, righteous boycotts of rum, sugar, molasses, tobacco, and cotton have been as fast and effective? The Royal Navy and the U.S. Army both served as the “military wings” of abolitionists.

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Putzi Hanfstaengl, Hitler’s Harvard PR Flack

Putzi was the Nazi movement’s only Harvard man. Though a figure of fun among the more hard-core Nazis—Putzi played “Sam” to Hitler’s Bogart, entertaining him at the end of the day with his piano playing—he was instrumental in making Nazism salonfähig, or “presentable to society,” the upper classes who were a crucial source of funds for a party founded by a locksmith and led by a former army corporal. Hitler used Hanfstaengl’s affable nature and white-shoe pedigree to forge many of his important links to German and American rich people. While the Baltic Germans provided access to the Russian aristocracy, Putzi was the connection to old American, British, and German families. His mother was a Sedgwick, from the old New England family. (Two of his grandfathers had been Civil War generals; one of them, a German immigrant 48er, was a pallbearer at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral.) His full name was Ernst Sedgwick Hanfstaengl. The name Putzi, which means “little squirt” in the Bavarian dialect, was given to him by his wet nurse. His father was one of the most prominent men in Munich in the late nineteenth century, and the Hanfstaengls had visitors such as Mark Twain, Richard Strauss, and Fridtjof Nansen, the famous arctic explorer and passport inventor, to their lavish villa. How on earth had this white-shoe boy gotten involved with a bunch of lower class, anti-Semite beer-hall politicians?

In 1908 Putzi had taken part in an Orientalist cross-dressing show at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club. For this show, called Fate Fakir, the WASP Harvard boys “cross-dressed” in two ways, some dressing up as girls and others as Hindu and Muslim fakirs. The hulking six-foot-five Ernst Sedgwick Hanfstaengl played a Dutch girl named Gretchen Spootsfeiffer. With him in the cast was a young man named Warren Robbins. Putzi and Warren went their separate ways after Harvard, one returning to Bavaria to serve in the Royal Bavarian Horse Guards and the other to join the American State Department. In 1922, when Robbins was working as a senior officer at the American embassy in Berlin, he called up his old chum “Gretchen” from the Pudding.

All the revolutionary nonsense down in Bavaria had the embassy concerned, Warren said, so they were sending down a young military attaché, Captain Truman-Smith, to have a look around. Would good old Gretchen mind taking care of the boy and introducing him to a few people in Munich? “He turned out to be a very pleasant young officer of about thirty, a Yale man, but in spite of that I was nice to him,” Putzi wrote in his 1957 memoir, Unheard Witness, and recalled his fateful lunch with the Yalie on the last day of his visit to Bavaria. The American had been interviewing anyone who was anyone in Munich, [and he gave Putzi a ticket to a talk that the American couldn’t attend]….

Putzi took the ticket and went to hear Hitler speak at the Kindlkeller that night. He remembered Hitler talking a lot about Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and the example of Mussolini. Putzi described the speech to the Yale man, as he’d promised, and then he joined the movement himself.

An inventive cheerleader for the Harvard football team, Putzi transferred that position to Hitler’s Nazi entourage. Among his many creative contributions to the early Nazi movement was turning the Harvard football song—”Fight Harvard! Fight! Fight! Fight!”—into the model for the chant “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” of the Nazi mass meetings….

One of the many early Nazis who were slated to be done away with by Hitler’s inner circle in the 1930s, Hanfstaengl escaped assassination by fleeing to Switzerland, then on to London and Washington, where he eventually went to work for the OSS—but only after proving he was not a homosexual by resisting the advances of Somerset Maugham’s boyfriend, Gerald Haxton, who was apparently sent in by the Feds to see if Putzi could be seduced. When interviewed in the 1970s, Putzi rolled out all the piano tunes that Hitler had most enjoyed hearing him play—from the Harvard fight song to Wagner overtures—and complained how the Roosevelt administration had refused to take his advice on the invasion of Italy in 1943.

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), pp. 261-264

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Aztecs Ate Conquistador Carriers and Cooks?

Skulls and bones from the Tecuaque archeological site near Mexico City show about 550 victims had their hearts ripped out by Aztec priests in ritual offerings, and were dismembered or had their bones boiled or scraped clean, experts say.

The findings support accounts of Aztecs capturing and killing a caravan of Spanish conquistadors and local men, women and children traveling with them in revenge for the murder of Cacamatzin, king of the Aztec empire’s No. 2 city of Texcoco.

Experts say the discovery proves some Aztecs did resist the conquistadors led by explorer Hernan Cortes, even though history books say most welcomed the white-skinned horsemen in the belief they were returning Aztec gods.

“This is the first place that has so much evidence there was resistance to the conquest,” said archeologist Enrique Martinez, director of the dig at Calpulalpan in Tlaxcala state, near Texcoco.

“It shows it wasn’t all submission. There was a fight.”

The caravan was apparently captured because it was made up mostly of the mulatto, mestizo, Maya Indian and Caribbean men and women given to the Spanish as carriers and cooks when they landed in Mexico in 1519, and so was moving slowly.

The prisoners were kept in cages for months while Aztec priests from what is now Mexico City selected a few each day at dawn, held them down on a sacrificial slab, cut out their hearts and offered them up to various Aztec gods.

Of course, Reuters is reporting this, so there may have been some photoshopping of the evidence.

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Rapacious Rats Deforested Rapa Nui?

Pace Jared Diamond, who “described Rapa Nui as ‘the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources’,” new archaeological results from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) suggest that it may have been rats, not humans, who deforested Rapa Nui—and Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands.

For thousands of years, most of Rapa Nui was covered with palm trees. Pollen records show that the Jubaea palm became established at least 35,000 years ago and survived a number of climatic and environmental changes. But by the time Roggeveen arrived in 1722, most of these large stands of forest had disappeared.

It is not a new observation that virtually all of the shells housing palm seeds found in caves or archaeological excavations of Rapa Nui show evidence of having been gnawed on by rats, but the impact of rats on the island’s fate may have been underestimated. Evidence from elsewhere in the Pacific shows that rats have often contributed to deforestation, and they may have played a major role in Rapa Nui’s environmental degradation as well.

Archaeologist J. Stephen Athens of the International Archaeological Research Institute conducted excavations on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu and found that deforestation of the Ewa Plain took place largely between 900 and 1100 A.D. but that the first evidence of human presence on this part of the island was not until about 1250 A.D. There were no climatic explanations for the disappearance of palm trees, but there was evidence that the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans), introduced by the first human colonists, was present in the area by about 900 A.D. Athens showed that it was likely rats that deforested large areas of Oahu.

Paleobotanists have demonstrated the destructive effect of rats on native vegetation on a number of other islands as well, even those as ecologically diverse as New Zealand. In areas where rats are removed, vegetation often recovers quickly. And on Nihoa Island, in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, where there is no evidence that rats ever became established, the island’s native vegetation still survives despite prehistoric human settlement.

Whether rats were stowaways or a source of protein for the Polynesian voyagers, they would have found a welcoming environment on Rapa Nui—an almost unlimited supply of high-quality food and, other than people, no predators. In such an ideal setting, rats can reproduce so quickly that their population doubles about every six or seven weeks. A single mating pair could thus reach a population of almost 17 million in just over three years. On Kure Atoll in the Hawaiian Islands, at a latitude similar to Rapa Nui but with a smaller supply of food, the population density of the Polynesian rat was reported in the 1970s to have reached 45 per acre. On Rapa Nui, that would equate to a rat population of more than 1.9 million. At a density of 75 per acre, which would not be unreasonable given the past abundance of food, the rat population could have exceeded 3.1 million.

The evidence from elsewhere in the Pacific makes it hard to believe that rats would not have caused rapid and widespread environmental degradation. But there is still the question of how much of an effect rats had relative to the changes caused by humans, who cut down trees for a number of uses and practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. I believe that there is substantial evidence that it was rats, more so than humans, that led to deforestation.

Our work on Anakena, as well as previous archaeological studies, found thousands of rat bones. It seems that the Polynesian rat population grew quickly, then fell more recently before becoming extinct in the face of competition from rat species introduced by Europeans. Almost all of the palm seed shells discovered on the island show signs of having been gnawed on by rats, indicating that these once-ubiquitous rodents did affect the Jubaea palm’s ability to reproduce. Reason to blame rats more than people may also be revealed in the analysis of sediments obtained at Rano Kau, which, like the Hawaiian evidence, appears to show that the forest declined (leaving less forest pollen in the sediment) before the extensive use of fire by people.

via Arts & Letters Daily

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Poor Pluto: A Very Far Outlier Demoted

Poor Pluto has been kicked off the world-famous Solar Planets for regularly failing to stay in its lane—or clear its own lane—during repeated orbits of the sun.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) — Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is — and isn’t — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one….

Much-maligned Pluto doesn’t make the grade under the new rules for a planet: “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a … nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune’s….

Now, two of the objects that at one point were cruising toward possible full-fledged planethood will join Pluto as dwarfs: the asteroid Ceres, which was a planet in the 1800s before it got demoted, and 2003 UB313, an icy object slightly larger than Pluto whose discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, has nicknamed “Xena.”

It’s a cold world out there at the far end of the solar system!

UPDATE: Matt of No-sword and his commenters offer some interesting observations about the etymologies of ‘planet’ and ‘dwarf planet’ in Japanese, Sino-Japanese, Chinese, and even Greek.


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Biafra and the Birth of the ‘New Humanitarianism’

The birth of the modern human rights-based ‘solidarity’ movement has often been located in NGO responses to the Biafran famine in 1968. The famine resulted from the independence war fought by Igbo secessionists of the state of Biafra in south-eastern Nigeria against the federal government. The secessionist struggle received no diplomatic support from the West, the Soviet bloc or other African states, which were concerned over the destabilising effects of questioning state borders. Within a few months the dominance of the government forces and the lack of outside aid had doomed the struggle to failure. As Alex de Waal notes, it was only by accident that Biafra became a cause célèbre for the human rights movement. The international attention stemmed from the famine becoming news through the publication of photographs of severely malnourished children. As Frederick Forsyth, at that time a journalist, recalled:

Quite suddenly, we’d touched a nerve. Nobody in this country at that time had ever seen children looking like that. The last time the Brits had seen anything like that must have been the Belsen pictures … People who couldn’t fathom the political complexities of the war could easily grasp the wrong in a picture of a child dying of starvation.

The media coverage of the first African famine to become headline news led to accusations that the British government’s arms shipments to the Nigerian leadership and lack of support for the Biafrans was making it complicit in genocide by starvation. The lack of UN or outside government relief for the secessionists enabled the humanitarian aid effort to be monopolised, for the first time, by the NGOs. Biafra was the ICRC‘s first large-scale relief operation and Oxfam‘s second field operation. The first real test for non-governmental humanitarian organisations resulted in a split between the Red Cross and major NGOs over the nature of humanitarian action. Oxfam broke its commitment not to act unilaterally and took an openly partisan approach claiming that ‘the price of a united Nigeria is likely to be millions of lives’. Several international NGOs followed, arguing that breaking from the ICRC position of non-criticism was the only ethical way of assisting the population because if the Biafran people lost the struggle for secession they would face systematic massacre by federal forces.

The NGOs and the church-funded campaigns became the main propagandists and source of international support for the Biafran struggle. The Joint Church Airlift supplied aid and attempted to establish a Biafran air force, against Nigerian government opposition. This led to a federal ban on outside aid flights. The ICRC did not engage in any publicity and accepted the federal government’s ban on aid flights. This position was condemned by the more interventionist and partisan aid NGOs. A leading critic was French doctor Bernard Kouchner, who declared that their silence over Biafra made its workers ‘accomplices in the systematic massacre of a population’.

The Biafran war was not only notable for the creation of the new committed and increasingly invasive ethics of human rights intervention. It also set a much more worrying marker for the future of ‘new humanitarian’ rights-based interventionism. The war was already over when the famine became news, and the international interest was immediately used to rekindle the struggle. Speaking later, Paddy Davies of the Biafran Propaganda Secretariat explained:

Biafra realised that this was an angle they could play on. It had tried the political emancipation of oppressed people, it had tried the religious angle … but the pictures of starving children and women, dying children … touched everybody, it cut across the range of people’s beliefs.

For the Biafran government, the provision of aid was secondary to the propaganda and international standing gained from the aid agencies siding with the war aims of the secessionists. Internationalising the struggle put pressure on the Nigerian regime and enabled the Biafran leadership to prolong the war. The aid agencies took on trust the claims of the Biafran government, and its public relations firm Markpress, regarding genocide and ‘thousands dying daily’ and according to Oxfam’s official history ‘they fell for it, hook, line and sinker’. The secessionist line forwarded by Kouchner and other agencies, that the Biafran people would be faced with systematic massacre by federal troops if they lost the war, turned out to be unsubstantiated. In fact, de Waal notes that even as the international relief operation was being massively expanded there was already a large amount of evidence that there would be no genocide. In the large areas of Biafran territory taken over by the federal government there had been no government massacres.

In 1971 Bernard Kouchner established Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), which has since symbolised the ‘new humanitarian’ cause. There are two ‘solidarity’ principles, which were developed out of the Biafra experience and have since become central to the new rights-based humanitarianism. First, the ‘freedom of criticism’ or ‘denunciation’…. Second, the ‘subsidiarity of sovereignty’ or the ‘right of intervention’, the ‘sans frontières’ of the MSF movement. [inline reference citations removed]

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 29-31

Even needs-based, rather than rights-based, humanitarian NGOs who profess neutrality are forced to take sides.


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