A world in flames: Can academia
help end the inferno?

by G.S.   <george.salzman@umb.edu>    2 October 2007

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/S2/2007-10-02.htm

      A long time ago, soon after World War I, in 1923 Upton Sinclair wrote,[1]

      . . . I have come to understand that . . . [o]ur educational system is not a public service, but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist. To establish this thesis is the purpose of "The Goose-step."

      And first a few words as to the title. We spent some thirty billions of treasure, and a hundred thousand young lives, to put down the German autocracy; being told, and devoutly believing, that we were thereby banishing from the earth a certain evil thing known as Kultur. It was not merely a physical thing, the drilling of a whole population for the aggrandizement of a military caste; it was a spiritual thing, a regimen of autocratic dogmatism. The best expression of it upon which I have come in my readings is that of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Prussian philosopher and apostle of Nationalism; I quote two sentences, from a long discourse: "To compel men to a state of right, to put them under the yoke of right by force, is not only the right but the sacred duty of every man who has the knowledge and the power. . . . . He is the master, armed with compulsion and appointed by God." I ask you to read those sentences over, to bear them in mind as you follow chapter after chapter of this book; see if I am not right in my contention that what we did, when we thought we were banishing the Goose-step from the world, was to bring it to our own land, and put ourselves under its sway -- our thinking, and, more dreadful yet, the teaching of our younger generation.

      Sinclair was no intellectual slouch, and he was writing from first-hand information, particularly his experience at Columbia University, which he knowingly labelled The University of the House of [John Pierpont] Morgan. All of us, but especially those of us in academia, ought to keep in mind the opening part of this quoted excerpt, “Our educational system is not a public service, but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist.

      With that in mind, when an e-mail from Dennis Fox announced a forthcoming First International Academic Conference on "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Pathways to Peace" set for 28-30 March 2008 at the Central Connecticut State University, I would have been suspicious even without Fox’s expressed reservations.[2] The announced conference is being convened by Dr. Moises F. Salinas, a psychology professor at Central Connecticut State University He maintains several web pages.[3] .If you have followed my writing you know that I ardently want the conquest of the Palestinians ended. It appeared to me initially that Salinas’ conference seemed unlikely to contribute positively towards ending the conflict, and I wrote him the following e-mail:

Subject: Conflict resolution needed, but not by state terror
From: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>
Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2007 12:08:47 -0500
To: Moises F. Salinas <salinasm@ccsu.edu>
CC: Dennis Fox <df@dennisfox.net>

Oaxaca, sabado el 15 de septiembre de 2007

Dear Moises Salinas,
      I received from Dennis Fox the notice of your forthcoming conference on “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Pathways to Peace”. As an elderly American Jew, a World War II veteran, I am appalled by the terrible violence that prevails throughout much of the world. As a Mexican-born Jew you must know well the suffering imposed on the large majority of Mexicans by the ruling power structure (the daily paper here spoke a couple of days ago of tortillas perhaps going up to 10 pesos a kilo (just went up to 9). You must also be at least peripherally aware (as J. Robert Oppenheimer once famously admitted regarding his own lack of total innocence) that the role of Israel in Latin America has been an ongoing disgrace to the standards of human decency which we Jews love to attribute to ourselves.
      I’m interested to know whether you would welcome people like Ilan Pappe to give invited talks. I’m also interested to know if you believe there’s even a remote possibility of resolving the conflict in Latin America, or for that matter in the entire world, between the forces of those who control an inordinate part of global material wealth and the overwhelming majority of the worlds’ people, mainly the impoverished peoples. In brief, do you think it’s possible to resolve the frightening class war? The picture below that was forwarded to me today illustrates how the power structure proposes to resolve the conflict.

Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2007 20:21:16 -0500
From: El Grito del Pueblo <elgritodelpueblo@gmail.com>
Subject: Terrorismo de Estado [English follows original Spanish]:

"Detención" de Jorge Salinas Cardón por la Policía Federal
Preventiva, Atenco, 4 de mayo, 2006.
      Jorge Salinas es luchador sindical del Colectivo de Telefonistas Zapatistas. Se opone control charril que Hernández Juárez ejerce sobre el Sindicato de Telefonistas de la República Mexicana; y al saqueo a la nación ejercida por el dueño de TELMEX y de Grupo Carso, Carlos Slim, el hombre más rico del mundo.

"Arrest" of Jorge Salinas Cardón by the Federal
Preventive Police in Atenco, 4 May 2006.
      Jorge Salinas is a union militant of the Zapatista Collective of telephone workers. They oppose the crude control that Hernández Juárez exercizes over the Telephone Workers Union of the Mexican Republic, and the theft from the nation effected by the owner of TELMEX and the Carso Group, Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world.

Terrorismo de Estado

      Uso sistemático, por parte del gobierno de un Estado, de amenazas y represalias, considerado a menudo ilegal dentro incluso de su propia legislación, con el fin de imponer obediencia y una colaboración activa a la población. Por su naturaleza es difícil de identificar, y los conceptos varían en función del carácter de las épocas históricas, zonas geográficas y características culturales. Los regímenes despóticos del pasado utilizaban con frecuencia prácticas de este tipo, que las democracias modernas condenarían sin necesidad de realizar una crítica contemporánea rigurosa. Las formas más desarrolladas de terrorismo de Estado, para las que el término fue inventado, han sido los sistemas empleados en el siglo XX bajo el fascismo y el comunismo. Asimismo, la práctica de terror desde el poder se extendió en el siglo XX bajo regímenes militares o militarizados en el seno de democracias formales.

State Terrorism

      Systematic use by the government of a state of threats and reprisals, often considered illegal as included within its own legal structure, for the purpose of forcing obedience and active collaboration on the population. By its nature it is difficult to identify, and the concepts vary depending historical epochs, geographical zones and cultural characteristics. Despotic regimes in the past frequently used practices of this kind, which modern democracies condemned without having to make a rigorous contemporary critique. The most developed forms of state terrorism, for which the term was invented, have been the systems employed in the Twientieth century under fascism and communism. Also, the practice of terror from state power extended in the Twentieth century to formal democracies that were under military or militarized regimes.

      My letter was clearly a challenge to Mr. Salinas’s proposed academic approach to conflict resolution, with its emphasis on personal psychology, apparently devoid of considerations of the embracing context of power struggles in the real world, which I sumised from Dennis Fox’s 14 Sept 2007 post on his blog ( linked to in my Note [2] ). On 22 September I wrote again, “I first wrote you a week ago, and then sent a short note on Wednesday the 19th . . . I imagine these are busy days for you, with the start of the fall semester, but I hope you will have the time and inclination to write me.” Then on 3 October I wrote, “I would hope that your conference will be open to consideration of the social/political/economic factors in which large-scale conflicts are invariably imbedded. The announcement [which I inserted] of a workshop at the Psychology Department of UNAM [the Autonomous National University of Mexico] in Mexico City might be of interest to you. I would appreciate hearing from you in response to my earlier e-mails.”

      I’m happy to say Mr. Salinas responded positively, as follows:

Thanks for your interest. Yes, indeed, the conference is open to any relevant proposals that will advance the understanding of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Although I personally am not in the review committee, each proposal will undergo blind review by two randomly selected reviewers. We are working hard at recruiting reviewers so we have a balance between Jewish/Israeli and Palestinian reviewers.

The workshop at the UNAM sounds indeed really interesting. When I was back in Mexico I was indeed very much involved in issues related to social equality, especially after the 1985 earthquake when so many people from the working classes were destituted and then cheated by the government. It would be interesting to hear more about your work in Oaxaca.

As for earlier E-mails, I apologize but I don't have any earlier messages from you. It might be possible that the university's spam filter sent it to the Junk folder, which I rarely check because it is is so massive.

Thanks again and I'll be looking forward to seeing a proposal from you.

      I responded as follows:
      Thank you for your e-mail today. I don't know why my earlier messages did not get to you. First I will include them here, in chronological order, and then add a few words at the end.

[my earlier notes followed]
      I appreciate your expressed interest in my work in Mexico. Although I identify myself as a Jew, I am also an athiest, an anarchist-communist, and so of course an internationalist. Starting from a position of near total ignorance about Zionism about five years ago, and although my wife (deceased in 1981) and I were thrilled in 1948 when the State of Israel was established, I sought to inform myself about the Israel-Palestine conflict in these last five years or so and have come to believe that the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine was a horrendous historical event which I now fear might even lead to an American Judeocide. So we are surely in strong disagreement on those issues.
      Perhaps on Mexico we are not of opposing views. My website has a great deal on the popular struggle here. My sympathies are always with the poor people, and so I see George W. Bush as a porro of the grand capitalists, Felipe Calderon as a porro of Bush, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz as a porro of Calderon. This is of course simplistic, but with a fair amount of truth. The value system of capitalism is the basic social problem. I see Oaxaca as la cara del fascismo mexicano. And I am horrified at the actions of the Israeli Jewish Nazis who act towards Palestinians as the Nazi SS did towards Jews (on a much lesser numerical scale, I know, but with equal dehumanization of ‘the other’ in their psyches). No doubt you believe you have a great deal to teach me. I believe my understanding and my humanity are probably more profound, but of course I may be simply wrong and arrogant. There’s always lots to learn.
      Again Dr. Salinas responded very positively, leading me to believe I had been too doubtful that his conference efforts could have any constructive result. His letter contains some personal information. He has given me permission to make it public. Here it is.

Date: Thu, 04 Oct 2007 10:14:20 -0400 Thanks for the latest E-mail. Yes, indeed, I'm aware of the terrible atrocities that happen in Mexico. Back in 2000, many people believed that the fall of the PRI party dictatorship would bring a change, but I believe that people like Fox and Calderon are in fact no different than their predecessors.

I also agree with you about class warfare. Capitalism can not exist without an exploited class that will manufacture cheap goods (cars, televisions, computers) for pennies on the hour for the wealthy classes. The difference today is that this class differences are more internationalized, but not fundamentally different form Marx's and Engel's conceptions. I truly don't think that a problem that is so systemic and entrenched, sustained by so many interest, can be solved in the short run. However, there are definitely things, small contributions, that we can do to go on the right direction. Perhaps in 50, 100 years that could bring about a paradigm shift. That's all we can hope for.

As for Zionism, well, that history is very complicated. As a Mexican Jew, a socialist and an agnostic, I had a very different experience growing up than my American co-nationals. And I say co-nationals because I understand Judaism to be a nation (with and embedded religion). Even as a young activist student in the UNAM my friends would call me "The Jew" (I was the only one in a class of 400) and saw me as a foreigner (even though I was second generation Mexican born). I am very critical of many of the Israeli government action, and also worry about many historical events that the Zionist establishment was a party too. Yet, I never felt a sense of belonging anywhere until I moved to Israel. I did see it as a very flawed place, but strangely enough the only one in which I was accepted.

Well, hope we have a chance to talk more about this in the future. Take care and talk to you soon

      I wrote back,
Dear Moises,
      I very much appreciate your candor. I am glad you were not at all defensive in responding to my initially skeptical letter, and then in answering my second note, where I pointed to our conflicting views on Israel-Palestine. To me the essential need is for all of us to be truthful in expressing our beliefs. I have respect for Benny Morris because he is honest, despite what I see as his terrifying acceptance of the destruction of the Palestinians ‘for the good of the Jews’. In this belief he is monstrous, psychologically deformed I would say. A brainwashed, initially British Jew. But I can believe what he says is what he really thinks. For me that is decisive.
      I was encouraged by what you wrote to think that the conference might be a good opportunity for a solid exchange of views, and wrote to a small number of people (the ones I'm CC’ing this to) including our correspondence to indicate how my initial doubts were turned to optimism. I would like to publicize the conference with a mailing to my list, including in it our exchange. Would you find that acceptable? Clearly in my mind what you wrote shows you in a very favorable light.
      Here is my message to the small group:
      I have been in touch with Prof. Moises F. Salinas about the conference he initiated, "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Pathways to Peace", to be held in Connecticut in March 2008. After a slow start, he wrote me yesterday, and I responded, rather late last night. He wrote again this morning, a very positive, encouraging letter:
[His letter appeared here]
      I will send our complete prior exchange as an attachment, for those of you who are alerted to this for the first time. Although my initial reaction to Dr. Salinas's initiative was one of skepticism, I now think we may have an opportunity to break some important ground in the struggle to inform American public opinion about the reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Since you and I, Dennis, shared early doubts about Salinas's effort, I'll be interested to know your current thinking. I was very blunt in writing him, but both his notes are not at all defensive, and so it seems to me there may be common ground. I think that turning U.S. public opinion strongly against the Israeli state is probably prerequisite to securing 'justice' for the Palestinians.
Let’s try to contribute to ending the Middle East conflict.
The conference as a chance for constructive dialogue

      I think it would be a worthwhile effort to regard the conference as yet another opportunity to speak directly to a group of American academics, probably many of them Jewish at this gathering, who must share with most of the informed people in the world an abhorrence of the terrible human toll on both Israeli Jews and Palestinians caused by the conflict.

      It seems clear to me that the wall of indifference in America towards the ominous fate planned by the Israeli government for the remaining Palestinians, i.e. those not yet in the diaspora, is being steadily breached, particularly among young college people. This growing shift in opinion deserves encouragement. Working to inform Americans of the truth can help change history.


[1] The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education, by Upton Sinclair, Chapter IV. The quoted material and other excerpts from the book are in my essay, “Colleges and Universities from Coast to Coast. Who Runs Them? And for What Purpose?”, available at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/SfHS/1995-01-19.htm .

[2] The conference alert came in an e-mail from Dennis Fox <df@dennisfox.net>. The conference announcement, and Dennis’s reservations, are posted on his informative blog on 14 September 2007, http://blog.dennisfox.net/index.php/ .

[3] Moises F. Salinas Curriculum Vitae is at http://www.psychology.ccsu.edu/salinas/Info/CurrVita.html . He also has a Professional Profile webpage at http://salinas.socialpsychology.org/ .

All comments and criticisms are welcome.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>

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