S. Brian Willson

This site contains essays describing the incredible historic pattern of U.S. arrogance, ethnocentrism, violence and lawlessness in domestic and global affairs, and the severe danger this pattern poses for the future health of Homo sapiens and Mother Earth. Other essays discuss revolutionary, nonviolent alternative approaches based on the principle of radical relational mutuality. This is a term increasingly used by physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists to describe the nature of the omnicentric*, ever-unfolding universe. Every being, every aspect of life energy in the cosmos, is intrinsically interconnected with and affects every other being and aspect of life energy at every moment.

*everything is at the center of the cosmos at every moment

Brian's Blog

All blog entries and essays posted on this site are authored by S. Brian Willson.

1970s Origins of Accelerated Rise of Nonwhite Incarceration in the US

Case Study Using Data From the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP is the one jurisdiction administering penal facilities in the United States that has maintained relatively accurate records since its 1930 founding, even though definitions of race have not been consistent.

1. Incarcerated federal prisoners on June 30, 1952 totaled 18,896 (75% White, 25% Nonwhite). [Federal Prisons 1952, Report of the Work of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Table 18, p. 75]

2. Incarcerated federal prisoners on an average day in 1970 totaled about 21,000 (71% White, 29% Nonwhite). [FBOP Annual Reports and BOP periodical data sheets]

NOTE: November 13, 1969, President Nixon ordered Attorney General John Mitchell to prepare a 10-year federal corrections system “reform” plan to construct new prisons and modernize existing ones. The BOP created its Long Range Master Plan (LRMP).

3. Incarcerated federal prisoners on September 11, 1977 totaled 30,343 (60.5% White, 39.5%. Nonwhite) [BOP Annual Reports and BOP periodical data sheets]

4. Between 1972 (when the BOP unveiled publicly its first LRMP) and 1977, the Bureau opened 21 new penal facilities capable of housing nearly 6,000 additional prisoners. In that same period of time the number of Nonwhite federal prisoners increased by approximately the same number — 6,000! In effect, the initial prison expansion was “reserved” exclusively for Nonwhite prisoners which proved to be a catastrophic prophetic warning of increased racial repression for the years ahead. When the rapid expansion began, especially after 1975 which revealed the first expansion in rates’ trends in BOP history, the incarcerated federal prisoner population quickly rose by 45%, but Nonwhite prisoner population experienced an extraordinarily disproportionate increase of 97%!

5. Incarcerated federal prisoners in September 2004 totaled 153,084 in BOP facilities, plus 27,234 in non-BOP contract facilities, for a grand total of 180,318 (24.5% White, 75.5% Nonwhite).

6. The BOP had an internal 2003 rated capacity of 106,046 prisoners. [Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2003, Table 8]. Thus, with over 153,000 internal prisoners (those not contracted out to private or state facilities) it operated at 144% capacity. Since 1970, the BOP’s internal capacity has risen from approximately 21,000 to 106,000 beds, a spectacular 300+% increase of 85,000 beds, while relying increasingly upon contractual facilities, which capacity has jumped from 4,000 to 27,000 beds, nearly a 500% explosive increase of 23,000 beds.

Thus, the BOP has over 34 years (1970-2003 inclusively) increased its capacity by a net additional 112,000 beds (85,000 + 27,000). In that same period of time, 1970-2003, the number of Nonwhite prisoners jumped an unbelievable 2,100%, from 6,100 in 1970 to more than 136,000 in 2003-04, an astonishing increase of 129,000 minority prisoners! Every one of the new 112,000 BOP beds has been filled by a Nonwhite prisoner!

Though White prisoners did jump more than 200%, from 14,000 in 1970 to 44,000 in 2003-04, an increase of 30,000, its rate pales when compared to the 2,100% increase for Nonwhite prisoners! The added BOP capacity of 112,000 beds easily accommodated 30,000 additional White prisoners. But even with this staggering expansion in prison capacity, the shocking explosion of Nonwhite prisoners has been produced by the rapidly expanding criminal law/crime control/industrial complex, including the ill-fated “war on drugs”. Over 54% of the FBOP’s inmates are doing time for drug offenses. [FBOP Quick Facts, September 2004]. This phenomena has dramatically outpaced the ability of the BOP to operate anything but a terribly overcrowded, racist system. [S. Brian Willson, “Racist Nature of Juvenile Facilities, Jails and Prisons in the United States” (Washington, DC: National Moratorium on Prison Construction, February 1978)].


The Broader Context of the US Love Affair With Incarceration and Torture

The US imprisons 2.5 million of its citizens on an average day in more than 9,000 jails and prisons, boasting the highest per capita detention rate in the world by far – 800 prisoners for every 100,000 people [Local jails: 745,000; state and federal adult prisons: 1,600,000; juvenile facilities: 141,000; and immigrant detention: 34,000 = Grand Total: 2,520,000 U.S. prisoners]. Rwanda has the second highest detention rate at 595; Russia comes in third at 568. The world’s average per capita detention rate is 146.

Equally startling, is the fact that on an average day 6.9 million US Americans are on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole (under local, state or federal government “correctional” supervision), or 3.2% of U.S. adult residents (1 in every 32 adults). But on any given day, 30 percent of African-American males aged 20 to 29 are “under correctional supervision” [Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor (London: Rouledge, 2003), 31].

More than 60 percent of US prisoners are from racial and ethnic minority groups yet they comprise only 36 percent of the general population. The US, with 4.6 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. At least 80,000 of these, and as many 110,000, are locked up in solitary confinement in facilities, often for years, such as at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, among dozens of locations. Being held in solitary for more than 15 days was determined in 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur to begin devastating, often irreversible physical and mental ill effects, and is therefore considered torture. Force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes in the US is also not unusual, itself another form of torture in violation of international law. Solitary confinement inevitably contributes to increased risks of prison suicides, of which hundreds are reported every year.

I studied the regular use of torture in Massachusetts prisons in 1981, where force feeding of striking prisoners was common; as was the withholding of rights and privileges such as necessary medicine, mail, or winter clothing during cold weather; the imposition of hazards such as flooding cells, igniting clothes and bedding, providing too little or too much heat, and spraying mace and tear gas; inflicting physical beatings of prisoners filing prison complaints or litigation, of those protesting conditions using hunger strikes; and various forms of intentional psychological abuse such as arbitrary shakedown of cells and brutal rectal searches, ordering prisoners to lie face down on cold floors or the outside ground before receiving food, and empty announcements of visitors or family only later to say it was a joke.

During the Spanish-American war in the Philippines, President Teddy Roosevelt proudly defended water boarding torture as part of the arsenal of techniques to achieve “the triumph of civilization over the black chaos of savagery and barbarism” of the Filipinos, or “googoos”. In Haiti in 1920, the NAACP investigated the conduct of US Marines who were murdering thousands of Haitians while practicing widespread torture to overcome a Haitian revolt of “savage monkeys” against the continuing unwanted U.S. presence there. The word googoo morphed into “gook” as the derogatory term used by US soldiers against the Vietnamese.

In 1931 President Hoover’s Wickersham Report (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) concluded that the use of torture (intentional infliction of various methods of pain and suffering) was “widespread” throughout the entire US criminal justice system. The US school of the Americas has been teaching torture (“interrogation”) to Latin American military personnel since 1946.

Over dependence on Incarceration and torture are US American values.

Corporation’s Usurpation of Democracy is as US American as Apple Pie

The first authors who alerted me to the nature and problems of corporations were Morton J. Horowitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 (Harvard University Press, 1977); and Edwin Sutherland’s White Collar Crime (Dryden Press, 1949), which edition conveniently omitted the explosive list of criminal corporations and their list of violations. The UNCUT version was published posthumously in 1983 by Yale University Press, 34 years after the Dryden edition, 33 years after Sutherland’s death.

Horowitz‘ book describes development of U.S. corporations from the municipality (1700s) carrying out public functions, to the business corporation in the 1800s organized to pursue private ends for individual gain. The Dartmouth College Case (Sup Ct, 1819) held that a corporate charter was a private contractPolitical and economic power had shifted from precommercial and antidevelopmental common law values, to merchant and entrepreneurial ones, a radical transformation accomplished a decade before the Civil War. The rise of legal formalism subordinated natural laws and custom to disproportionate economic concentration in individuals or corporations, with the latter allowed to “contract out” pre-existing legal obligations. Law was no longer paternalistic or protective of the moral sense of the community at-large, but a device to facilitate individual and corporate desires for achieving economic and political power. It was the legal transfer of power from workers, farmers, and local consumers to the mostly White men of commerce and industry. Thus, was witnessed the active redistribution of wealth waged against the “weakest” groups in society who did not sufficiently revolt against the increasing stratification that was becoming entrenched in the political-economic structure of the Republic itself. This was unfolding before the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that in some cases personhood includes corporations, apparently due to a clerk’s fraudulent (mis)interpretation of the Justice’s decision in that case. However, as can be seen, the idea of corporate personhood was already a happening policy in practice.

This was consistent with the theme of the Constitution as a document with one fundamental purpose to create a national political system to preserve commercial and financial interests. It created a system of checks and balances that strengthen private power with a Bill of Rights that protects monied interests and individuals in their pursuit of property while failing to guarantee genuine freedom of fair participation and liberty.  Jefferson had described the new republic as an ”empire of liberty” while Madison described it as an “imperial republic.”

Edwin Sutherland, one of the leading criminologists of the 20th century, gave his presidential address before the American Sociological Society in 1939 that shook up the professional “crime control” community. His presentation, entitled, “The White Collar Criminal,” altered the study of crime in fundamental ways by focusing on lawbreaking by persons in positions of power. He talked about the collusion between businessmen and politicians, and suggested the root causes of crime lie within the values of the social system itself and its corresponding structures. He spent the next 10 years extensively researching this subject of “White Collar Crime,” published ultimately by Dryden Press in 1949, but not before it demanded that Sutherland write a final chapter on theory of crime, AND that the chapter on naming criminal corporations be deleted from the book.

He concluded that White Collar crimes are very frequent and, therefore, that “crime” cannot be attributed to poverty and its related pathologies. Only the type of “crime” could be generally associated with socio-economic class, but the damage to society became more severe as one examined the heretofore exempted crimes of the wealthy.

In 1983, Yale University subsequently published his 1949 book without the deletions of criminal corporations/organizations. This explosive chapter summarized 980 decisions of courts and administrative bodies made against serious unlawful behaviors of the 70 largest manufacturing, mining, and mercantile corporations in the U.S., discovering an average of 14 formal decisions of unlawful or criminal behavior per corporation over their average life span of 45 years. A separate chapter examined the crimes and unlawful behavior during time of War of those 70 corporations. This revealed substantial padding of the costs to reduce reported profits, the systematic juggling of financial data, illegally selling munitions to enemy nations, etc. Thus proved beyond doubt that profits are way more important than patriotism. Sutherland quoted Eugene Grace, the president of Bethlehem Steel: “Patriotism is a very beautiful thing, but it must not be permitted to interfere with business” (White Collar, p. 190). And he quoted Pierre DuPont, president of his family gunpowder company: We cannot assent to allowing our patriotism to interfere with our duties as trustees (White Collar, p. 190). This latter quote is taken from the U.S. Senator (R-WI) Nye Committee Report (1934-36) examining the role played by U.S. businessmen inducing the nation’s entrance into WWI through various violations of State department policies.

Ah, yes, the trustees must preserve their profits, while we accept public decay and deterioration. Bring on the revolt, revive the central role of the human in our evolutionary journey, and pray that we shall soon understand our need to cease any further the politics of our obedience to voluntary servitude.

Mahatma Gandhi’s two-prong program: (1) noncooperation, & (2) constructive program

In the mid-1930s, Gandhi (1869-1948), when in his 60s, began demonstrating a significant shift in his emphasis and thinking. He had been significantly influenced by reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894) in which Tolstoy wrote of the power of disassociation from the state altogether in numerous self-reliant communities. In fact, Gandhi’s life and work became increasingly dominated by his strategies of reconstruction from below (a full-time task for sure), lessening his emphasis on noncooperation and satyagraha, though the latter was never to be abandoned when determined to be strategically necessary to encourage conversion and moral transformation, but not retribution. But the thrust became withdrawing support from the political state freeing up energy and imagination for building economically self-reliant communities from below. The spinning wheel was both a symbol, and a literal appropriate technology, promising to liberate people from dependence upon British textiles, as they fulfilled their own needs with their own local basic industries. He vigorously rejected western materialist values and industrialism.

A symbol for empowerment and self-reliance for us westerners might be seeds, a hoe, or a bicycle.

In 1933, Gandhi founded the weekly newspaper, Harijan, concentrating on social and economic issues seeking empowerment of the impoverished (untouchables). Growing contempt for the historic pattern of tyrannical state power led to his resignation from the Indian Congress in September 1934. In effect, he dramatically reduced his active involvement in state politics enabling energy on empowering the poor – transforming society from below by developing village industries and crafts. This transformation sought to revive economic strength of self-reliant, self-contained village cultures, actually hundreds of thousands of them in a decentralized federation. Authentic political independence required fundamental and moral reconstruction of society from below, centered on economic renewal of autonomous village life and sardovaya (social uplift for everyone). In 1935 he created the All-India Village Industries Association. In 1936 he created the Sevagram Ashram as a model service village.

To Gandhi, noncooperation was the nonviolent counterpart of guerrilla war. But, the constructive program was counterpart to a parallel society from below so essential in the Mexican, Chinese, and Viet Nam revolutions. He concluded that noncooperation and withdrawal of consent taken by themselves were woefully ineffective, since they do not permanently relieve the oppressed. Concrete action was imperative to assure social betterment and justice for all (sardovaya).

Summary: The constructive program was a nonviolent revolutionary way to undermine vertical political power. As noncooperation drained power away from oppressors, the constructive program generated lasting power in the local people. In effect, rebuilding self-reliance from below undermined support for the state as it empowered local autonomy. Today, we envision re-constructing locally reliant, food and simple tool sufficient communities in watersheds or bioregions.

Historically withdrawal of support from vertical power was a major factor in collapse of the Mayan civilization @ 900 AD, when workers simply abandoned their increasingly enslaved conditions as the Mayan rulers became more greedy and demanding. They literally fled to the mountains where they lived on a mix of farming and foraging. As a result, the kings and their cabal starved. [Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanities Next Great Adventure (NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999), 41, 82, 91, 95, 98, 99; Alan Weisman, The World Without US (NY: St. Martins Press, 2007), 227-229].

There are hundreds of resources relating to nonviolence and Gandhi. My emphasis is to reveal Gandhi’s shift in the 1930s to the essential building of constructive programs from below. Selected resources:

* DVD Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, documentary by Helena Norbert Hodge, Green Planet Films, Corte Madera, CA, about the Ladakh people in the Himalayas who lived peacefully for centuries and reveals what happens to their culture in just one generation of “development.”

* DVD Why Kerala, Grampa?, documentary by Tom Chamberlin, Portland, OR, describing the amazing development of thousands of relatively self-reliant communities communicating with each other in the state of Kerala, one of the 28 states of India.

* DVD The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, documentary by Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, Yellow Springs, OH.

* “Gandhi’s Three Pillars of Freedom Are the Key To Our Survival,” interview with Vandana Shiva by David Barsamian, YES Magazine, Summer 2009. Note: The three pillars: (1) Swadeshi – self-making, local-reliance, decentralization; (2) Swaraj – self-rule, self-organizing, local responsibility; (3) Satyagraha – civil disobedience, noncooperation, withdrawal of consent. System change doesn’t happen at the system level; it happens by people wherever they are making the changes that they want to see.

* “Gandhi’s Constructive Program – And Ours”, by Joanne Sheehan, Peacework, Issue 368, September 2006 (http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/gandhi-s-constructive-program-and-ours).

* M.K. Gandhi, Constructive Programme:
It’s Meaning and Place (http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/gandhiphilosophy/philosophy_consprogrammes_bookwritten.htm).

* Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894; Lincoln, NE: Univ of Nebraska Press, 1984).

* Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2003), Chapter 4, “Satyagraha”, 103-142.

* Peter Ruhe, Gandhi (NY: Phaidon Press, 2001), “Introduction”, 6-11.

* Etienne De La Boettie, The Politics of Obedience: A Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (@1553, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997).

* Mark Shepard, Gandhi Today: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi’s Successors (Washington, DC: Seven Locks Press, 1987), 5-8, 13-14, 42-43.

* Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi: All Men Are Brothers, Autobiographical Reflections (NY: Continuum, 1984), 183.

* William Shirer, Gandhi: A Memoir (NY: Washington Square Press, 1979), 213.

* M.K. Gandhi, For Pacifists (A










The Importance of the December 1914 Christmas Truce

In December 1914, an amazing outbreak of peace, though brief, occurred when as many as 100,000 of the million troops, or ten percent, stationed along the 500 mile Western Front in World War I, mutually, and spontaneously, stopped fighting for at least 24-36 hours, December 24-26. Isolated instances of local truces occurred at least as early as December 11, and continued sporadically until New Year’s Day and into early January 1915. At least 115 fighting units were involved among British, German, French and Belgian soldiers. Despite general’s orders strictly forbidding any kind of fraternization with the enemy, many points along the front witnessed trees with lit candles, soldiers coming out of their trenches only 30 to 40 yards apart to shake hands, share smokes, food and wine, and sing with one another. Troops from all sides took advantage to bury their respective dead lying all over the battlefields, and there were even reports of joint burial services. In some cases officers joined the widespread fraternization. There is even mention here and there of a soccer game played between the Germans and British. (See SOURCES).

As impressive display of the human spirit as this was, it was not, however, a unique occurrence in the history of war. In fact, it was a resurgence of a long established tradition. Informal truces and small localized armistices and incidents of friendship shared between enemies have taken place during other prolonged periods of military fighting over several centuries, perhaps longer.[1] This includes the Viet Nam war as well.[2]

Retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a professor of military science, has argued that humans have a deep, innate resistance to killing that requires special training to overcome.[3] I was unable to thrust my bayonet into a dummy during my USAF ranger training in early 1969. If I had been an army grunt instead of an Air Force officer, and a few years younger, I wonder, would it have been easier to kill on command? My commander was obviously very unhappy when I refused to use my bayonet, because the military is well aware that men can only be made to kill by coercion. The tyranny needed to make an army work is fierce. It knows it cannot allow dialogue about its mission and must quickly patch any cracks in the blind obedience system. I was immediately placed on the “Officer Control Roster” and faced royal scoldings behind closed doors in which I was threatened with court-martial offenses, shamed over and over, and accused of being a coward and traitor. My unpremeditated refusal to participate in the bayonet drill, I was told, created morale problems that threatened to interfere with our mission.

Yale University social psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1961, only three months after the beginning of the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem for his role in coordinating the Holocaust, began a series of experiments to better understand the nature of obedience to authority. The results were shocking. Milgram carefully screened his subjects to be representative of typical US Americans. Briefed on the importance of following orders, participants were instructed to press a lever inflicting what they believed were a series of shocks, gradually escalating at fifteen-volt increments, every time the nearby Learner (actor) made a mistake in a word-matching task. When the Learners began screaming in pain, the Experimenter (authority figure) calmly insisted that the experiment must continue. A startling 65 percent of Milgram’s Participants administered the highest possible level of electricity—a lethal jolt that might have killed someone actually receiving the shocks. Additional experiments conducted over the years at other universities in the United States, and in at least nine other countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia, all revealed similar high rates of compliance to authority. A 2008 study designed to replicate the Milgram obedience experiments while avoiding several of its most controversial aspects, found similar results.[4]

Milgram announced the study’s most fundamental lesson:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process . . . The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him (her) to see himself  (herself) as not responsible for his (her) own actions.  . . He (she) sees himself (herself) not as a person acting in a morally accountable way but as the agent of external authority, “doing one’s duty” that was heard time and again in the defense statements of those accused at Nuremberg. . . . In complex society it is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences. . . . Thus there is a fragmentation of the total human act; no one man(woman) decides to carry out the evil act and is confronted with its consequences.[5]

Milgram reminded us that a critical examination of our own history reveals a “democracy” of installed authority no less tyrannical, thriving on an obedient population of insatiable consumers dependent upon the terrorization of others, citing destruction of the original Indigenous inhabitants, dependence upon slavery of millions, internment of Japanese Americans, and the use of napalm against Vietnamese civilians.[6]

As Milgram reported, “the defection of a single individual, as long as it can be contained, is of little consequence. He will be replaced by the next man in line. The only danger to military functioning resides in the possibility that a lone defector will stimulate others.”[7]

In 1961 moral philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, a Jew, witnessed the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She was surprised to discover that he was “neither perverted nor sadistic.” Instead, Eichmann and many others just like him “were, and still are, terrifyingly normal.”[8]  Arendt described the capacity of ordinary people to commit extraordinary evil as a result of social pressure or within a certain social setting, as “the banality of evil.” From Milgram’s experiments, we know that the “banality of evil” is not unique to the Nazis.

Eco-psychologists and cultural historians have argued that human archetypes rooted in mutual respect, empathy, and cooperation have been important for our species to get this far on our branch of evolution. However, 5,500 years ago, around 3,500 BCE, relatively small Neolithic villages began mutating into larger urban “civilizations.” With “civilization,” a new organizational idea emerged—what cultural historian Lewis Mumford calls a “megamachine,” comprised totally of human “parts” forced to work together to perform tasks on a colossal scale never before imagined. Civilization saw the creation of bureaucracies directed by a power complex of an authority figure (a king) with scribes and messengers, which organized labor machines (masses of workers) to construct pyramids, irrigation systems, and huge grain storage systems among other structures, all enforced by a military. Its features were centralization of power, separation of people into classes, lifetime division of forced labor and slavery, arbitrary inequality of wealth and privilege, and military power and war.[9] Over time, civilization, which we have been taught to think of as so beneficial for the human condition, has proven severely traumatic for our species, not to mention for other species and the earth’s ecosystem. As modern members of our species (excluding the fortunate Indigenous societies who somehow escaped assimilation) we have been stuck for three hundred generations in a model requiring massive obedience to large vertical power complexes.

Mumford makes clear his bias that autonomy in small horizontal groups is a human archetype that has now become repressed in deference to obedience to technology and bureaucracy. The creation of human urban civilization has brought about patterns of systematic violence and warfare previously unknown,[10] what Andrew Schmookler calls the “original sin” of civilization,[11] and Mumford, “collective paranoia and tribal delusions of grandeur.”[12]

“Civilization” has required massive civil obedience to enable vertical authority structures to prevail. And it hasn’t mattered how that hierarchical vertical power is achieved, whether through monarchial succession, dictators, or democratic selections, it invariably functions through various forms of tyranny. Autonomous freedoms that people once enjoyed in pre-civilization tribal groups now defer to belief in authority structures and their controlling ideologies, which have been described as oppressive “domination hierarchies” where private property and male subjugation of women prevail, by force if necessary.[13]

The emergence of vertical authority structures, the rule of kings and nobles, ripped people from historical patterns of living in small tribal groups. Along with forced stratification, the separation of people from their intimate connections with the earth produced deep insecurity, fear, and trauma to the psyche. Ecopyschologists suggest that such fragmentation led to an ecological unconscious.[14]

Thus, humans desperately need to re-discover and nourish examples of disobedience to political authority systems which have created 14,600 wars since the advent of civilization some 5,500 years ago. Over the past 3,500 years there have been nearly 8,500 treaties signed in efforts to end warfare, to no avail because the vertical structures of power have remained intact which demand obedience in their efforts to expand territory, power or resource base. The future of the species, and lives of most other species, are at stake, as we wait for humans to come to our right mind, both individually and collectively.

The 1914 Christmas Truce of one hundred years ago was an extraordinary example of how wars can only continue if soldiers agree to fight. It needs to be honored and celebrated, even if it was only a flash of a moment in time. It represents the potential of human disobedience to insane policies. As German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht proclaimed, General, your tank is a powerful vehicle. It smashes down forests, and crushes a Hundred men. But it has one defect: it needs a driver.[15] If commoners refused en masse to drive the tank of war, the leaders would be left to fight their own battles. They would be brief.


[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1998/10/98/world_war_i/197627.stm, information taken from Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, Christmas Truce: The Western Front, 1914 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984.

[2] Richard Boyle, Flower of the Dragon: The Breakdown of the US Army in Vietnam (San Francisco: Ramparts Press, 1973), 235-236; Richard Moser, The New Winter Soldiers, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 132; Tom Wells, The War Within (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994), 525-26.

[3] Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Boston: Little, Brown, 1995).

[4] Lisa M. Krieger, “Shocking Revelation: Santa Clara University Professor Mirrors Famous Torture Study,” San Jose Mercury News, December 20, 2008.

[5] Stanley Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience,” Harper’s, December 1973, 62–66, 75–77; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974; New York: Perennial Classics, 2004), 6–8, 11.

 [6] Milgram, 179.

[7] Milgram, 182.

[8] [Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963; New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 276].

[9] Lewis Mumford, Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967), 186.

[10] Ashley Montagu, The Nature of Human Aggression (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 43–53, 59–60; Ashley Montagu, ed., Learning Non-Aggression: The Experience of Non-Literate Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit, The Origin of War: Violence in Prehistory, trans. Melanie Hersey (2001; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

[11] Andrew B. Schmookler, Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 303.

[12] Mumford, 204.

[13] Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (ca. 1553; Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997), 46, 58–60; Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 45–58, 104–6.

 [14] Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner, eds., Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995). Ecopsychology concludes that there can be no personal healing without healing the earth, and that rediscovering our sacred relationship with it, i.e., our intimate earthiness, is indispensable for personal and global healing and mutual respect.

[15] “General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle”, published in From a German War Primer, part of the Svendborg Poems (1939); as translated by Lee Baxandall in Poems, 1913-1956, 289.


SOURCES 1914 Christmas Truce


Brown, David. “Remembering A Victory For Human Kindness – WWI’s Puzzling, Poignant Christmas Truce,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2004.

Brown, Malcolm and Shirley Seaton. Christmas Truce: The Western Front, 1914. New York: Hippocrene, 1984.

Cleaver, Alan and Lesley Park. “Christmas Truce: A General Overview,” christmastruce.co.uk/article.html, accessed November 30, 2014.

Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994, 117-19.

Hochschild, Adam. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918. New York: Mariners Books, 2012, 130-32.

Vinciguerra, Thomas. “The Truce of Christmas, 1914”, The New York Times, December 25, 2005.

Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: The Free Press, 2001.


S. Brian Willson, brianwillson.com, December 2, 2014, member Veterans For Peace Chapter 72, Portland, Oregon

DOMESTIC SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) TEAMS

Los Angeles Creates First SWAT

The first tactical, quasi-military domestic police team was formed in the Los Angeles Police Department in 1967 for special assignments as needed.  The concept was provoked by sniping incidents during and after the six day Watts Riot in 1965, when 34 people were officially reported killed, 1,100 injured, 4,000 arrested, and 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed with an estimated $200 million in damages.

The concept was to train a small group of supposedly highly disciplined officers to utilize special weapons and tactics to respond to situations that were thought beyond the capabilities of normally equipped and trained police.  More specifically, the initial idea was to provide military-type security for police facilities during civil unrest. The first Los Angeles tactical unit consisted of 15 four-man teams. Virtually all members of each team had prior military service, and participated in monthly trainings.

The first large challenge to the special tactical teams came in December 1969 when search warrants for illegal weapons were served at the Black Panther Headquarters in inner city Los Angeles. The Black Panthers resisted the 40 member tactical unit during a four-hour siege.  Thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired, resulting in the wounding of three Panthers and three police officers before the Panthers surrendered.

By 1971, the first tactical teams were assigned on a full-time basis to respond to perceived “subversive” groups. They adopted the name, Special Weapons And Tactics Team (SWAT), designated as “D” Platoon.

Blurring Lines Between Military and Domestic, Civilian Police

Ever since the creation of the first domestic police Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams 45 years ago, there has been a blurring of the line between military and civilian police missions and tactics. Use of both military and civilian police to contend with “terrorist” or “insurgent” threats has evolved worldwide from the concept of “unconventional” operations utilizing “special” forces in guerrilla warfare.

There is no better domestic example of the meld of military with civilian police operations and mentalities than the April 19, 1993 siege of the David Koresh Davidian religious compound in Waco, Texas. Fatigue-clad FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, accompanied by advisors from the Army’s secret Delta forces, fortified with helicopters, armed vehicles, tanks, and assault weapons, conducted a military, in lieu of a civilian law enforcement, operation. Over 80 human beings needlessly perished in the operation. The local sheriff possessed a regularly accessible and friendly relationship with members of the religious commune who often traveled to nearby towns. The sheriff was virtually totally ignored in the attempts to talk and negotiate with Koresh. The federal assault operation became the alternative. The military mind-set easily becomes a siege mentality where respect is ignored and nearly any response is rationalized.

It is believed that both military and CIA and FBI counterterrorist units were present alongside civilian law enforcement agencies at both the July 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles and the Democratic convention in San Francisco to protect participants from “terrorists.” Soldiers from the Army’s elite Delta force, discussed above, were apparently deployed in New York City to assist New York’s finest during the 1986 July 4 celebrations (“Army Antiterrorist Squad To Be In City, Officials Say,” The New York Times, June 28, 1986). As these encroachments by the military on domestic law enforcement functions have leaked to the public, citizens and civil libertarians have severely criticized these operations as a dangerous violation of the long-held principle of the separation of armed forces from domestic law enforcement operations. Such military powers can very easily expand to seriously threaten the privacy, liberty and lives of the people.

Military Origins of “Special Forces”

U.S. Army unconventional warfare began with small units operating behind the lines during World War II. Army Special (counter-insurgency) Forces officially became part of its Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1952. Shortly after President Kennedy took office, prompted by the ill-fated April 1961 CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba, he substantially expanded the Special Forces (now wearing green berets) counterinsurgency capacities at their beefed-up Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. Special Forces were the first American troops dispatched to Vietnam under President Kennedy to conduct operational roles, often working under the command of the CIA and well insulated from Army regulars.

The Marine Corps, historically proud of its record and capacity for engaging in hostile local operations around the world going back to the late 1700s, was nonetheless bolstered in 1961 with the appointment of Major General Victor Krulak to fill a new post as Joint Chiefs’ Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities. The Air Force, too, established its First Air Commando Group in April 1961 and created its own Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB, Florida in 1962. Not to be ignored, the Navy created the SEALs (Sea, Air, Land forces) in 1962, combat paratrooper frogmen who could do everything the Army’s Special Forces could do and more. The Seals first saw operational action in Vietnam as well. By the 1980s, SEAL Team 6, with nearly 200 men, a far larger number than the normal 16-man units, was created specifically as a highly trained counterterrorist force. And the other military branches continued to refine their “special” and “unconventional” components as well.

Emergence of Terror As the Pretext

In the 1960s the words “terror” and “counterterror” increasingly began to appear in Army field and training manuals, as their cooperative role with the CIA developed for shaping U.S. foreign policy, not just in Vietnam, but in places such as Guatemala and the Congo, among others. And when COINTELPRO first surfaced in 1971, and Congressional hearings had begun to disclose the 1960s infiltration by the Army–in association with the CIA, FBI and local police agencies–of domestic political movements, we discovered that our views and activities at home were also being “shaped.” The lines were blurring even more between the military, the CIA, and law enforcement functions.

Army Ranger units, wearing black berets, were re-established in 1974 in response to fears of international terrorism. Rangers were relatively small forces trained for special missions such as rescue of hostages. In sorting out confusion and competition among the various military units claiming special prowess for dealing with “terrorists,” President Carter rebuilt the Special Forces and Rangers as units to accomplish very narrowly defined tasks. The Army’s First Special Forces Operational Detachment, Delta, a secret unit for antiterrorist missions became operational at Fort Bragg in November 1977, competing with the counterterrorist Navy SEAL units as the best trained of the elite forces. The Delta force drew upon specially trained personnel from the other services, not just from Special Forces and Rangers. Their first mission, Operation Eagle Claw, launched in April 1980 to rescue the American hostages in revolutionary Iran, ended in tragic failure.

Reagan Presidency Intensifies Atmosphere For CounterTerror Forces

The Reagan Presidency revived with gusto the Cold War ideology following the futile attempt of the Carter Administration to place human rights in the forefront of foreign policy. The nation was still feeling stunned from our defeat in Vietnam. Angry about the success of revolutionary Iran and perceived threats to our security interests in the Middle East, the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (only six months after President Carter angered the Soviets by pouring aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, the origins of the Mujahideen), and the “Communist” presence in Angola and Central America, the Reagan administration set out to reverse “Communist” and revolutionary advances, and re-establish the U.S. as the prevailing, God-fearing nation in the world as claimed by our delusional belief in “Manifest Destiny.”

In the heightened atmosphere of fear of global threats from “terrorists,” revolutionaries, and the new menace of “drug traffickers,” as well as “Communists,” to preservation of the consumptive American Way of Life (AWOL), i.e., to our “national security,” President Reagan formulated a number of secret policies granting expanded powers to the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Armed Forces for countering threats both at home and from abroad. In December 1981, he signed Executive Order 12333, establishing operating procedures for the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, intending to restore to them the domestic surveillance and other powers enjoyed prior to Watergate-initiated reforms, while still prohibiting assassinations. This Executive Order authorized the infiltration, manipulation, and disruption of domestic organizations even in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing. It must be remembered that in the language of the National Security Act of 1947 that created the CIA, a huge loophole has enabled each and every President since to commit and direct heinous criminal activity in the name of “national security”: The CIA could “perform such other functions and duties…as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.” And please note again that as early as Vietnam various “special” military units worked closely with, often under the command of, the CIA in “eliminating” civilian leadership and organizations.

On April 3, 1984, President Reagan signed classified National Security Decision Directive 138 (NSDD 138), approving both preemptive and retaliatory raids against “terrorists.” It authorized creation of FBI and CIA paramilitary squads for counterterrorist operations, and enabled the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to have its own contract intelligence agents for the first time. A Joint Special Operations Agency was created in 1984 under the Joint Chiefs of Staff to coordinate military counterterrorist activities in each service branch. Reagan’s Vice-President, George Bush, chaired the executive Task Force on Combating Terrorism, which in turn created the Operations Subgroup (OSG) under the Terrorist Incident Working Group (TIWG) chaired at the time by Oliver North. NSDD 207 (Jan. 20, 1986) created a National Security Council (NSC) coordinator of counterterrorism, again chaired by Oliver North. Terrorism was indeed weighing heavy in the minds of the Reagan folks. Reagan’s Secretary of State, George P. Schultz, emphasized the need for the U.S. to use military force to combat terrorists, the “depraved opponents of civilization,” even though he acknowledged it could mean “the loss of life of innocent people” (“Schultz Says Risks To Innocent People Part of Combating Terrorism,” The Boston Globe, Oct. 26, 1984).

Numerous individuals and organizations in the U.S. fiercely opposed President Reagan’s aggression and internationally adjudged illegal policies in Central America. It is no surprise that Reagan quickly applied his secret “terrorist” guidelines leading to gross violations of civil liberties of a number of U.S. citizens by various federal agencies, civilian and military, in efforts to quell domestic dissent. During the Iran-Contra scandal it was revealed that there were plans to round up “dissidents” and immigrants in the event of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua and detain them in emergency prisons, some located at U.S. military bases. This was all justified as being “legal” under the secret Executive Orders and National Security Decision Directives authorizing such draconian measures to protect “national security.”

“Terrorists,” and the emerging “drug traffickers,” have replaced “Communists” as major pretexts rationalizing interventions after conclusion of the Cold War. The use of government instruments for repressing dissent and other perceived threats to “national security,” whether here in the U.S. in local communities, or by or from other countries, was of course not new.  A powerful new pretext has been ingrained, being conditioned in the minds of the U.S. population.

Post-9/11 Domestic Militarization on Steroids

Reports of police brutality are now commonplace, but rarely is anything seriously done about them. The July 19, 2013 Wall Street Journal reported: “Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment–from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers–American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the US scene: the warrior cop–armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.”

The most recent long war on drugs was inaugurated by President Nixon in 1971. It has never ceased being a state war against impoverished inner city residents, exploding our prison population such the US leads the world in per capita detention rates, primarily incarcerating African American males in a society that has never truthfully overcome its insidious racism and history of being built upon unspeakable slavery. This brutal truth was well laid out by former US Supreme Court Justice in his autobiography, A Defiant Life: Thurgood Marshall and the Persistence of Racism in America (Crown 1999, and by law professor Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). 

As the very conservative, seemingly ardent racist, Paul Craig Roberts concluded in CounterPunch (September 16, 2013), “The bald fact is that today’s cop in body armor with assault weapons, grenades, and tanks is not there to make arrests of suspected criminals. He is there in anticipation of protests to beat down the public for exercising constitutional rights. To suppress public protests is also the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security Police, a federal para-military police force that is a new development for the United States. No one in their right mind could possibly think that the vast militarized police have been created because of “the terrorist threat.” Terrorists are so rare that the FBI has to round up demented people and talk them into a plot so that the “terrorist threat” can be kept alive in the public’s mind.”

There is no substitute for assuring social and economic justice as the basic foundation for peace and tranquility. None. We either choose to a commitment to fairness for everyone, or we all lose, a principle articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr:, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”



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