Tag Archives: #human rights

Talking about civilian complicity with the Pinochet regime’s violence

Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet by Michael J. Lazzara is published this week in the series Critical Human Rights. We spoke with Lazzara about issues raised by his book.

Q. Why is it so important to talk about civilian complicity now, more than forty years after the September 11, 1973, coup that put General Augusto Pinochet in power?

A. In the midst of the Cold War, the Pinochet regime (1973-1990) came to power as a violent reaction against democratically elected President Salvador Allende’s “Peaceful Road to Socialism.” Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in the murder, disappearance, and exile of thousands of Chilean citizens who longed to build a more just and equitable society, as well as the torture of tens of thousands more. Throughout the 1990s, the early years of Chile’s transition to democracy, people almost exclusively attributed the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations to the military, the most egregious perpetrators. Yet we know that dictatorships are always supported behind the scenes by a cast of complicit civilians who play roles—major or minor—in perpetuating the violence and who, through complex processes of rationalization, manage to turn a knowing blind eye to the torture and murder of their fellow citizens.

The stark reality is that many of those who supported the Pinochet regime “behind the scenes” in the 1970s and 1980s remain active in politics, business, and other sectors today. Victims, their families, artists, academics, journalists, lawyers, and concerned citizens have struggled for decades to fight for memory and create a culture of respect for human rights. To a great extent, they have succeeded. But we can’t easily forget that memory and human rights constantly find themselves under attack from political and economic forces that still perpetuate certain violent attitudes fostered under dictatorship.

Q. Is the public discourse of these civilian accomplices relevant for thinking about the “post-truth” era in which we’re living?

A. Definitely! My book is not only about civilian complicity in Chile but also about how civilian accomplices remember and justify their past actions and commitments. I use the phrase “fictions of mastery” to talk about the vital lies (or partial truths) that such accomplices spin, both publically and privately, in order to live with themselves or to convince others that they were acting in the “best interest” of the country or out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Clearly, our contemporary scene is full of individuals who spin stories to advance particular agendas or maintain their hold on political and economic power. My book deconstructs and “outs” such self-serving fictions—and actors—while also advocating for a need for accountability (moral, ethical, and even judicial, when applicable).

Q. Your work provocatively suggests a relationship between complicity and complacency. How are these two concepts linked?

A. The question is important because it forces us to ask: Who is complicit? My book answers this question boldly, even somewhat controversially. It asserts that the spectrum of complicity is vast—that it includes not only those who participated directly in the dictatorship’s crimes but also those who knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing. Even more assertively, I argue that the vast spectrum of complicity in Chile may very well include certain people who years ago fought for revolutionary change and social justice and who now, decades later, wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal model that the General and his civilian economists espoused. I call these revolutionaries-turned-neoliberals “complacent subjects” and wonder if their political stance, interested in protecting their own status and wealth, might be construed as a form of complicity with the dictatorship’s legacy.

Q. The Chilean dictatorship ended nearly three decades ago. Many analysts praise the country’s transition to democracy as highly “successful.” Why is it important that we continue thinking today about the legacies of the Pinochet regime?

A. Many people, especially economists outside of Chile, have called Chile an “economic miracle” because its economy did relatively well when compared to other countries in the region. This may indeed be true by some measures. But we cannot forget that Chile’s economic strength has its origins in a dark history of torture, disappearances, and murders. We also can’t forget that, despite its economic growth, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, socioeconomic inequality has sparked massive protests and deep disenchantment with political elites from across the ideological spectrum.

The past does not go away. Anyone who goes to Chile today can see and feel signs of the dictatorship’s legacy everywhere. It’s palpable! The political and economic class that sympathized with the dictatorship is now back in power, and the dictatorship’s constitution, penned in 1980, remains in effect. There are still families who have not located their disappeared loved ones. And despite the valiant efforts of those who have struggled to create a culture of human rights and justice, every so often people in positions of power appear in the media denying past human rights violations or explaining them away. Schools avoid talking about the recent past, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Lots of families remain politically divided. For all of these reasons, it is just as important now as it was in the 1980s and 1990s that we continue the fight for accountability, truth, and justice.

When I began researching Civil Obedience, eight years ago, almost no one was talking about civilian complicity with the South American dictatorships. The topic was complete public taboo. Over the past five or so years, important works of journalism have started to address the subject, and it is now commonplace to hear people in Chile use the term “civilian-military dictatorship” (dictadura cívico-militar). I hope that my book will help fuel an honest debate about the uncomfortable ways in which Chile’s brutally violent past still maintains a hold on the present.

Michael J. Lazzara is a professor of Latin American literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Davis. His several books include Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory and Luz Arce and Pinochet’s Chile: Testimony in the Aftermath of State Violence.

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors 

 

New Books & New Paperbacks, May 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

May 8, 2018
Death Rides the Ferry
Patricia Skalka

“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series

“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy

 

May 15, 2018
Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet
Michael J. Lazzara

Critical Human Rights

“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness

“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration

 

May 29, 2018
Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow

“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna

 

May 31, 2018
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

Now in Paperback
James P. Leary

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest

• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music

“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”Huffington Post

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”Library Journal

“A landmark. . . . Attains the highest standards of folklore studies.”Journal of Folklore Research

Writing Against Impunity: State Violence in Thailand

Our guest blogger today is Tyrell Haberkorn, the author of In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand, the latest addition to New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies. In Plain Sight was published this month.

When I recently held In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand in my hands for the first time, I felt a sense of bittersweet urgency. Seeing one’s work in finished book form is always exciting. That’s the sweet part. The bitter part is that the publication of my book on the history of impunity for state violence in Thailand coincided with the stability of the harshest military dictatorship since the late 1970s. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which fomented a coup in May 2014, is approaching its fourth anniversary with no clear exit from power in sight. Impunity, or the persistent and repeated failure to secure accountability for state violence, reigns supreme. Urgency arises from the ongoing need to act against impunity and, in the case of scholars, write against it.

I researched and wrote In Plain Sight as a scholar-activist who divides her time between the present and the recent past, and among reading in archives and libraries, observing human rights court cases, and translating accounts of state violence. Beginning with the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy in June 1932 and ending with the coup by the NCPO in 2014, I asked: What does the history of a nation look like when told from the perspective of citizens whose rights are violated, rather than the perspective of victorious and powerful leaders?

What I discovered is that Thai citizens have experienced a range of forms of extrajudicial violence at the hands of state officials, including torture, disappearance, assassination, and massacre, across regimes both dictatorial and democratic. In nearly all cases, state officials have escaped sanction and accountability. This impunity has been produced and sustained through the unwillingness of state officials to find their colleagues responsible, the intimidation of victims of violence and other citizens, and weakness in legal systems and other institutions. Impunity takes place in public, is pedagogical, and is meant to be witnessed, from the instance of state violence to the evasion of accountability, and finally to the creation of evidence about it.

The title of the book comes from the most surprising lesson I learned while writing the book: state violence and impunity take place in full public view. My expectation was that finding evidence would be difficult. Instead, I mined archival and other publicly available state documents, newspaper articles, memoirs of civil servants and victims of state violence, and court observation to reveal a history of impunity. Many of the violent events I write about in the book have previously been unexamined or overlooked, but the primary reason is not a sheer lack of information. The events, as well as the evidence of violence, are in plain sight.

The urgency of writing against impunity is underscored every time another person’s human rights are violated. I finished the research for In Plain Sight a few weeks before the May 2014 coup. For several years it had seemed that there might be an end to impunity, rather than a resurgent dictatorship. Political prosecutions, particularly for peaceful expression of dissent, are pervasive. Activists are taken from their homes by soldiers and held for periods of incommunicado detention, designed to intimidate rather than secure any kind of justice. Torture, particularly of those accused in national security cases, is common. As in earlier periods, the law is primarily a tool of repression under the NCPO, not one for challenging it.

The individual lives of those affected by dictatorship form the ongoing urgency of writing against impunity. Scholars cannot stop state violence, but we can document and write about it and ensure that it is not forgotten. This means that after basking for a moment in the glow of holding my book, I put it down, picked up my pen, and went back to work.

Tyrell Haberkorn is an associate professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of Revolution Interrupted: Farmers, Students, Law and Violence in Northern Thailand, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

A grim anniversary: the Sedition Act of 1918

Our guest blogger today is Eric B. Easton, whose book, Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free Speech, has just been published.

The year 2018 marks the centenary of many important events in American history, including the horrific flu epidemic that killed millions and the armistice that ended World War I. Free speech advocates will note with sadness that 2018 is also the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Sedition Act—draconian amendments to the Espionage Act that Congress had passed the previous year. As summarized in Geoffrey Stone’s Perilous Times, the new amendments enacted on May 16, 1918, forbade anyone, during wartime, to:

  • willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government, military, or flag of the United States; or
  • use any language intended to bring the government, military or flag of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute; or
  • willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, advocate the curtailment of war production, or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest doing any of these; or by word or act support the enemy or oppose the United States.

The Sedition Act was repealed in 1920, but it should be remembered today for the arguably honorable, if misguided, reasons why some in Congress supported enactment. Stone quotes Senator William Borah, a progressive Republican from Idaho: “I know this is a drastic law, and I would not support it . . . unless I believed it necessary to prevent things far worse.” While most legislators supported the act to put down dissent, Borah and others thought the law was needed to preempt mob violence against dissenters.

Today, the First Amendment is under stress from numerous challenges that require society to weigh conflicting interests.

Today, the First Amendment is under stress from numerous challenges that require society to weigh conflicting interests. College administrators try to balance the cherished tradition of free speech on campus against the possibilities that some kinds of speech may lead to harassment or violence, or cause members of the campus community to feel unwelcome or less safe. Social media platforms struggle to balance open access for all against the risks of cyberbullying and “fake news.” And the U.S. Supreme Court is, even now, seeking to balance the right of a gay couple to purchase a custom-designed wedding cake against the baker’s purported free-speech right to refuse to express his art in support of same-sex marriage, an institution he opposes on religious grounds.

Protection of privacy, reputation, and cultural sensitivity continue to trouble free-speech advocates today.

While these problems do not raise the existential issues that dissent and reaction in wartime present, they do test the resiliency of the First Amendment in the face of conflicting values. Historically, laws against blasphemy, sedition, and obscenity have repeatedly challenged free-speech values, just as protection of privacy, reputation, and cultural sensitivity continue to trouble free-speech advocates today.

Eric Easton

Resolving these conflicts has been a tortuous process, with more than a few missteps along the way. First Amendment doctrine has largely evolved to overcome bad legislative decisions, almost always in the direction of providing more protection for speech. As we work through these contemporary problems, we would be wise to keep the Sedition Act in mind and the harm that even well-meaning advocates can do to by suppressing free speech to advance other values.

Eric Easton is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and the director of the LL.M. program in the law of the United States. He is the editor of the Journal of Media Law & Ethics and the author of Mobilizing the Press: Defending the First Amendment in the Supreme Court.

New Books & New Paperbacks, January 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

January 9, 2018
Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free Speech
Eric B. Easton

“An early twentieth-century champion of the cause of free speech for the American people, Gilbert Roe has found an ideal interpreter in Eric B. Easton, whose own legal background serves him well in analyzing Roe’s brilliantly argued wartime freedom of speech cases.”—Richard Drake,author of The Education of an Anti-Imperialist

“Gilbert Roe was a remarkable person who associated with and defended the rights of many of the most fascinating people of the Progressive Era. Easton brings all these stories to life in his wonderfully accessible biography.”—Mark Graber,author of Transforming Free Speech

 

January 9, 2018
In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies

“Powerfully uncovers and documents many episodes of state intimidation and violence in postwar Thailand. Haberkorn deftly probes the nature and domestic actions of the Thai state and holds it accountable for its own history.”—Ben Kiernan, author of The Pol Pot Regime and Viet Nam

“This stunning new book goes far beyond Thailand’s heartrending experience of serial dictatorship without accountability and state formation grounded on impunity for crime. Haberkorn also compellingly engages Thailand’s place in the rise of human rights movements. Her documentation of an ‘injustice cascade’ reorients the study of global history and politics.”—Samuel Moyn, author of Human Rights and the Uses of History

“Required reading for anyone who wants to understand modern Thailand. Haberkorn reveals a state where political violence is normalized as it has established and maintained a narrow royalist and elitist regime.”—Kevin Hewison, editor of Political Change in Thailand


January 9, 2018
Now in paperback
Winner of the Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies
Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland
Paul Brykczynski

“An outstanding and welcome contribution to scholarship on Polish nationalism, the history of antisemitism, political violence, fascism, and democratic politics [that] will resonate with the public at large as we grapple with contemporary challenges to democracy across the globe.”Slavic Review

“This assiduously researched, impeccably argued, and well-illustrated book should be required reading for anyone interested in modern Polish history and/or the evolution of the Polish nation more broadly.”Polish Review


January 16, 2018

Tragic Rites: Narrative and Ritual in Sophoclean Drama
Adriana E. Brook

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

Presenting an innovative new reading of Sophocles’ plays, Tragic Rites analyzes the poetic and narrative function of ritual in the seven extant plays of Sophocles. Adriana Brook closely examines four of them—Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus—in the context of her wide-ranging consideration of the entire Sophoclean corpus.

“Brook throws new light on the representation of rituals in Sophoclean tragedy, especially of incomplete, incorrectly performed, or corrupted rituals that shape audiences’ and readers’ emotional, ethical, and intellectual responses to each play’s dramatic action and characterization, concern with identity and community, and ambiguous narrative and moral closure.”—Seth L. Schein, author of Sophocles’ Philoctetes


January 23, 2018
Conflicted Memory: Military Cultural Interventions and the Human Rights Era in Peru
Cynthia E. Milton

Critical Human Rights Series

“Brings to light how military ‘entrepreneurs of memory’ strategically place memory products in a memory marketplace. A major intervention in debates about Peru’s internal armed conflict of the 1980s and ’90s and its aftermath, which will interest scholars in many disciplines and regions.”—Paulo Drinot, coeditor of Peculiar Revolution

“This incisive analysis of Peruvian countermemories explores the military’s seemingly failed cultural memory production, its lack of artistry and inability to suppress evidence. Though the military is unable to fully reclaim heroic and self-sacrificing patriotism, Milton nonetheless recognizes its success in shaping memory politics and current political debates.”—Leigh Payne, author of Unsettling Accounts

“Impressively documents the military’s diverse interventions in Peru’s culture—memoirs, ‘truth’ reports, films, novels, and memorials—and its numerous attempts to censor cultural productions that challenge its preferred narrative.”—Jo-Marie Burt, author of Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru

New Books, December 2017

December 12, 2017
Prisoner of Pinochet: My Year in a Chilean Concentration Camp
Sergio Bitar

“A compelling account, a best seller in Chile … and an important contribution to the country’s understanding of itself.”
Foreign Affairs

“Democracy is fragile, and only fully appreciated when it is lost. Sergio Bitar, now one of the most prominent political leaders in Chile, recounts the story of the 1973 military coup and his imprisonment in a direct, unsentimental style that sharply highlights the dramatic events he narrates.”
—Isabel Allende Llona

Critical Human Rights Series
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

December 19, 2017
Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology
Peter Hempenstall

Truth’s Fool documents an intellectual journey that was much larger and more encompassing than Freeman’s criticism of Mead’s work. It peels back the prickly layers to reveal the man in all his complexity. Framing this story within anthropology’s development in Britain and America, Peter Hempenstall recounts Freeman’s mission to turn the discipline from its cultural-determinist leanings toward a view of human culture underpinned by biological and behavioral drivers. Truth’s Foolengages the intellectual questions at the center of the Mead–Freeman debate and illuminates the dark spaces of personal, professional, and even national rivalries.

“A perceptive intellectual biography of Freeman’s evolving character, enthusiasms, and academic career that led to his fateful pursuit of Margaret Mead.”
—Lamont Lindstrom,author of Knowledge and Power in a South Pacific Society

 

Memory, urgency, and shades of gray in Chile’s presidential election

Our guest blogger today is Leith Passmore, whose new book, THE WARS INSIDE CHILE’S BARRACKS: Remembering Military Service under Pinochet, is published this week in our series Critical Human Rights. From 1973 to 1990 in Chile, approximately 370,000 young men—mostly from impoverished backgrounds—were conscripted to serve as soldiers in Augusto Pinochet’s violent regime. Some were brutal enforcers, but many also endured physical and psychological abuse, survival and torture training, arbitrary punishments, political persecution, and forced labor. In his book, Passmore examines the emergence, in the early twenty-first century, of a movement of ex-conscripts seeking reparations. In his blog post for us, he comments on the continuing effects of the Pinochet regime on today’s Chile.

During the brutal military regime in Chile under Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), two young protesters—Rodrigo Rojas de Negri and Carmen Gloria Quintana—were set on fire by Chilean military personnel and left for dead. This infamous 1986 incident, known as the caso quemados (case of the burned ones) helped consolidate the growing opposition to Pinochet on Chilean streets. It also proved to be the last straw for the Reagan administration, which withdrew American support for the dictator as a result.

Fast forward to September 2017, as candidate Loreto Letelier ran for congress in Chile. She suggested on her Facebook page that Rojas de Negri and Quintana had in fact set themselves alight. Her comments came just days after thirteen retired soldiers were indicted for the murder of Rojas de Negri and the attempted murder of Quintana. The version of events peddled by Letelier is not new, but its reemergence reflects a particular and urgent moment in Chile’s memory struggle as a generational horizon looms.

The context of Letelier’s comments is the current presidential election. Conservative former president Sebastián Piñera was favored to win before the recent vote on November 19th, 2017. However, third-place, left-wing candidate Beatriz Sánchez performed better than expected, creating uncertainty in the upcoming runoff election between Piñera and the second-place finisher, the socialist candidate Alejandro Guillier.

As for Letelier, she received less than 1% of the vote in her district. During the campaign Piñera eventually distanced himself from Letelier’s comments and later her candidacy, but he also courted sectors of the community still loyal to Pinochet. The far right has raised its voice in recent years in opposition to social reforms regarding abortion and marriage equality, but also in relation to the memory question. “Pinochetistas” have publicly revived hardline narratives and appropriated the language of rights to demand the release of convicted human rights abusers, citing the prisoners’ advanced age among their justifications.

The flipside to the urgency felt on the pinochetista right is the campaign of victims and their supporters to bring remaining human rights abusers to justice before they die. Victims’ groups have pressed for a change to the legislation that has kept secret the information provided to truth and reconciliation commissions. Proposals are currently before Congress. Although not responsible for the current initiatives, outgoing president Michelle Bachelet did promise to consider removing the embargo, after a 2015 meeting with Gloria Quintana.

Carmen Gloria Quintana (left) and Rodrigo Rojas de Negri (right) prior to being set on fire in 1986. (see source)

The quemados case was reopened in 2015 after an ex-conscript, Fernando Guzmán, testified that Lieutenant Julio Castañer had ordered another recruit to douse Quintana and Rojas in gasoline before setting them alight. A second ex-conscript subsequently corroborated Guzmán’s testimony, and their version is in line with Quintana’s own 1987 testimony to Amnesty International.

Declassified CIA documents also show how the military launched a disinformation campaign in the wake of the incident, buried a compromising police report, and intimidated witnesses, judges, and lawyers. A 1991 finding in the military justice system codified this “official” version, finding no one responsible for Rojas’s death or the burning of Quintana. The narrative that Letelier insists on is the result of this process. It was already actual “fake news” in 1986. In 2017 the case reveals not only the fundamental divisions within Chilean memory, but also at least one unresolved silence.

Ex-conscripts have emerged as important witnesses in high profile cases, but not as narrators of their own stories. The 370,000 former recruits who served under Pinochet may be perpetrators, victims, both, or neither. They may vote left, right, or not at all. Many have a story to tell, but Chile still does not know how to process such shades of gray.

Ex-conscript groups are demanding recognition and benefits, with their appeals assuming their own urgency as their members approach old age and their health fails. While presidential candidates were quick to respond to an ill-

Leith Passmore

informed social media post, none made time to meet with the men drafted into Pinochet’s army. Theirs is a complex and difficult story that does not lend itself to sound bites.

Leith Passmore is a historian at the Universidad Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. He is the author of an earlier book, Ulrike Meinhof and the Red Army Faction: Performing Terrorism.

New Books and New Paperbacks, November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 7, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK

Winner, Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture, American Conference for Irish Studies
PACKY JIM: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
Ray Cashman

“Accessible to a broad audience. . . . A delight to read on many different levels and constitutes a valuable addition to the scholarship on the individual and tradition.”—Journal of Folklore Research

Growing up on a secluded smuggling route along the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic, Packy Jim McGrath regularly heard the news, songs, and stories of men and women who stopped to pass the time until cover of darkness. In his early years, he says, he was all ears—but now it is his turn to talk.

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

November 14, 2017
SIX TURKISH FILMMAKERS
Laurence Raw

“Surprising and innovative. Raw integrates historical research with literary references and personal reflections, using the work of contemporary Turkish filmmakers to discuss pressing issues of identity and transcultural understanding.”—Iain Robert Smith, King’s College London

In analysis of and personal interviews with Derviş Zaim, Zeki Demirkubuz, Semih Kaplanoğlu, Çağan Irmak, Tolga Örnek, and Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Raw draws connections with Turkish theater, art, sculpture, literature, poetry, philosophy, and international cinema. A native of England and a twenty-five-year resident of Turkey, Raw interleaves his film discussion with thoughtful commentary on nationalism, gender, personal identity, and cultural pluralism.

Wisconsin Film Studies Series
Patrick McGilligan, Series Editor

 

November 21, 2017
SEASON OF THE SECOND THOUGHT
Lynn Powell

“Not just written, but wrought. Powell’s new poems deftly combine keen observation with perfect pitch, and their rich chiaroscuro renders them vibrant and painterly as the Dutch masters they often reference. The current running through her lines leaves me shivering with excitement and gratitude.”
—R. T. Smith, author of In the Night Orchard

Season of the Second Thought begins in a deep blue mood, longing to find words for what feels beyond saying. Lynn Powell’s poems journey through the seasons, quarreling with the muse, reckoning with loss, questioning the heart and its “pedigree of Pentecost,” and seeking out paintings in order to see inside the self. With their crisp observations and iridescent language, these poems accumulate the bounty of an examined life. These lines emerge from darkness into a shimmering equilibrium—witty, lush, and hard-won.

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

 

November 28, 2017
THE WARS INSIDE CHILE’S BARRACKS: Remembering Military Service under Pinochet
Leith Passmore

“With crisp prose and superb scholarship, Leith Passmore provides a groundbreaking exploration of the lives and memories of military conscripts under, and after, the seventeen-year rule of General Pinochet, South America’s most famous violator of human rights in living memory.”
—Paul W. Drake, author of Between Tyranny and Anarchy

“Few books are able to capture, as this one does, the full complexity of the Pinochet dictatorship’s horror. Passmore leads us, in magisterial fashion, into one of its darkest corners: the tortured memories of thousands of former conscripts transformed simultaneously into perpetrators and victims of the dictatorial nightmare.”
—Verónica Valdivia, author of El golpe después del golpe: Leigh vs Pinochet (1960–1980)

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

Tanizaki’s Yaichi: A Japanese disabled character as hero, outcast, and metaphor

Today, the University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to publish Kenny Fries’s account of a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, IN THE PROVINCE OF THE GODS. Here he comments on some of the “outtakes” from early drafts of the book.

Fifteen years ago, I first traveled to Japan to look at its historical and cultural relationship to otherness, to difference. More specifically, I wanted to learn about how the Japanese viewed and represented disability. During my first stay in Japan, much of this eluded me for reasons I write about in In the Province of Gods,

Three years later on my second trip, I found what I was looking for. But, as my book’s focus shifted, this research became more background than foreground. Though some of what I found in Japan about representation of disability remains in the book, much of it is now only in what I call the “outtakes.”

I did include in my book observations about the disability representation in Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro’s novel Portrait of Shunkin.  Most notably, I write about the way that Tanizaki’s story of Shunkin, a blind samisen singer, illuminates my meeting two of the surviving Hiroshima Maidens, the twenty-five hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) who traveled from Japan to the United States for medical treatment in 1955.

But another of Tanizaki’s blind characters is not represented in my own book. In A Blind Man’s Tale, Tanizaki tells the familiar story of the siege of Osaka Castle and historical figures Nobunaga and his successor Hideyoshi. He recounts this history through the voice of Yaichi, who like Shunkin is a blind samisen singer. Yaichi is also a masseur. (Samisen singer and masseur are traditional occupations for the blind in Japan.) Yaichi is in the service of Lady Oichi, sister of Nobunaga. She is married to Lord Nagamasa, an ally of Nobunaga until they have a falling out.

Many familiar tropes of blindness attend the tale of Yaichi, especially that of a blind man’s unrequited love. Because of his blindness, he goes unnoticed by the men but is taken into the confidence of a beautiful woman above his station. There is also the unfortunate metaphor of “blind devotion.” But what is singular about this tale comes at the story’s climactic moment.

During a siege of the castle, Yaichi entertains Lady Oichi along with a visitor, the warrior priest Choroken. As a master samisen player himself, Yaichi notices that Choroken’s playing includes embellishments of a tune with “queer phrases, twice-repeated.”   Yaichi informs us,

Now, there is a secret code that all of us blind samisen players know very well. Since each string of the samisen has sixteen stops, the three strings together have forty-eight: when you teach a beginner how to play the instrument you help him memorize these stops by marking them with the forty-eight characters of the alphabet.  Everyone who studies the samisen learns this system; but we blind musicians, since we can’t see the characters, have to learn it by heart, we associate each note with its proper letter quite automatically, as soon as we hear it.  So when blind musicians want to communicate secretly they can do it by playing on the samisen, using this system as a code.

Tanizaki Junichiro

Yaichi realizes Choroken’s “queer phrases” are communicating that the servant needs to save his mistress, and he perceives the plan Choroken is secretly transmitting. Yaichi’s blindness is a crucial asset in this covert exchange.

Tellingly, in the popular Kabuki theater version of the story, this original element is left out, leaving the story to emphasize the comparison between the “blind” love of Yaichi with that of those who court the widowed Lady Oichi and her beautiful daughter “whose voice sounded just the same” as her mother.  Lady Oichi affections are won over by Hideyoshi, even though he killed her family.  In the end of the Kabuki version, Yaichi is left on stage, remembering his Lady, who appears in the distance playing her koto.  She disappears, leaving Yaichi decidedly alone and crying.

In Tanizaki’s story we are shown how disability can, in certain contexts, be advantageous, as well as how the nondisabled use disability for their own purposes. But, as in much of Japanese culture, the story simultaneously conveys opposing ideas.  In A Blind Man’s Tale, we are given the blind man as hero, outcast, and metaphor.

Kenny Fries is the author of Body, Remember: A Memoir and The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory,  and editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. He teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College and is the recipient of a prestigious Creative Capital grant. He lives in Berlin.

Author’s website: https://www.kennyfries.com/

Burying the United Nations Genocide Treaty

This week, University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to release THE SOVIET UNION AND THE GUTTING OF THE UN GENOCIDE CONVENTION. After the staggering horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations resolved to prevent and punish the crime of genocide throughout the world. The resulting UN Genocide Convention treaty, however, was drafted, contested, and weakened in the midst of Cold War tensions and ideological struggles between the Soviet Union and the West. Author Anton Weiss-Wendt presents a unique historical account of the failure of the genocide convention. 

Joseph Stalin is the most outstanding figure in Russia’s history, followed by Vladimir Putin and Alexander Pushkin, according to a poll of Russians released in June 2017 by the independent Levada center in Moscow. The 38% of Russians who gave their vote to Stalin clearly dismiss and/or trivialize the mass crimes committed by his regime.

Mine is a story of international criminal law through the prism of Cold War, a legal history of the Cold War. Click To Tweet

When I learned the word genocide, it was in Russian. My paternal grandparents spent nearly twenty years of their lives in Stalin’s Gulag, though they rarely spoke of it. For me, genocide is a personal story. But I am also a professionally trained historian. Hence, the objective of my book is not to condemn but to explain. Neither is it exclusively a story of the communist dictatorship and its crimes.

Unearthing a mass grave on the site of a Gulag camp at Chelyabinsk, east of the Urals, in 1990 (Scanpix)

The Soviets were certainly the biggest offenders in trying to hollow out the Genocide Convention during the UN debates in 1947–48, but they were not the only ones with a vested interest. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States wanted political groups to be protected by the Genocide Convention. The two countries also reached an unlikely consensus that postponed indefinitely the establishment of an international criminal court. The British, for their part, never tried to conceal their dislike for the kind of international treaty they regarded as futile.

As I worked through documents in over a dozen archives in the United States and Europe, I have oscillated in my view of whether or not Stalin and his top diplomats/ accomplices Andrei Vyshinsky and Vyacheslav Molotov (the men on the front cover of the book) should have stood trial on charges of genocide. I conclude that, “under ideal circumstances, Stalin and the Soviet Union could no doubt be indicted for genocide,” yet I caution that this statement not be taken out of context.

Negotiators for the former Allies in World War II—the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom—were each conscious of cases of mass violence that they did not want to be covered by the convention. For the Soviets it was forced labor, ethnic deportations, and the destruction of political opposition in Eastern Europe. The Americans had on their minds racial discrimination at home and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. The British had yet the longest list of hot-button subjects: the treatment of colonial populations, American use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the treatment of Jews in Mandate Palestine, again the faith fate of German expellees, and so on.

A car owner in Moscow displays his admiration of Stalin, October 2015 (Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

The big question for me—and for all those who have examined or tried to apply the Genocide Convention in a court of law—is whether or not it is a useful legal tool. I am not optimistic. Cold War politics bankrupted the word genocide and ran aground the international treaty that was meant to stamp genocide out of existence. Stalin, and bloody dictators like him, care little for human rights law and are seldom brought to justice.

Stalin, and bloody dictators like him, care little for human rights law and are seldom brought to justice. Click To Tweet

Anton Weiss-Wendt directs research at the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of Murder without Hatred: Estonians and the Holocaust and Small-Town Russia: Childhood Memories of the Final Soviet Decade; editor of The Nazi Genocide of the Roma; and coeditor of Racial Science in Hitler’s New Europe, 1938–1945.