Tag Archives: politics

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

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.

A Russian Revolution Reading List

In this centennial year of the Bolshevik Revolution, here is intriguing reading on political and cultural facets of the revolutionary era (1914-21).

AN AMERICAN DIPLOMAT IN BOLSHEVIK RUSSIA
DeWitt Clinton Poole
Edited by Lorraine M. Lees and William S. Rodner

“A fascinating edition of US diplomat DeWitt Clinton Poole’s oral account of his experience in revolutionary Russia from 1917 to 1919. . . . His views of the early Bolshevik government, like those of other Americans who were there, are critical as the centennial of the Russian Revolution approaches. Highly recommended, all levels/libraries.“Choice

“A historical treasure trove for an era that will never be short on paradoxes, colorful characters, brutal conflict, and harrowing circumstances. Poole, one of the last American diplomats in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and before recognition in 1933, was a cool, detached observer of events, and rather prescient in his predictions.”Russian Life

 

THE BODY SOVIET
Tricia Starks

The Body Soviet is the first sustained investigation of the Bolshevik government’s early policies on hygiene and health care in general.”—Louise McReynolds, author of Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era

“A masterpiece that will thoroughly fascinate and delight readers. Starks’s understanding of propaganda and hygiene in the early Soviet state is second to none. She tells the stories of Soviet efforts in this field with tremendous insight and ingenuity, providing a rich picture of Soviet life as it was actually lived.”—Elizabeth Wood, author of From Baba to Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia

 

FAST FORWARD
The Aesthetics and Ideology of Speed in Russian Avant-Garde Culture, 1910–1930
Tim Harte

“The book is well-written and richly illustrated. It is a pleasure to read both in the old-fashioned slow way and to browse in the accelerated fast-forward mode. This highly stimulating study responds to a long-standing need to address speed as an aesthetic category in modern Russian art and constitutes a very welcome and important contribution to the field.”—Nikolai Firtich, Slavic Review

Fast Forward reveals how the Russian avant-garde’s race to establish a new artistic and social reality over a twenty-year span reflected an ambitious metaphysical vision that corresponded closely to the nation’s rapidly changing social parameters.

 

WHEN PIGS COULD FLY AND BEARS COULD DANCE
A History of the Soviet Circus
Miriam Neirick

“A beautifully written, compact history of the Soviet circus.”—Janet M. Davis, author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top

For more than seven decades the circuses enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Soviet Union. How did the circus—an institution that dethroned figures of authority and refused any orderly narrative structure—become such a cultural mainstay in a state known for blunt and didactic messages? Miriam Neirick argues that the variety, flexibility, and indeterminacy of the modern circus accounted for its appeal not only to diverse viewers but also to the Soviet state. In a society where government-legitimating myths underwent periodic revision, the circus proved a supple medium of communication.

EPIC REVISIONISM
Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda
Edited by Kevin M. F. Platt and David Brandenberger

“Platt and Brandenberger have collected first-rate contributors and produced a coherent and powerful volume that amplifies what we know about the uses and abuses of history in the Soviet 1930s.”—Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Chicago

“A boon to graduate students and a delight to aficionados of Soviet culture.”—Jeffrey Brooks, John Hopkins University

 

 

RUSSIA’S ROME
Imperial Visions, Messianic Dreams, 1890–1940
Judith E. Kalb

A wide-ranging study of empire, religious prophecy, and nationalism in literature, Russia’s Rome provides the first examination of Russia’s self-identification with Rome during a period that encompassed the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the rise of the Soviet state.

“Gives a new and significant context to the work of some of Russia’s major poets and prose writers of the early twentieth century. Kalb’s main contribution is to show that the interest in the Roman Empire was not an incidental part of Russian literature in this period, but a genuine obsession.” —Michael Wachtel, Princeton University

 

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.

New books and new paperbacks, July 2017

We’re pleased to announce these new books, and titles new in paperback, debuting this month.

July 18, 2017
WISCONSIN AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN LAW
Joseph A. Ranney

“Not simply about Wisconsin’s legal history, for Ranney covers the sweep of state laws in American history from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to recent legal questions of the twenty-first century. Impressively researched and invitingly written, this is a unique introduction to our states as laboratories of democracy.”—Lloyd C. Gardner,Rutgers University

State laws affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives—our safety, personal relationships, and business dealings—but receive less scholarly attention than federal laws and courts. Joseph A. Ranney looks at how state laws have evolved and shaped American history, through the lens of the historically influential state of Wisconsin.

 

July 18, 2017  NEW IN PAPERBACK
AMENDING THE PAST
Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History
Alexander Karn

“Historical commissions, Karn argues, have brought expert historical practice to bear on complex questions, adding new meaning to facts that have either been debated or glossed over. These commissions matter because they serve to amend history in cases in which social memory has impeded understanding of historical injustices and begin the amelioration of past human rights violations.”Choice

“A very important contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on the broad theme of reckoning with histories of atrocity.”—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

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

 

July 18, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK
SHAPING THE NEW MAN

Youth Training Regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Alessio Ponzio

“Ponzio tells a nuanced story of the delicate and volatile relationship between interwar Europe’s two fascist regimes. . . . He highlights power struggles between leaders, curricula designed not to educate youth but to transform them into ideal representatives of their regimes, and strict gender policing within each of the organizations. Recommended.”Choice

“Ponzio provides, above all, valuable new perspectives on the tremendous influence of Italian Fascism on fledgling Nazi youth organizations, and the cooperative and reciprocal relationships that flourished between the two regimes.”—Michael Ebner, author of Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Stanley G. Payne, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

 

July 27, 2017
BEYOND THE MONASTERY WALLS

The Ascetic Revolution in Russian Orthodox Thought, 1814–1914
Patrick Lally Michelson

“Impressive in its analytical breadth and astute in its interpretive depth, this is an engaging, lucid, and original contribution to the history of modern Russian thought and modern Orthodoxy.”—Vera Shevzov, Smith College

“Reading this extraordinary book is like having missing pieces of a puzzle click together at last. Actors normally examined separately—radical socialists, theological academies, hermits, great writers, bureaucrats, lay intellectuals—emerge as part of the same religious culture that placed asceticism at the center of discourse and practice in imperial Russia’s defining century.” —Nadieszda Kizenko, University at Albany, SUNY

 

July 27, 2017
IF YOU DON’T LAUGH YOU’LL CRY 
The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers
Claire Schmidt

“A lucid, compelling study of some very funny, compassionate corrections officers. Their intelligence and comic delight shine through on every page.”—Jackie McGrath, College of DuPage

America is fascinated by prisons and prison culture, but few Americans understand what it is like to work in corrections. Claire Schmidt, whose extended family includes three generations of Wisconsin prison workers, introduces readers to penitentiary officers and staff as they share stories, debate the role of corrections in American racial politics and social justice, and talk about the important function of humor in their jobs.

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

 

 

New books in June 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in late June.

June 20, 2017
WRITTEN IN BLOOD

Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881
Lynn Ellen Patyk

In March 1881, Russia stunned the world when a small band of revolutionaries calling themselves “terrorists” assassinated Alexander II. Horrified Russians blamed the influence of European ideas, while shocked Europeans perceived something new and distinctly Russian in a strategy of political violence that became known as “the Russian method” or “terrorism”.

“A superb model of interdisciplinary scholarship: highly original, subtle, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. Analyzing both word and deed, Patyk rewrites the history of modern terrorism showing why the Russian case was pivotal. A gripping story.”—Susan Morrissey, author of Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia

 

June 27, 2017
THE POX LOVER
An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

Memories of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris told by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites.

“In a voice both powerful and cool, The Pox Lover takes on a sprawling personal history, deeply aware throughout that it is the politics of anyone’s day—and how we respond to it—that shapes a life. Never far from the mad joy of writing, loving, and being alive, even as it investigates our horribly mundane capacity for horror, this book is a masterpiece.”—Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave

 

June 27, 2017
YOOPER TALK

Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Kathryn A. Remlinger

Yooper Talk explains linguistic concepts with entertaining examples for general readers and also contributes to interdisciplinary discussions of dialect and identity in sociolinguistics, anthropology, dialectology, and folklore.

“Although humorous songs poke fun at Yoopers’ words and customs, Remlinger takes this place and its people very seriously. She explains how history, ethnicity, environment, economic changes, tourism, and especially language have created a colorful and distinctive regional dialect and identity.”—Larry Lankton, Hollowed Ground: Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest
Series Editor(s) Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary

 

June 27, 2017
THE LIMA INQUISITION

The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru
Ana E. Schaposchnik

The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”—Kris Lane, Tulane University

“An in-depth look at the trials of the Great Complicity in the 1630s, during which almost 100 people, overwhelmingly men and women of Portuguese origin, were accused of being crypto-Jews and detained and tried by the Inquisition. Recommended.”Choice

 

June 27, 2017
9XM TALKING 
WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Randall Davidson

This is the fascinating history of the innovative work of Wisconsin’s educational radio stations, from the first broadcast by experimental station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin to the network of stations known today as Wisconsin Public Radio. Randall Davidson provides the first comprehensive history of the University of Wisconsin radio station.

“An engaging, even engrossing, narrative about the station’s pioneering work in broadcasting. … A reader witnesses … the struggles that small and educational broadcasters faced in the early years in what was nearly a constant battle to maintain a foothold in the frequency spectrum.” Journalism History

 

 

June 27
FROM WAR TO GENOCIDE
Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994
André Guichaoua, Translated by Don E. Webster, Foreword by Scott Straus

“A landmark in the historiography of the Rwandan genocide. No serious scholar writing about the genocide can afford to ignore this trailblazing contribution.”—René Lemarchand, author of The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

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

New books in May 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in May.

May 9, 2017
WHISPERS OF CRUEL WRONGS
The Correspondence of Louisa Jacobs and Her Circle, 1879-1911
Edited by Mary Maillard

Louisa Jacobs was the daughter of Harriet Jacobs, author of the famous autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. That work included a heartbreaking account of Harriet parting with six-year-old Louisa, taken away to the North by her white father. Now, rediscovered letters reveal the lives of Louisa and her circle and shed light on Harriet’s old age.

“A rich and fascinating portrait of Philadelphia’s and Washington D.C.’s black elite after the Civil War. Even as the letters depict the increasingly troubled political status and economic fortunes of the correspondents, they offer rare glimpses into private homes and inner emotions.”—Carla L. Peterson,author of Black Gotham

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

May 16, 2017
TO OFFER COMPASSION
A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf

“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. . . . Critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

May 23, 2017
SPIRIT CHILDREN
Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana
Aaron R. Denham

“A brilliant, sensitive, and moving book about the heartbreaking phenomenon of infanticide. This is a book to be taken seriously by hospital personnel, public health policymakers, NGO workers, and anyone interested in the fate of the world’s most vulnerable young children.”—Alma Gottlieb, coauthor of A World of Babies

“A skillful ethnography of the spirit child phenomenon in northern Ghana—children who fail to thrive, are feared to harm their families, and therefore should be ‘sent back.’ This insightful, theoretically rich analysis offers a nuanced ecological, economic, and cultural explanation of maternal attachment.”—John M. Janzen, author of The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, Neil Kodesh, Tejumola Olaniyan, Michael G. Schatzberg, and James H. Sweet, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
THE LAND REMEMBERS

The Story of a Farm and Its People  9th Edition
Ben Logan
With an introduction by Curt Meine

“Ben Logan is strikingly successful in recalling his own boyhood world, a lonely ridge farm in southwestern Wisconsin. . . . He reviews his growing-up years in the 1920s and ’30s less with nostalgia than with a naturalist’s eye for detail, wary of the distortions of memory and sentiment.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A book to be cherished and remembered.”—Publishers Weekly

 

 

May 30, 2017
PINERY BOYS
Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
Edited by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P. Leary

As the heyday of the lumber camps faded, a young scholar named Franz Rickaby set out to find songs from shanty boys, river drivers, and sawmill hands in the Upper Midwest. Pinery Boys now incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Rickaby’s 1926 book. It includes annotations throughout by folklore scholar James P. Leary and an engaging biography by Rickaby’s granddaughter Gretchen Dykstra. Central to this edition are the fifty-one songs that Rickaby originally published, plus fourteen additional songs selected to represent the

Franz Rickaby

varied collecting Rickaby did beyond the lumber camps.

“[Rickaby] was the first to put the singing lumberjack into an adequate record and was of pioneering stuff. … His book renders the big woods, not with bizarre hokum and studied claptrap … but with the fidelity of an unimpeachable witness.”—Carl Sandburg

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest Series
Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
The second book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series
DEATH AT GILLS ROCK
Patricia Skalka

“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series (Death Stalks Door County, 2014) provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”Kirkus Reviews

“Skalka captures the . . . small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”Booklist

Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era

5493-165w

Law professor Michael O’Hear has just published his new book with us this week: Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era. We spoke with him about his findings on this timely subject.

A lot has been written in the popular and academic press about mass incarceration, as the number of Americans in prison has increased tremendously since the 1970s. What does your book add?

Most writing on mass incarceration deals with the subject as a generalized national phenomenon. However, the vast majority of American prisoners—about seven in eight—are held in state institutions after being sentenced in state courts under state laws. Really, it is state-level policies and practices that have driven the unprecedented imprisonment boom that we have seen in the U.S. over the past four decades. This helps to explain why mass incarceration has hit some states a lot harder than others. Yet, there are very few studies that explore the experience of particular states in depth. We will not have the full story of mass incarceration in America until state experiences are better understood.

My book covers the historical development of sentencing policy in Wisconsin over a period of more than forty years. Only a handful of other states have been studied in a comparable fashion. I hope to enrich the literature by putting another state that has had a distinctive experience under the microscope. Of course, I think my book will also hold a special appeal for Wisconsinites who are interested in better understanding and possibly reforming penal practices in their own state.

How hard did mass incarceration hit Wisconsin?

In some respects, the Wisconsin experience has been representative of the overall national experience. As with most other states, Wisconsin’s prison population rose sharply in the last quarter of the twentieth century and remains today near its all-time high. At present, the prison population amounts to about 377 out of every 100,000 state residents. This figure is not far off the national average of 402 state prisoners out of every 100,000 U.S. residents.

However, Wisconsin’s numbers do stand out in at least two ways. First, the state’s prison population grew remarkably quickly, even by national standards. In the early 1970’s, Wisconsin’s imprisonment rate was only about half the national average. In essence, Wisconsin went from being a low-imprisonment state forty years ago to a middle-of-the-pack state today. Second, mass incarceration hit Wisconsin’s African American community in an especially dramatic and disheartening way. By some measures, Wisconsin may have the nation’s very highest rate of black male incarceration. In some neighborhoods in Milwaukee, in particular, imprisonment has become a routine and expected part of the life experience of young men of color.

What caused Wisconsin’s prison population to grow so quickly?behind bars

Let me first address two common errors about mass incarceration. I’ve heard these stories often from commentators both locally and nationally, but the Wisconsin experience does a good job of highlighting the problems with these accounts. First, many people think that mass incarceration was caused by the “war on drugs.” It is true that the imprisonment boom, at both the state and national level, coincided with a toughening of drug laws and a sharp increase in drug arrests. However, the vast majority of arrests have been for low-level offenses, like simple possession of marijuana, and the offenders have tended to cycle in and out of the criminal-justice system relatively quickly. Thus, in Wisconsin, the portion of the prison population serving time for drug offenses topped out at about 15 percent, and has since dropped to below 10 percent. The national numbers are a little higher, but the fact remains that mass incarceration would still exist even if every drug offender were released from prison tomorrow.

Second, it is often said that mass incarceration resulted from the adoption of mandatory minimums and other laws that took away the discretion of sentencing judges. It is true that Wisconsin, like many other states, adopted a host of new statutory minimums in the 1980s and 1990s. However, upon closer inspection, the minimums are revealed for what they really were—largely symbolic enactments that vented public frustration over crime without actually doing much to pump up the prison population. Minimums were relatively short, or narrowly targeted, or included safety valves that permitted judges to avoid them. In some states, like California, discretion was much more dramatically curtailed. However, the Wisconsin story demonstrates that mass incarceration happened without aggressive changes in sentencing law.

In Wisconsin, the prison population initially exploded because crime exploded, and because judges and prosecutors lacked confidence in the ability of the Department of Corrections to manage the rising tide of offenders effectively in the community. But then, even when crime stabilized in the 1990s, the prison population continued to grow, as indicated in the figure below. Sentences were becoming more severe, reflecting the entrenchment of tough-on-crime attitudes among criminal-justice officials. (In Wisconsin, as in most states, judges and district attorneys are elected, which makes it perilous for these key local officials to appear overly lenient.) For a few years, generous parole practices partly counterbalanced tougher sentences, but parole grew politicized in the mid-1990s and was effectively phased out. The formal elimination of parole through “truth in sentencing” helped to ensure that Wisconsin’s prison population would remain near its all-time high on a sustained basis.

Figure: Wisconsin Prisoners and Arrests for Violent Crime

Figure: Wisconsin Prisoners and Arrests for Violent Crime

Why should we care about the state or national imprisonment rate?

Commentators have been calling for large-scale decarceration in the United States for years. The numbers-crunchers tell us that that this could likely be accomplished with little or no adverse impact on public safety. The historical experiences of Wisconsin and Minnesota offer a telling comparison. The two states had similar crime and imprisonment rates in the early 1970s. Since then, Wisconsin’s imprisonment rate has grown far more quickly than Minnesota’s, but the crime rates have remained closely in sync.

In recent years, the opponents of mass incarceration have particularly emphasized the fiscal burdens of imprisonment. It is true that corrections expenses are stressing state budgets in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Local taxpayers are now paying more for corrections than they are for the University of Wisconsin, which hardly seems an ideal way to prioritize public expenditures. Still, I am skeptical that appeals to fiscal restraint alone will inspire much decarceration. Fear of crime remains widespread, and people resist thinking about crime policy in terms of dollars and cents; the stakes just seem too high.barbed wire

Reformers need to make the case that new sentencing policies would not only save money, but actually make us safer. Accumulating bodies of evidence show that imprisonment can make some offenders more likely to reoffend, while some types of community-based rehabilitative programming can significantly reduce risks of recidivism. However, I argue in my book that real reform likely requires more than just a good public education campaign.

Ultimately, as a society, we must move beyond the reflexive vilification of offenders and recognize their shared humanity. They are not just criminals, but also parents, children, spouses, neighbors, friends, and employees, and many desperately want to do something positive with their lives. Moreover, most come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have faced extraordinary adversity growing up, which ought to inspire at least a little compassion. If we care about the well-being of prisoners, and the well-being of those on the outside who are connected to them, then we should care very deeply about the excessive use of imprisonment that is reflected in the mass-incarceration numbers. This is not to say that we should empty out the prisons tomorrow. Saint Augustine taught us to hate the sin, but love the sinner. If we were really to take that teaching to heart, we would find ways to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable, but without doing so much unnecessary damage to so many human lives along the way.

Michael OMichael O'Hear‘Hear is a professor of law at Marquette University. He is an editor of the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter and has published many articles on sentencing law, criminal procedure, and public opinion about the criminal justice system.

 

Michael O’Hear