Torture in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib

In times of war, nations and individuals can sometimes resort to inhumane treatment of their enemy, which is why there are international conventions on the rights of prisoners. However, in 2004 photos and evidence of torture in the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib were revealed to the public by CBS News and The New Yorker[1]. In the same year, three British detainees were released from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and revealed further torture and abuse at the hands of United States military personnel[2]. Photos and testimonies reveal examples of physical and psychological abuse, including torture, rape, sodomy, religious intolerance, unlawful detention, and in extreme cases, homicide. The US public was shocked by these revelations and numerous investigations and reports proceeded, bringing into question what constitutes torture in cases where a nation is at war and exactly what rights are available to detainees. The US is still trying to deal with these abuses and also to address the rights of those still held in detention without charge or the right to trial.

Article 1 from the Declaration on Protection from Torture defines torture as an act of “severe pain or suffering” that is “intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession.” In regards to Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, Article 3 goes on to highlight that “exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war” may not be used to justify the use of torture[3]. The question of whether this right is absolute, or if there are “no imaginable conditions” where torture might be morally sanctioned is clearly a difficult one. Perhaps there are cases where torture might be considered the lesser of two evils, such as a case where waiving this right would lead to saving hundreds of innocent lives[4]. The problem with this premise is that a decision must be made when torture would be warranted or “necessary”, allowing for human bias and prejudice in making a decision[5]. As in the case of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, legal framework was established to provide for exactly this kind of situation where the US administration felt torture was warranted[6]. Given the outcome of Rasul vs. Bush, the released British detainee who revealed the human rights violations occurring in Guantánamo and was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing or association with terrorist activity, one must question whether the right not to be tortured should not be absolute in order to avoid state powers overstepping this line and abusing innocent detainees in times of conflict[7].

Human rights abuses in the form of physical and psychological ill-treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have been documented by a number of agencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to conduct interviews with a number of detainees and revealed their findings in a comprehensive report. Ill-treatment included suffocation by water, prolonged stress standing position, beatings, confinement in a box, prolonged nudity, sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling, deaths in custody, and various other forms of humiliating intimidation[8]. In Abu Ghraib, similar examples of torture have been discovered and revealed in photos, although it appears the torturers took advantage of cultural and religious differences of their prisoners, by forcing the detainees into homosexual, feminizing, and other equally offensive acts that degrade certain aspects of the Muslim tradition[9]. What is most troubling is that memorandums of the “Counter-Resistance Strategies” have now been released to the public and reveal that some of these methods of torture were approved and supported by the Department of Defense[10].

The other alarming aspect of those held in detention is that the status of these detainees is considered outside of most standard definitions of prisoners of war or enemy combatants and that they are therefore not charged and are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, in direct contradiction of the Geneva Conventions of 1949[11]. Under US-signed treaties and international law, detainees have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention through habeas corpus petitions, one of the most basic and long standing human rights. However, in the initial stages of the Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo detention centers, US authorities refused to acknowledge this right and claimed that such petitions did not apply to these detainees[12]. This policy is largely responsible for the resulting examples of torture and ill-treatment as detainees remained in these centers without any access to the outside world, each other, or legal representation. Those given responsibility to watch over and extract information from prisoners in the “war on terror” were given unchecked power over their detainees, with little accountability for their actions.

In the case of Abu Ghraib, a number of US soldiers were charged and convicted for the abuses that occurred in this detainee center[13]. When President Obama took office, he made it a priority for his administration to deal with the human rights violations occurring in the Guantánamo facility. The Presidential Executive Order 13492 addressed the illegal detention of detainees still remaining in Guantánamo[14]. Ultimately, it was decided that the best course of action would be to resettle or repatriate detainees who were no longer considered national security risks. Thus far, a number of detainees have been resettled or repatriated, but there still remains many awaiting trial or those considered unfeasible for prosecution but still being held in detention. This last group is still of major concern because their right to a trial has not been fulfilled and they are being held arbitrarily. Although the right to file a habeas corpus petition has been restored to these detainees as a result of task force recommendations, their status is still uncertain and their human rights remain unfulfilled[15].

Just as it is wrong to torture US citizens in order to extract a confession, it is wrong to torture enemy combatants or detainees, because at a basic level the right to live free from torture hinges on the fact that you are a human being. This is outlined in the preamble of the Geneva Conventions where in cases that are not covered by “the law in force” the person “remains under the protection of the principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience”[16]. Perhaps the most important step in ensuring that such violations do not occur in the future is a greater degree of transparency. This will require a higher level of information sharing between governments and increased diplomatic efforts so that detainees who reside from many nations around the world are able to be released from detention centers and we can avoid arbitrary detention in the future. What is disappointing in this case is that international human rights law is already in line with basic human rights philosophy and provides protection for enemy combatants and prisoners; but still state powers sought out ways to circumvent these international standards and deprive detainees of their most basic right to human dignity. By doing so they exhibited a complete disregard for historical debate and well established ethical, philosophical, and legal opinion on the practice of torture[17].

[1] Salon Staff. “The Abu Ghraib Files.” Salon. (Mar. 14, 2006) «http://www.salon.com/news/abu_ghraib/2006/03/14/introduction/index.html»

[2] Rose, David. “Revealed: The Full Story of the Guantanamo Britons.” The Observer. (Mar. 14, 2004) «http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/mar/14/terrorism.guantanamo»

[3] United Nations General Assembly. “Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” (Dec. 9, 1975) «http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/declarationcat.htm»

[4] Perry, Michael J. “The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries.” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003): 94

[5] Amnesty International. “USA: Human Dignity Denied: Torture and Accountability in the ‘War on Terror’.” (Oct. 26, 2004): 14 < http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/145/2004/en>

[6] Department of Justice. “Investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel’s Memoranda Concerning Issues Relating to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ on Suspected Terrorists.” (July 29, 2009) «http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/OPRFinalReport090729.pdf»

[7] Supreme Court of the United States. “Rasul et al. v. Bush, President of the United States, et al.” (Apr.-Jun. 2004)

[8] Loane, Geoff. “ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody.” International Committee of the Red Cross. (Feb. 2007): 8-9

[9] Puar, Jasbir K. “Abu Ghraib: Arguing Against Exceptionalism.” Feminist Studies. Vol. 30, No. 2. (Summer, 2004): 524

[10] Joint Task Force 170. “Memorandum for Commander: Counter-Resistance Strategies.” Department of Defense. (Oct. 11, 2002) «http://www.defense.gov/news/Jun2004/d20040622doc3.pdf»

[11] “ICRD Report” (2007): 23-24

[12] Amnesty International. “Guantanamo and Beyond: The Continuing Pursuit of Unchecked Executive Power.” (May 13, 2005): 16

[13] Shanker, Thom. “The Struggle for Iraq: The Military G.I.s in Iraq are Charged with Abuse of Prisoners.” The New York Times. (mar. 21, 2004) «http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/21/international/middleeast/21IRAQ.html»

[14] Obama, Barack. “Executive Order 13492-Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities.” (Jan. 22, 2009) «http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=85670#axzz1PmSERH00»

[15] Guantanamo Review Task Force. “Final Report.” < http://www.justice.gov/ag/guantanamo-review-final-report.pdf>

[16] “Geneva Conventions.”: Protocol II. (June 8, 1977) < http://www.icrc.org/IHL.nsf/1595a804df7efd6bc125641400640d89/d67c3971bcf... [17] Macmaster, Neil. “Torture: from Algiers to Abu Ghraib.” Race and Class. (Jan. 2006): 2

Combating the International Sex Industry

There is no doubt that prostitution and the sex industry in Thailand are extensive and well established. However, the Thai industry is not unique nor does it function solely within its own borders, but rather relies on an international sex trade that crosses national borders and violates human rights along racial, socioeconomic, gender, and age lines. The trafficking of women and children is driven by profits from the sex trade and leads to violations of the right to freedom from violence, and to pursue free and healthy lives. Remedies require an international and multilateral approach in order to rectify the problem, which will likely take many years of efforts and cross-border cooperation.

The rights of children are often the most controversial when it comes to human rights violations, particularly in regards to child prostitution that is one component of the international sex trade. In the late 1990s numerous reports from both government and non-government bodies commented on the growing problem of child prostitution and pornography in Thailand, customers being both domestic and foreign tourists from places such as Western Europe, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia[1]. Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes specific reference to the state party’s duty to protect children from the “exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices.”[2] In 1996 the Prostitution and Suppression Act was created in Thailand to address such human rights abuses and imposed heavy fines and prison sentences for traffickers, customers, and parents who allow their children to enter prostitution. However, the problem persists, with children from poor and migrant families remaining among the most vulnerable and parents sometimes forcing their own children into prostitution[3].

Poverty and socioeconomic status is another key element in examples of human rights violations that are occurring in the international sex industry. Laws may exist in hotspot countries that adhere to international covenants on human rights, but when the basic rights of food, shelter, and access to an education are also lacking, the effectiveness of a law to stop prostitution diminishes. In cases where the sex industry becomes intertwined with a booming tourist industry, as it has in Thailand, those in a desperate situation may feel compelled or may even be forced or manipulated into an occupation that carries with it many risks, such as violence, incarceration, and serious health risks[4]. Until the governments in Thailand and other nations where prostitution occur begin to address their people’s right to an “adequate standard of living”, the opportunity to exploit those from a lower socioeconomic background will continue and rights violations in the international sex industry will remain[5].

Playing into this exploitation is cultural and racial discrimination where migrants and victims of trafficking are exploited in the sex industry, and sex tourism is driven by customers from wealthy nations who are attracted to “exotic and erotic” stereotypes[6]. Women and children trafficked from the Shan States of Burma where civil conflict makes them particularly vulnerable, is just one example of how certain cultural groups are vulnerable to rights violations in the sex industry[7]. In developing nations like those in Southeast Asia and even Western European countries, those involved in the sex industry possess the ability to control those seeking political or economic “refuge or security.”[8] There seems to be a tendency of customers of prostitution to favor women or children outside of their own cultural groups which leads to further discrimination along racial lines in cases of human rights violations. There is also evidence of this even within the United States, where minority populations are over-represented in the sex industry[9].

Linked to these racial and cultural issues is gender discrimination of females, and in particular foreign females, comprising a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violation in the sex industry. In many countries and civilizations throughout history, women have been considered inferior to men and it has been difficult for them to overcome deeply ingrained gender discrimination that has sprung from these historical situations. International conventions have been created to address such discrimination[10] and declarations have also been released to address the specific issue of violence against women[11]. As a result of this historical violation of human rights, women have become especially vulnerable to human rights abuses, particularly in the sex industry and are overwhelmingly the majority of victims in this category. In Thailand, some sex workers have organized themselves into labor and civil rights groups to address violations and provide education and protection for sex workers. The Empower Foundation is one such group who recognizes the need for some women to work in the sex industry and is taking proactive steps to make sure that while ever this group exists, there is someone looking out for their basic rights[12].

Human rights violations that arise because of the international sex industry have been researched, discussed, and acknowledged for many years, particularly in vulnerable regions such as Thailand and Southeast Asia. Numerous reports and declarations have been issued to try to combat violations in the sex industry against women, children, and poor victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Suggested remedies such as tighter sanctions against countries involved in trafficking and the restriction of asylum admissions have served to increase trafficking as people attempt to flee their desperate situation, only to end up as victims of humans rights abuse in sex industries[13]. In addition, the link between trafficking and prostitution and sexual abuse must be more clearly established in international declarations in order to avoid confusion or misinterpretation when offending nations move forth in establishing legislation or domestic policy[14]. Regional cooperation in hotspots is a key component of success, and while there are already such initiatives in motion[15], it is evident that more cooperation is needed and that it must move beyond regional initiatives to international cooperation, as traffickers and exploiters take advantage of an increasingly globalized world. Capitalist globalization has also led to the industrialization of the sex industry, creating a situation of supply and demand that drives the industry and leads to further cases of sexual exploitation and human rights violations[16]. Underlying the many factors influencing victims to enter this industry is the violation of the basic right to an adequate standard of living. As long as this underserved and desperate population remains in both underdeveloped and developed nations, there will always be vulnerable victims willing to overlook the legality of prostitution or human rights abuses if it means providing basic sustenance for them and their families.

[1] Berkman, Eric Thomas. “Responses to the International Child Sex Tourism Trade.” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review. Vol. 19: Iss. 2. (1996): 397

[2] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Sep. 2, 1990): Article 43. < http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm>

[3] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. “2010 Human Rights Report: Thailand.” United States Department of State. (April 8, 2011): 42 «http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/eap/154403.htm»

[4] Arnold, Christina. & Bertone, Andrea M. “Addressing the Sex Trade in Thailand: Some Lessons Learned from NGOs: Part1.” Gender Issues. Vol. 20: No.1. (Dec. 2002): 30

[5] Article 11 (1). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Entry into force 23 March 1976. «http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm#art26»

[6] Jindy Pettman, Jan. “Body Politics: International Sex Tourism.” Third World Quarterly. Vol. 18: No. 1. (Mar. 1997): 96

[7] Beyrer, Chris. “Shan Women and Girls and the Sex Industry in Southeast Asia; political Causes and Human Rights Implications.” Social Science & Medicine. Vol. 53 (2001): 543-550

[8] Kempadoo, Kamala. “Globalizing Sex Workers’ Rights.” Canadian Woman Studies. Vol. 22: No. 3-4. (2003): 145

[9] Raymond, Janice G. & Hughes, Donna M. “Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States: International and Domestic Trends.” (April 17, 2001): 7 < http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/187774.pdf>

[10] United Nations. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Its Optional Protocol: Handbook for Parliamentarians. (2003) < http://www.ipu.org/PDF/publications/cedaw_en.pdf>

[11] United Nations. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. (Dec. 20, 1993) < http://www.un-documents.net/a48r104.htm>

[12] Empower Foundation. «http://www.empowerfoundation.org/index_en.html»

[13] Feingold, David A. “Think Again: Human Trafficking.” Foreign Policy. (Sep./Oct. 2005): 27

[14] Raymond. “Sex Trafficking of Women”: 10-11.

[15] Global Monitoring. “Report on the Status of Action Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: Thailand.” End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. (2006): 18 < http://resourcecentre.savethechildren.se/content/library/documents/globa... [16] Poulin, Richard. “Globalization and the Sex Trade: Trafficking and the Commodification of Women and Children.” Vol. 22, No. 3-4. (2003): 38 < http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/cws/article/view/6411>

Human Rights and Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is considered one of the deadliest and most expensive natural disasters in United States history with more than 1,300 people killed. The many images of desperate survivors, floating bodies, and crowded shelters reached the international media and revealed a shocking level of abject poverty and income inequity that also exists in the world’s richest nation[1]. While many human rights violations occurred in the aftermath of Katrina, the horrible situation that resulted in New Orleans was a culmination of systemic discrimination based on such factors as race and socioeconomic status that existed in New Orleans well before the hurricane. Inadequate infrastructure and evacuation plans, an ill-prepared emergency response, subsequent problems in dealing with displaced residents and reconstruction of New Orleans have raised many concerns in regards to human rights violations and have prompted much investigation and reporting from both government and non-government groups. Human rights philosophy focuses on the idea that all humans are “sacred”, and images from the Gulf Coast after Katrina reveal a contradiction in policy and practice in dealing with the victims of the disaster[2].

Human rights violations primarily stemmed from racial and socioeconomic factors in the region and ultimately resulted in violations of the basic right to life. In preparing for the hurricane, the State violated the principle of non-discrimination because the evacuation plan relied on property ownership, specifically ownership of an automobile. However, New Orleans hurricane plans before Katrina reveal that an estimated 100,000 residents did not own an automobile, the majority of which were poor and African-American[3]. By not providing an alternative means of evacuation, such as public transport, the State violated Article 26 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which states that all people are “entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”[4].

As stranded residents in New Orleans died from drowning or lack of access to health care in the aftermath of the hurricane, questions of inadequate infrastructure arose. Clearly, the levee systems were insufficient to handle a severe storm such as Katrina and the federal government blamed this anomaly on the inability of responsible local organizations to develop and maintain levees to withstand a hurricane above a category three[5]. However, despite what legislation and procedures may have been put in place to prevent flooding in high risk areas, the ultimate responsibility for fulfilling a citizen’s right to life falls on the shoulders of the national government[6]. Failure on their part has occurred repeatedly since the storm with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and law enforcement failing to provide immediate rescue or protection and humanitarian aid to survivors, further leading to a disproportionate loss of life and suffering of poor and African-American residents.

Lines of communication, equipment, and supplies are cited as some of the major resources that were lacking by FEMA and law enforcement in responding to Katrina on the Gulf Coast[7]. In addition, blatant rights violations took place as victims attempted to flee the city, such as the Danzinger Bridge incident where two people were shot down by police as they tried to escape floodwaters. In 2010, a New Orleans Police Department Supervisor was convicted for his involvement in covering up this incident and federal agencies continue to investigate the incident, even five years post-Katrina[8]. 200 residents also attempted to escape to the majority white suburb of Gretna but were forcibly blocked by law enforcement, who fired shots in the air[9]. In addition, the basic human and constitutional rights of prisoners incarcerated at the time of the storm, most of which were pretrial detainees without convictions, were violated as guards fled and prisoners were left without food and water and were eventually transported to other prisons[10]. Numerous reports of abuses occurred and the criminal justice system collapsed without prisoner records making it out of New Orleans. Prisoners were held without charges, representation, or trial, a violation of the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution and Article Nine of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights[11]. There were those who acted immediately after the storm, such as criminal defense lawyer Phyllis Mann, to file habeas petitions to release prisoners who should not remain in detention, but it took some months for action to occur on the part of the Louisiana judicial system[12].

Those who were mentally ill, the elderly, or others with special needs lacking the resources or even the physical ability to escape the storm are highlighted as another group who died or suffered in greater numbers. A reported 71 percent of Louisiana victims were over the age of sixty, again a violation of the right to equal protection without discrimination[13]. Hospitals, nursing homes, and special needs shelters, failed to evacuate their patients due to factors of time and costs and in the process many died unnecessarily. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), FEMA, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were responsible for providing medical care and supplies to victims[14]. However, it appears that a failure of communication lines and coordination on their part led to the basic right to life and health[15] being violated.

Inadequate levees, an insufficient evacuation plan, and failed operations to rescue and treat displaced persons after Hurricane Katrina reveal a level of discrimination based on race, health status, and socioeconomic status that violates internationally recognized human rights, as well as national civil rights and laws aimed at protecting against such discrimination. The first step to ensuring such a tragedy does not occur again in the United States requires commitment by local and federal authorities to invest in better infrastructure to prevent levees failing in the future. It also involves the creation of a more practical and non-discriminatory evacuation plan that would ensure all residents make it out of the high-risk areas regardless of them owning an automobile. The criminal system needs to be better organized, adaptable, and to take advantage of modern technology to ensure adequate records are maintained in the event of a catastrophe such as this. Finally, guidelines and regulations for providing humanitarian aid and assistance need to be better established so that communication and coordination between the various local and national agencies exists.

Today, as one drives the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward where many of the deaths occurred, flooded and deserted houses still remain with numbers spay-painted on the front as reminders of those that died or survived the floods. Public housing has been destroyed with no reconstruction planned and thousands of internally displaced residents are still living in other states because there is no housing, education, medical services or other basic infrastructure to return to in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast[16]. On a basic level, the human rights violations that occurred in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast centered upon racial and socioeconomic inequality. Unfortunately, it appears that no level of planning, preparation, or redress will ever eradicate such violations springing from emergency situations until this inequality is addressed on a national and individual level in the United States.

[1] Albisa, Catherine & Sekaran, Sharda. “Realizing Domestic Social Justice Through International Human Rights.” National Economic & Social Rights Initiative. (May 2006): 352 < http://www.nesri.org/resources/foreword-realizing-domestic-social-justic... [2] Perry, Michael J. “The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries.” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003): 5 [3] Fragos Townsend, Frances. “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.” (February 2006): 26 «http://library.stmarytx.edu/acadlib/edocs/katrinawh.pdf» [4] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Entry into force 23 March 1976. «http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm#art26» [5] Davis, Tom (Chairman). “A Failure of Initiative: Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina.” (February 15, 2006): 87 < http://www.gpoaccess.gov/katrinareport/mainreport.pdf>

[6] United Nations. “Manual on Human Rights Reporting: Under Six Major International Human Rights Instruments.” (Geneva, 1997): 21

[7] Smith, Michael R. & Rojek, Jeff. “Law Enforcement Lessons Learned From Hurricane Katrina.” The Review of Policy Research. (November 1, 2007) < http://www.cas.sc.edu/crju/pdfs/CrisisLawEnf.pdf>

[8] Amnesty International. “Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast.” (February 2010): 21 < http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/unnaturaldisaster.pdf>

[9] Kromm, Chris. &Stugis, Susan. “Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: A Global Human Rights Perspective on a National Disaster.” Institute for Southern Studies. (January 2008): 19 < http://www.southernstudies.org/ISSKatrinaHumanRightsJan08.pdf>

[10] Quigley, William P. “Hurricane Katrina Symposium: Article: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Katrina: Human and Civil Rights Left Behind Again.” Tulane Law Review. 81 Tul. L. Rev. 955. (March 2007): 5

[11] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 9.

[12] Garrett, Brandon L. & Tetlow, Tania. “Criminal Justice Collapse: The Constitution After Hurricane Katrina.” Duke Law Journal. Vol. 56: 127 (2006): 148-150

[13] “Lessons Learned.” 8

[14] Davis. “A Failure of Initiative.”: 268

[15] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 12 (1). < http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm#art12>

[16] “Un-Natural Disaster.” 6

The Unfinished GLBT Revolution

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, violent protests and demonstrations erupted around the gay bar the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. These riots came to be known as the Stonewall Riots and the spark for the “Gay Rights Revolution” that has continued in various forms until today. Recently this revolution for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgenders (GLBT) has gained much attention in the United States and the movement itself appears to have manifested globally in the fight for legalization of same-sex marriage. However, in the U.S. only six states currently permit same-sex marriage and the federal government exclusively recognizes marriage as a union between man and woman. Despite the fact that the US is credited with being the birthplace of the gay rights movement and that it has a reputation for being a liberal and revolutionary nation, it is far behind many other nations around the world in advancing equal access to the institution of marriage. There are many speculations as to why this anomaly arises, but the main factors that seem to emerge are that majority rule outweighs minority rights, that the gay movement itself is divided on the issue, and that religious and conservative groups are increasing in influence in America.

When the police decided to conduct a “routine raid” on the popular gay club Stonewall Inn in June, 1969 they certainly did not anticipate the heated and violent riots that followed sporadically for six days. Of course, this reaction was not a sudden outburst of protest, but rather the result of culminating feelings of oppression and discrimination that had been stirred by recent advancements in civil rights movements like the Feminist and African American movements. Nor was Stonewall to be the last uprising as many violent occurrences followed throughout the 1970s. The two main groups to form from these riots were the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. However, in the 1970s the main focus for gay rights was simply non-discrimination and tolerance of homosexuals in society, rather than any notion of equal access to marriage. Harvey Milk is one of the most notable activists and was memorialized recently in the film Milk in 2009. Interestingly, scholars note that American attitudes regarding the morality of homosexuality have swung from liberal to conservative from 1973-1990 and back to more liberal again from 1990-2001, although the overall response of Americans has been marked by a willingness to permit greater civil rights and freedoms to homosexuals.

As acceptance of homosexuality increased, the movement for equal marriage rights gained momentum and eventually culminated in a Hawaiian court case in 1990. This case questioned the denial of marriage licenses for three same-sex couples and attained success in the lower courts, although the state Supreme Court ultimately denied the right of same-sex couples to marriage. Since then the states of Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have all legalized same-sex marriage or unions. However, the 2004 election and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have amended the constitution to exclude homosexuals from marriage, highlighted how many Americans are still opposed to granting marriage rights to homosexual couples. Globally the GLBT fight for access to marriage appears to have made more progress in various European countries, particularly the Scandinavian nations, and even Canada recognizing that homosexuals should have equal access to marriage. Despite the fact the GLBT revolution began in America and that the U.S. is considered to be one of the most liberal and democratic nations in the world, it still lags behind many other countries in increasing equality for its homosexual minority.

Ironically, America’s democratic tradition is often one of the main arguments used in opposing same-sex marriage. Opponents argue that minority opinion should not outweigh majority opinion in a decision such as this. While their argument at first may seem fair, supporters of same-sex marriage are quick to compare the GLBT movement to other civil rights actions such as the equality for African Americans and women, and particularly the elimination of a ban on interracial marriage. In the case of African American and interracial couples, they indeed were and still are the minority; yet the judicial system and now society deem these minorities deserving of equal rights. For this reason GLBT advocates have carefully tried to frame their revolution in terms of civil rights actions and also citizenship issues. By being denied equal access to marriage, same-sex couples are not receiving full American citizenship, tax incentives, family security, as well as spousal access to health insurance, property ownership, and medical decisions.

However, one of the greatest impediments in the GLBT revolution is that the community itself is extremely divided on the issue of equal access to marriage. As with many past revolutionaries like Stalin and Trotsky in the Russian Revolution, there is serious disagreement in the way to move forward for GLBT rights. Some countries like Britain, are advocating legal civil unions for same-sex couples which still deny them the right to marry. Many argue that this is in effect segregation and in some states in the U.S. where civil unions are legally recognized, they do not also extend protections in these unions to heterosexual couples; this creates a situation where homosexuals are “separate but equal” which is now an infamous term from the period of segregation. There are also those in the GLBT community who vehemently oppose marriage itself for same-sex couples because they see it as conforming to heterosexual expectations and as reinforcing inequalities in gender that already exist. While they may have a point, such disagreement does not help create unity and cohesiveness within the GLBT revolution and indeed allows their opponents to weaken the gay rights movement. While they may disagree on the procedure for reform, the one issue supporters all agree on is that homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals when it comes to rights of citizenship.

One of the primary tenets of the American Constitution is separation of religion and state. However, American society in particular still seems to be very much caught up in religion and many Americans find it difficult to separate their religious ideas from secular issues such as same-sex marriage. Various surveys and data have been collected and it is clearly evident that religious affiliation and in particular religious devotion are significant determinants in one’s opinion on same-sex marriage. Evangelical Protestants tend to have the most conservative theology and follow the position of their church closely and so strongly oppose same-sex marriage. Religious and conservative groups tend to make up the majority of opposition to same-sex marriage and their argument generally relies on tradition and bible teachings to justify the “sanctity” of marriage. Many religious members of Congress have caused uproar by commenting on homosexual relations, such as Senator Santorum who equated legalization of sodomy with the right to bigamy, polygamy, incest, and adultery. Such passionate beliefs have also been espoused during other revolutions and in the fight for abortion rights, a right which many Americans would not now ever consider rescinding. The U.S. seems to be particularly susceptible to the religious element of the debate, even despite its tradition as a secular society and unfortunately many prefer to frame the debate for same-sex marriages as a purely religious, moral, and tolerance issue rather than a civil rights revolution. While some may choose to follow the Bible for their main source of guidance, most Western and secular societies today explicitly state in their constitutions that there should be a separation of church and state.

The revolution for GLBT rights erupted onto the civil rights agenda in the 1960s in America with the Stonewall Riots and quickly evolved into a global revolution, although now the U.S. has fallen behind in progress in comparison to many other nations. America is a democratic nation who invariably supports equal citizen rights and has also evolved into a nation that supports minority issues such as abortion, racial inequality, and other women’s issues. Many European nations have already taken momentous steps in granting equal rights to their GLBT communities and recognizing legal rights for same-sex couples while the U.S. remains bitterly divided on the issue. There is also much contention within the GLBT community as to the best approach in fighting for their equality which somewhat stifles their activist agenda. Perhaps the main impediment is American society itself who in many sectors remain very religious and conservative and while they may ‘tolerate’ same-sex couples, they refuse to grant homosexuals access to the institution of marriage. However, while it is a slow and painful battle it seems inevitable that same-sex marriage and greater rights for the GLBT community will ultimately be achieved. History serves as an example of what civil rights movements can achieve and now America and the Western world seems to be moving away from reliance on religion as their sole guidance. While the GLBT Revolution may not have advanced as quickly and smoothly as racial and feminist movements in the 1960s, it still existed and thrived. There are many reasons for its slow evolution, but as society develops and matures it certainly seems inevitable that the goal for same-sex marriage and equal GLBT rights will eventually materialize in American society and across the globe.

Navigating the Taiwan Strait

The situation in the Taiwan Strait has been a central point of disagreement in relations between the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) and the United States of America (U.S.), for which the U.S. has had to clarify its position numerous times since the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang in 1949. International relations have dramatically changed since the Communiqué between the P.R.C. and the U.S. of 1972, 1979, and 1982 were released. The Cold War is at an end and the ideology and tensions that arose because of it are no longer relevant in relations between these two nations and thus, foreign policy from the U.S. should reflect these changes and its attitude to the Taiwan Strait issue should be adapted.

Crucial to the P.R.C. is the acceptance of “one China and that Taiwan is a part of China” as stated in 1972. At that time and since, the U.S. has not challenged this position of the P.R.C. and indeed reaffirmed the position in 1982. However, it was reiterated that the U.S. would “maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations” with the Taiwanese people. Since both the P.R.C. and the Taiwanese people are still in agreement on the principle of “One China” it is advisable that the U.S. continue with this policy. In previous years, Hong Kong and Macau have been returned to P.R.C. administration as special administrative regions. Such events follow a similar path to Taiwanese reunification with the mainland, although it will have to be handled very delicately considering the history of the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang Party who fled to Taiwan in 1949.

While the U.S. has maintained a similar position since the 1970s they have at times contradicted it in their relations with Taiwan which has caused recent strains with the P.R.C. and prompted the Communist Government to seek clarification from the U.S. administration. Relations became delicate during the rule of the Democratic Progressive Party (D.D.P.) in Taiwan under President Chen Shubian from 2000-2008, who made clear his agenda to declare an independent Taiwan. The leadership has since been handed back to the Kuomintang Party in 2008 and the move towards independence has waned. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that a government such as the D.D.P. will win the popular vote once more in Taiwan and prompt the issue once again. For this reason, the U.S. must make clear their position so as to allay P.R.C. fears of future tensions with the U.S. over the issue of Taiwan.

Of paramount importance in resolving such confusion in relations with the P.R.C. is the military aid provided to Taiwan since the 1950s. It was highlighted in the original communiqué of 1972 that the U.S. would aim to scale down military involvement and installations in Taiwan in years to come. However, the U.S. also made it clear in the Taiwan Relations Act that it would “maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” to Taiwanese authorities. While U.S. military aid to Taiwan may have been scaled down it still exists and is grounds for the P.R.C. to challenge us on past promises of scaling down military relations with Taiwan. As recently as 2010 the U.S. Congress has promised to send Patriot Missiles to Taiwan as part of their defense strategy in the region. If the U.S. is truly committed to improving relations with the P.R.C. and eliminating tensions in the Taiwan Straight then we could take advantage of our military relations with Taiwan and scale back military aid. Such leverage could produce the necessary impetus to push to the Taiwanese government to open further relations with the P.R.C. and negotiate a suitable settlement. While ever Taiwan feels it has the U.S. to defend its wishes militarily it is unlikely that it will take steps forward to move towards reunification with the mainland.

Although the U.S. has made it clear that they support the “One China” policy, it seems that it is less clear as to whether we would be willing to go to war if the P.R.C. or Taiwan were to declare war on one another. Therefore, our intentions must be spelled out clearly in order to avert any potential for war. As in past statements, the U.S. has indicated that it supports one China and therefore wishes to see Taiwan reunified with the mainland and thus, resolved in direct negotiations with the P.R.C. However, while the U.S. does not wish to see conflict in the Taiwan Strait, it is willing to defend Taiwan if the P.R.C. military attacks Taiwan without provocation and to force its own terms on the Taiwanese people. The U.S. also does not wish to see Taiwan attack or provoke the P.R.C. on this issue. It instead wishes that the situation be handled peacefully and diplomatically, and preferably without U.S. interference.

However, given previous history, we understand that relations between Taiwan and the P.R.C. will have to be carefully mended on both economic and diplomatic levels. It is clear that economic relations have been dramatically improving between these two regions and given the preceding relations between the U.S. and these two areas and our own economic and political clout, we have an opportune moment to help mend tensions that have survived for decades. Economic relations are currently very strong with East Asian nations and so channels are open to discuss future direction with trade and commercial development in the region. While economic embargoes may be too harsh and unnecessary, there is still room for us to negotiate terms with both parties to provide incentive to come to some sort of agreement. Both have significant economic ties with the U.S. and so it is only in their interests to listen to our advice.

Diplomacy has also become increasingly important between our three nations and other nations in the region and has come to dominate economic discussion. There are many issues beyond economics that affect our interests on a regional and international level that could be used as rallying points to bring our three groups together. Security, health, and other issues imperative to national welfare have entered discussion in previous years and we should continue to move forward on these issues. Such consensus should also be extended to negotiating the dispute with Taiwan and the U.S. could initiate a forum in which these negotiations could be facilitated rather than sitting idly by and waiting for these two groups to come to their own agreement. Tension has existed for decades and without some prompting from an external nation such tension could continue for many decades without resolution.

One particular point of contention is the U.S. contribution to Taiwan in military aid and intelligence. In Section 3302 of the Taiwan Relations Act, it is stated the U.S. will make aid available to Taiwan to “maintain sufficient self-defense capability”. These terms seem to directly contradict the promise to the P.R.C. that it will not interfere in its territorial sovereignty and its aims to reunify Taiwan with the mainland. In addition, since President Ma Ying-jeou of the K.M.T. was elected in Taiwan, the Taiwanese government has significantly scaled back its military budge making it clear they are not interested in declaring independence for Taiwan. If the U.S. truly hopes to see progress in the Taiwan Straight then it will have to scale back its commitment to Taiwan and begin to listen to the P.R.C. and the K.M.T. who are now in power. Although it is not advisable to submit to all P.R.C. requests, it is time to consider resolving this issue and this cannot be achieved while ever the U.S. provides weapons and military aid to Taiwan.

Although it is clear the Taiwan Straight issue is complex, the current economic and diplomatic situation lends itself to a lasting resolution. The People’s Republic of China, the United States of America, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) are all in agreement that there is one China of which Taiwan is a part. Therefore, we need to move forward to establish and strengthen economic and diplomatic relations to ensure that Taiwan is peacefully and successfully reunified with mainland China. In order to do this, the United States must make clear that it will not interfere militarily in the situation as long as Taiwan does not declare independence and the P.R.C. does not attack Taiwan unnecessarily. We must show our commitment by scaling back military aid to Taiwan and initiating further dialogue between the two groups on diplomatic levels. Given the Unites States’ economic, security, and international interests in the region, it is imperative that we take proactive action in resolving this ongoing dispute.

Guatemala-An Ambassador’s Report

Guatemala was a part of the one of the greatest civilizations of the world, the Mayan civilization that existed in Honduras, El Salvador, and into Mexico. In 1524 the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado arrived in Guatemala and the modern history of Guatemala followed a path not uncommon in Latin America after Spanish conquest. Alvarado was a particularly brutal Conquistador and under his rule natives were suppressed and disease and hard labor reduced their population by ninety percent in less than a century[1]. Guatemala did not possess the desired resources of gold, sugar, and spices like other colonies and so was largely neglected by the Spanish rule. This changed with the advent of the world coffee market which propelled Guatemala onto the world economic stage and greatly altered traditional patterns of economics by displacing Indians from their land and introducing harsh labor codes[2].

Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821 and was absorbed into the Mexican Empire. However, two years later it left the empire and became part of a federation of the United Provinces of Central America which also only lasted a brief period. Throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, political leadership in Guatemala was characterized by military dictatorships, coups, and repressive regimes[3]. However, in October 1944, Guatemalans came out to protest and a small group of military officers overthrow the dictatorship of Ubico. A democratic government was elected and various reforms were undertaken until another military coup occurred in 1954 and a particularly bloody regime followed, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans[4]. A civil war then began in 1960 between the government and insurgents which lasted until 1996 when a United Nations peace accord was signed. While there have been democratic elections since 1996, the situation in Guatemala is precarious and much work still needs to be done in various areas[5].

2. History of U.S. Relations with Guatemala.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) involvement in the 1954 military coup to overthrow democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, remains a bitter memory for Guatemalans in their history with the United States. The Cold War was escalating and the threat of Communism dominated U.S. foreign policy, particularly in a region as geographically close as Central America[6]. In 1954, the U.S. pushed for the Declaration of Caracas at an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting, deeming Communist activities a threat to the Americas. When the OAS would not intervene militarily in Guatemala the CIA began sponsoring disaffected army officers secretly in Honduras to overthrow the Arbenz government[7]. Those involved in the coup and the killing that followed were trained, equipped, and supported by the CIA and the U.S. government, who were quick to grant military aid to the operation[8].

However, Guatemalans tend to hold a different version of events, claiming the coup sprang primarily from U.S. economic interests in the country. The Boston-based United Fruit Company (UFCO) was the largest land owner and employer in Guatemala by the end of World War Two. International Railways of Central America, a subsidiary of UFCO, was the second largest employer. When the military dictator was ousted in 1944 and a democratic government began reforms, new labor unions, a national labor federation, and Labor Code were formed, alongside agrarian reform and land expropriation. These labor codes and a 40 percent loss of land by UFCO launched them into action and they turned to their U.S. government for help[9]. While the CIA was concerned with the spread of Communism, they also expressed a concern for communist “sabotage of strategic industries” like UFCO[10]. Whatever the motives of the U.S. government in this operation, its success set a dangerous precedent in a region where they would continue to intervene in the affairs of Latin American nations and contribute to the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

U.S. support would continue for decades following the 1954 coup, firstly with the Eisenhower administration who aimed to create a model democracy in Guatemala and legitimize the regime they had put in place[11]. In the 1980s, President Reagan expanded much energy into Guatemala in his quest to eradicate communism and Bush continued Reagan’s policies into the 1990s, although with considerably less zeal[12]. However, the U.S. government did support the 1996 United Nations peace accord which called for an end to the civil war that had been in existence in Guatemala since 1960. They have committed substantial funding to reconstructing the nation and building strong diplomatic and economic relations. US AID has been working hard to build democratic foundations, improve social equality, and other fundamental facets that exist in a democracy[13].

3. Political, Social, and Economic Challenges Faced by Guatemala.

The Spanish colonial period between 1524 and 1821, established an economic situation of underdevelopment and dependency that would persist into the twentieth century[14]. Although Guatemala now has the largest economy in Central America, improving income growth and reducing poverty in a sustainable capacity are major challenges. Inflation is not uncommon and their account deficit of the balance of payments stood just above 5% before 2009[15]. The U.S. is still their number one trading partner with 40 percent of exports and imports going the U.S. and their main exports are limited to textiles, coffee, sugar, and bananas[16]. Such limited trading has made the Guatemalan market vulnerable to changes in U.S. markets and world prices. The government has been unable to expand economic growth significantly; thus, poverty is still a major problem for the Guatemalan government with an illiteracy rate of 40 percent, a per capita income of approximately $5,500 annually, and deep social inequalities that tend to exacerbate ethnic tensions and contribute to instability in the country[17].

Unfortunately, poverty is more prominent in indigenous populations due to a historical policy of exclusion of the indigenous population, despite the fact that the majority of Guatemalans are indigenous. It is apparent that Guatemala was less successful than other Latin American states in creating a solid national identity and a strong political legitimacy. Ethnic tensions were rife and the national government was unable to find a national project to bring its people together. Thus, during times of upheaval and protest, the government of the time would inevitably turn to violence to maintain social control[18]. Now indigenous children suffer higher rates of malnutrition and less access to education, health, and basic utility services[19]. The peace process in the 1990s brought focus to the plight of indigenous Mayan populations and the Accord on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed in 1995 was an important step forward in recognizing indigenous rights[20]. Nevertheless, there is still much progress needed to address social inequalities that are well entrenched in Guatemalan society.

In recent years, corruption and lawlessness in Guatemala have become prominent issues in a country aspiring to become a stable democracy. Drug trafficking has long been a problem and the corruption of law enforcement officials reached new heights when U.S. drug agents arrested Guatemala’s equivalent of the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on charges of corruption[21]. It is believed that organized crime has penetrated into government circles as well as the judicial system, which is described as weak and inefficient[22]. Those who speak out against corruption, including a congresswoman, are now finding their lives threatened by organized crime which some claim are also linked to President Colom[23]. While the parties responsible for corruption and violence may not always be clear, it is evident that Guatemalan citizens are increasingly unhappy. In a 2008 regional survey, only 25 percent expressed confidence in their police force and 15 percent trusted the Constitutional and Supreme Court, revealing clear problems in administrative processes in Guatemala[24].

4. Crucial Policy Differences with the United States.

Transparency of legal and judicial proceedings is clearly a policy difference between the U.S. and Guatemala. In the case of the chief drug enforcement official mentioned previously, the U.S. DEA engineered a fake invitation to a training exercise to entice Adan Castillo into the U.S. where they then arrested him in his hotel room[25]. Clearly, the U.S. did not trust the Guatemalan legal system to deal with this issue and decided to bring the suspect onto U.S. soil so that he may be prosecuted and convicted in the U.S. legal system. It would appear that Guatemalan citizens agree with these conclusions in a nation where citizens face difficulties in accessing justice, delays in procedures, and low rates of conviction. People are increasingly taking action into their own hands with vigilante justice on the rise[26]. While the legal system in the U.S. is not perfect, in comparison to Guatemala it is far advanced.

Such a weak judicial system has serious implications for how the U.S. deals with drug trafficking from Latin America. It is estimated that $10 billion in cocaine passes through Guatemala annually, 10 percent of money from profits is laundered there and is used to bribe local officials such as Castillo[27]. It appears that the Obama administration is not in agreement with the Guatemalan government’s approach to drug trade within its borders. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently criticized the government for “not taking strong enough stands” in their approach to drug trafficking. She highlighted a recent trend of the drug industry in corrupting weaker nations such as Guatemala. While the U.S. takes a strong stance against drug trafficking and devotes millions of dollars each year to eliminating drug trafficking they are clearly dissatisfied with Guatemalan policies towards drug trade[28].

Perhaps one of the most contentious policy differences between Guatemala and the U.S. has been the handling of immigration issues. When President Clinton visited Guatemala in 1999 he was met by a large and angry crowd of demonstrators who prevented his motorcade from entering the presidential palace. They were protesting his insistence on a repatriation policy which would lead to the possible expulsion of 165,000 illegal Guatemalan immigrants from the U.S. who send substantial financial assistance home to their poor families[29]. This policy difference was highlighted more recently when President Bush announced a push for tougher immigration laws and enforcement measures, while President Berger of Guatemala condemned the treatment and deportation of Guatemalan immigrants from the U.S. In a nation where 10 percent of the population migrates north, this issue is likely to cause tension between the two nations for many years to come[30].

5. Strategy for Gaining Trust with Guatemalan Government as New U.S. Ambassador

Given our complicated history with Guatemala and our involvement in the 1954 coup, one of the first steps that must be taken to gain the trust of the Guatemalan government is acknowledgement of past wrongs. In 1999, President Clinton described this involvement as “wrong” but he did not go on to apologize for our actions[31]. An official apology I feel, first from the U.S. ambassador and if possible from the President would go a long way in gaining the trust of the Guatemalan government, its people, as well as other Latin American nations in which the U.S. was involved in throughout the twentieth century.

Regional dialogue is another very important factor in any strategy for improving relations with Guatemala. This includes opening up dialogue to nations such as Venezuela who have been highly critical of the U.S. in recent years. Venezuela possesses a democratically elected government and the U.S. needs to show its willingness and commitment to work with such a government so as not to send mixed messages to other Latin America nations. As ambassador I feel it would be beneficial to take the lead in developing both informal and formal partnerships to deal with issues particularly relevant to Central America. Informal meetings create a non-threatening environment for discussion, whereas formal summits and partnerships express a commitment from the U.S. to address these issues with the cooperation of all concerned parties. Climate change is one issue that is increasingly dominating global discussion and the U.S. recently signed an agreement to build on the 2009 Copenhagen Accord to deal with climate change with Brazil[32]. It is issues such as this that could form the basis of discussion with both Guatemala and neighboring countries and show a commitment to working with the Guatemalan government rather than excluding it from important discussions.

However, some of the most pressing issues in Guatemala today are poverty and social inequalities. Health is one area in serious need of attention and as ambassador I would push for an increase in aid or find other forms of support. Neighboring Cuba has sent thousands of physicians to some of the world’s poorest countries in a program that could easily be implemented by the U.S[33]. Education is another barrier to removing poverty in Guatemala and programs such as Teach for America already exist and could also be extended below the southern border of the U.S. In the past, the U.S. has provided training and funding for Guatemalans primarily in the area of military training. As ambassador I would work to establish funding and partnerships to train entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, and providers of other essential services that would help improve both economic and social conditions in the country. Guatemala has lived in the shadow of its military for far too many decades and it is time to move beyond this small scope and help to build a stronger democratic nation.

6. Policy Suggestions for Improving Relations with the U.S. and Ensuring a More Beneficial and Mutually Enhancing Long-Range Partnership.

Economic underdevelopment is a serious problem for Guatemala and thus trade relations should be considered in any policy changes for the U.S. in a way that they might help Guatemala. While the Central American Free Trade Agreement with Guatemala was established in 2006 and has spurred economic growth, there are still many problems with distribution of income between the wealthy few and the majority living in poverty[34]. Currently the U.S. also provides substantial subsidies for its own agricultural industries which infuriates and disadvantages Guatemalan farmers. The sugar industry in particular, is among the most highly subsidized and costs U.S. consumers $1.9 billion a year in higher prices[35]. Future economic policies need to reduce agricultural subsidies and take into account developing inequalities in Guatemala, particularly since the U.S. has committed to a free trade agreement with Guatemala.

Our policy towards drug trafficking is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. Firstly, it seems futile to deal with the problem on a country by country basis when traffickers work across borders. A regional approach that includes Guatemala and other Latin American countries would provide a more comprehensive and perhaps more successful policy for addressing drug trafficking in the Americas. The U.S. needs to engage those governments where trafficking is taking place and work with them to eradicate corruption and crime that occurs rather than against them. ‘Tricking’ drug enforcement officials into coming to the U.S. so the DEA can arrest them, shows a complete lack of respect for the sovereignty of the Guatemalan government and how they deal with crime. The U.S. has already committed to the Merida Initiative and provided millions of dollars in funding to combat the drug trade, but future efforts need to be carried out in conjunction with the Guatemalan government in order to create a mutual approach to the problem[36].

In terms of aid, the U.S. lifted the ban on military aid in 2005 under the Bush administration. Given our past relationship with the Guatemalan military this aid could lead to a future increase in military power and will likely increase civilian distrust towards the U.S[37]. Instead, our policy should be to increase humanitarian and economic development aid to rebuild a nation still recovering from decades of war that the U.S. government contributed to. In addition, we need to stop supporting the interests of corporations such as UFCO over civilian interests, and that policy should extend to all Latin America nations so as to set and example. Our government needs to distance itself from companies like Chiquita Banana, a subsidiary of UFCO, who have been supportive of the military coup in Honduras[38]. Such relationships are a particularly sore point for Guatemalans and their feelings towards the U.S.

The other major point of contention for Guatemala is illegal immigration and how the U.S. government deals with these immigrants. Guatemalan President Colom expressed his belief that immigrants from his nation deserve the same temporary legal protections given to other Central Americans and that the sacrifices they make in coming to the U.S. to support their poor families should be recognized[39]. One recommendation is that a Standing Committee on Immigration and Labor Markets needs to be established in order to address immigration issues properly and in a comprehensive way. Annual visa quotas should be set, based on our labor market needs, and promoted as a legal way for Guatemalans and other Latin Americans to enter the U.S. and work[40]. I also feel that if the U.S. works to create policies to improve the economic situation in Guatemala, then it will provide a better environment in which citizens will be able to achieve economic independence within their own nation. Although this will obviously take many years to develop, the benefits will be more sustainable and beneficial to Guatemalans if they can remain in their own country of citizenship with their families.

Finally, the civil war in Guatemala only came to a close in 1996 and there are still many issues that remain unresolved. Considering the role the U.S. played in the war, we have a duty to ensure that the peace accord is carried out properly. Approximately ten years after the signing of the accords an international conference found that progress in achieving goals set out, particularly in improving the situation of indigenous people, had been limited[41]. Part of this process is also reconciliation and historical clarification, a process that is occurring in many Latin American nations in the form of “truth” commissions and reports. Guatemala currently has its own report which makes recommendations regarding the preservation of memory of victims of human rights abuses, compensation for victims, and the strengthening of democratic processes[42]. It is clear that there are still many steps to be taken in regards to the reconciliation and peace process and the U.S. government can help in this process by providing funding, personnel to oversee the process, or general structural support in advancing the nation. However, this should only be provided at the request of the Guatemalan government.

Guatemala has a truly troubled history in which the United States has been involved and our relationship remains tenuous. Moving from an authoritarian and violent military regime to a democracy is a long and arduous process that will take many years to achieve[43]. However, we must work together with the Guatemalan government to address issues that are important to our two nations such as drug trafficking, trade, illegal immigration, economic development, and creating a regional dialogue to enhance the situation of all Central Americans. There are also internal issues such as social inequalities, lack of protection of indigenous rights, redistribution of land, lack of education and health services, and a high rate of poverty. The United States should make it a priority to work with Guatemala on these issues as well as the issues that affect our own nation. As ambassador to Guatemala I will work hard to ensure that equal attention is given to both sides and that the reconciliation and peace process continues to make progress.

[1] Cockroft, James D. Latin America: History, Politics, and U.S. Policy. (Wadsworth Publishing, 1996): 125

[2] Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954. (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1991): 10

[3] U.S. Department of State. “Background Note: Guatemala.” Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. (April 2001) at http://web.archive.org/web/20020404034633/http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/b… (04/30/2010)

[4] Gleijeses, Shattered Hope, 30

[5] “Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace.” Conciliation Resources. http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/guatemala/firm-lasting-peace.php (04/30/2010)

[6] Haines, Gerald K. “CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-1954.” CIA History Staff Analysis. (June 1995) at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB4/cia-guatemala1_1.html (044/30/2010)

[7] Halperin Donghi, Tulio. The Contemporary History of Latin America. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993): 256-257

[8] La Feber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. (New York, NY: Norton, 1983): 256

[9] Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998): 337

[10] Krenn, Michael L. The Chains of Interdependence: U.S. Policy Towards Central America. (Armonk, NY: M.E.Sharpe, 1996): 64

[11] Brockett, Charles D. “An Illusion of Omnipotence: U.S. Policy Toward Guatemala, 1954-1960.” Latin American Politics and Society. (Spring 2002) Vol. 44, 1:116

[12] Leogrande, William M. “From Reagan to Bush: The Transition in U.S. Policy Towards Central America.” Journal of Latin American Studies. (Oct. 1990) Vol. 22, No. 3: 620

[13] US AID. “Guatemala Country Plan for 2004-2010.” US AID From the American People. http://www.usaid.gov/gt/country_plan.htm (04/30/2010)

[14] Jonas, Susanne. The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991): 14

[15] World Trade Organization. “Secretariat Report.” Trade Policy Review: Guatemala. (Feb. 2009) http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp310_e.htm (05/01/2010)

[16] “Guatemala Trade Brief.” World Trade Indicators. (2009/10) http://info.worldbank.org/etools/wti/docs/Guatemala_brief.pdf (05/01/2010)

[17] Constable, Pamela. “Guatemalan Stress Immigrant Sacrifices.” The Washington Post. (04/30/2008) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/29/AR200804… (05/01/2010)

[18] Grandin, Greg. The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000): 8

[19] The World Bank. Poverty in Guatemala. (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2004): 18 at http://books.google.com/books?id=A5rjpvMkKvcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=pov…

[20] Sieder, Rachel. “Reframing Citizenship: Indigenous Rights, Local Power and the Peace Process in Guatemala.” Conciliation Resources. (1997) http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/guatemala/reframing-citizenship.php (05/01/2010)

[21] Aizenman, N.C. “Endurance of Corruption Shakes Guatemala Anew.” The Washington Post. (03/11/2006) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/10/AR200603… (05/01/2010)

[22] Plihal, Vanessa. “President Accused of Corruption While Gangs Reign in Guatemala.” City Mayors Society. (05/27/2009) http://www.citymayors.com/society/guatemala-murders.html (05/01/2010)

[23] Whiteman, Hilary. “One Woman’s Fear in the Fight Against Corruption in Guatemala.” CNN World. (06/10/2009) http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/06/09/guatemala.anabella.de.leon…. (05/01/2010)

[24] Casas-Zamora, Kevin. “’Guatemalastan’: How to Prevent a Failed State in our Midst.” Brookings. (05/22/2009) http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2009/0522_guatemala_casaszamora.aspx (05/01/2010)

[25] Aizenman, “Endurance of Corruption.”

[26] Transparency International. “Global Corruption Report 2007.” Transparency International. (2007):211 at http://www.transparency.org/publications/gcr/gcr_2007#download (05/01/2010)

[27] Schneider, Mark. “Guatemala: The Next to Fall.” Global Post. (04/16/2009) http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/090416/guatemala-the-next-fall (05/01/2010)

[28] Llorca, Juan Carlos. “Guatemala Arrests Show How Drug Cartels Target Weak Nations, Threaten Global Security.” Associated Press. (03/30/2010) http://www.sfexaminer.com/world/guatemala-arrests-show-how-drug-cartels-… (05/01/2010)

[29] Garvin, Glenn. “Protestors Jeer Clinton Over U.S. Repatriation Policy.” The Miami Herald. (03/11/1999) http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/guatemala/jeer.htm (05/01/2010)

[30] Baker, Peter. “In Guatemala, Bush Vows to Push Immigration Changes.” The Washington Post. (03/13/2007) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/12/AR200703… (05/01/2010)

[31] Hornberger, Jacob G. “An Anti-Democracy Foreign Policy: Guatemala.” The Future of Freedom Foundation. (02/11/2005) http://www.fff.org/comment/com0502f.asp (05/01/2010)

[32] Kaufman, Stephen. “U.S., Brazil Plan Cooperation on Climate, Gender, Development.” America.gov. (03/04/2010) http://www.america.gov/st/develop-english/2010/March/20100304120537esnam… (05/01/2010)

[33] Mullan, Fitzhugh. “Affirmative Action, Cuban Style.” The New England Journal of Medicine. (Dec. 2004) Vol. 351, No. 26: 2680-2682

[34]. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. “Background Note: Guatemala.” U.S. Department of State. __(03/22/2010) http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2045.htm (05/01/2010)

[35] Fulmer, Melinda. “Plant Closures Are Bitter Pills for Sugar Beet Growers.” Los Angeles Times. June 22, 2000. http://articles.latimes.com/p/2000/jun/22/business/fi-43528

[36] Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. “The Merida Initiative.” U.S. Department of State. (06/23/2009) http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/fs/122397.htm (05/01/2010) __

[37] Thompson, Ginger. “U.S. Will End Ban on Military Aid to Guatemala.” (03/26/2005) New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/25/world/americas/25iht-guate.html?_r=4 (05/01/2010)

[38] “From Arbenz to Zelaya: Chiquita in Latin America.” Democracy Now. (07/21/2009) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/21/from_arbenz_to_zelaya_chiquita_in (05/01/2010)

[39] Constable, “Guatemalan Stresses Immigrant Sacrifices.”

[40] Members of the Partnership for the Americas Commission. “Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World.” The Brookings Institution. (Nov. 2008): 4 http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2008/1124_latin_america_partnership.aspx (05/01/2010)

[41] International Conference. “The Guatemala Peace Accords Ten Years Later: An Analysis and the Outlook for International Cooperation.” European Parliament. (May 2-3, 2007) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2004_2009/documents/fd/droi200711… (05/01/2010)

[42] Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification. “Guatemalan Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, Conclusions and Recommendations.” Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification. http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ceh/report/english/toc.html (05/01/2010)

[43] Preti, Alessandro. “Guatemala: Violence in Peacetime – A Critical Analysis of the Armed Conflict and the Peace Process.” Disasters. (2002) Vol. 26, No.2: 110

Paris After the Liberation, 1944-1949

In Paris After the Liberation, 1944-1949, Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper address the city of Paris, its people, and all concerned parties after Paris is liberated from the Nazi occupation of World War II. Much attention is paid to the divisions and tensions that develop as a result of the turbulent time of the occupation, and particular attention is given to the French Communist Party. Diaries and personal accounts were used as sources, which provide many intimate details but at the same time limit the breadth and focus of the work. There are also times when the authors assume too much of the reader’s knowledge of France and the French language. However, their style of writing means the work is very accessible to the general reader and makes for an interesting and informative read.

One recurring theme that emerges from the book is how various factions and conflict developed in the polarizing environment of post-liberation Paris. In the immediate aftermath of liberation, the struggle between resistance supporters and Nazi collaborators divided Parisians and created an atmosphere of both guilt and resentment that would take many years to overcome. Among the resistance also, antipathy existed between left and right wing factions which carried through into the developing political situation in Paris and forced many to choose sides. As Cold War tension materialized, the Soviet Union and the United States emerged as the two nations vying for superpower status. This tension became evident early in the diplomatic meetings of liberated Paris, as the conservatives and the French Communist Party used these nations to rally for more political power in Paris. Finally, the book addresses the influx of American culture and influence into Paris and how a feeling of ambivalence developed among Parisians who both welcomed and disliked the intrusion. In their work, Beevor and Cooper deal intimately with these conflicted emotions and tensions and provide a unique insight into the role the occupation would play in developing modern Parisian history.

Out of these various issues, a significant portion of time was devoted to the Communist party and leftist followers in Paris. The authors appear to have gained access to and effectively utilized sources related to the French Communist Party that were only discovered after the fall of the Soviet Union. The reader is transported into the complex and convoluted world of French Communists, focusing on various characters such as Maurice Thorez who was the leader of the party and spent much of World War II in the USSR. The book chronicles the journey and changeable role of the Communist Party as aggressive resistance fighters, a serious political party in France, a haven for leftist intellectuals, and internal conflict between pro-Stalinist supporters and those skeptical of the Soviet Red Army. The sources that were accessed expose a rich and detailed history of one group that is less discussed in studies of post-liberation Parisian history.

While personal accounts and diary entries provide a very exclusive and intimate side of the history that Beevor and Cooper deal with, their choice of primary sources should be examined carefully in the context of an historical study. One of the main sources that is drawn from when discussing the diplomatic dealings in Paris between the Allies and France is the diaries of Duff Cooper, the British ambassador to France in liberated Paris. In the “About the Authors” section of the book it is noted that the ambassador was the grandfather of the author Cooper and although her unique access to his diary reveals very private details of this period, the reader should be attentive to any bias that may interfere with the retelling of history.

The other disadvantage of using Cooper’s diary is that it presents a rather unbalanced and focused view of Parisian history. His account is told from a completely British point of view and therefore lacks French perspective on specific events. One can only imagine how different the perspectives of a wealthy British ambassador would be from a French resistance fighter in the meetings following the liberation of Paris, and so this work should be read with this knowledge in mind. Of course, the other disadvantage in drawing from his diaries is that his account focuses on the diplomatic circles of Paris and as a consequence fails to reveal much about the everyday Parisian who was struggling as a result of the war. In the Chapter 23 “A Tale of Two Cities”, the authors begin to divulge the lives of the less fortunate of Paris but fail to devote much time to the poor, instead deciding to focus on the gossip and trivial details of both occupied and liberated France. The reader learns much about such figures as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Beach, Marlene Dietrich, Ernest Hemingway, and George Orwell. While the authors did well to uncover very intimate details regarding these people, one wonders at the usefulness of learning of a drunken binge between Hemingway and Sartre while most Parisians were struggling even to obtain food and water.

The discussion of these figures throughout the book tends to isolate any reader who is unfamiliar with famous intellectuals who thrived in Paris. While Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre may be well-known names to those familiar with modern French history, the authors insert these people into their work with little introduction and slowly elaborate as the book progresses. The reader is further isolated through the use of purely French phrases that are presented with no translation. Although the meaning of the French is not always necessary for understanding, there are times when translation is essential in comprehending the true message of the author. For instance, the phrase “Le Roi . . . Pourquoi pas?” was inserted when discussing elections in post-liberation Paris and without translation it is difficult for a non-French speaking reader to appreciate the importance of using this phrase in the context. Added to this is the detailed description of Paris’ locations which are mentioned in fleeting detail and without any map for reference. Still it is interesting to hear of the daily happenings and development of theaters, accommodations, and multifarious establishments of Paris during this period and the authors do bring the city of Paris alive through their descriptive writing.

Although Paris After the Liberation, 1944-1949 may at times be inaccessible and focus too much on the diplomats and French Communists at the expense of the lower classes, the authors have done well to shed new light on the history of Paris after liberation. Beevor and Cooper reveal much about the tension and conflict that existed in Paris between resistors and collaborators, the right and left-wing, and the internal struggle of Parisians coming to terms with an increasing American influence in their city. Their study provides an excellent background to understanding how modern Paris came to be and why there is underlying discontent in France’s relationship with the United States. While the writing on intellectuals in Paris is at times gossipy and trivial, the book does give an excellent account of how Paris came to be an international Mecca for intellectual and artistic talent. Perhaps the greatest strength of Paris After the Liberation is that it almost reads like a novel, making it accessible to the average history enthusiast and not just historians and scholars researching the subject matter. In a world where history often repeats itself, Beevor and Cooper should be commended for making their work accessible to more people and exposing how a city deals with the aftermath of a long and bitter war.

Romero-The Majority Controlled By a Minority

In the film ‘Romero’, we are presented with a weak and feeble Oscar Romero who seems to be aware of the struggles of the El Salvadorans but feels it is not the church’s duty to become involved in politics. However, as the violence and repression of the military escalates and the oligarchy of which he was a part shows indifference to the suffering of the campesino population, Romero undergoes an emotional awakening. It is important to remember that Romero’s initial indifference to the plight of the poor was not unusual in a country where the church traditionally had close links with the ruling oligarchy and other conservative elements of society. The idea of liberation theology was not formally introduced until the 1960s by the Vatican council and then later slowly advanced by Latin American churches. For Romero, it took the murder of his close friend Father Grande and two parishioners to realize that the repression could no longer be ignored by the church.

Up until Grande’s murder Romero maintained a hands-off approach because he felt political non-affiliation of the church was paramount. However, while he dined with the wealthy elite, peasants were murdered at mass and he slowly came to realize that by not speaking out against the repression he was indeed taking sides and supporting the status quo at the expense of the majority of El Salvadorans. The church clearly held a special place in the hearts of the poor, particularly after priests like Grande, Osuńa, and Morantes, began leaving there comfortable postings to live and work directly with the poor. In a scene towards the end of the film, Romero stumbles into a town being raided by the military and then they turn their anger on the Archbishop and begin to strip him. The local campesino run forward to protect Romero even despite the threat of violence and when Romero protests one peasant says “But you are our voice. You speak for us.” The desperation in her voice and the longing on the peasants’ faces say it all and Romero committed himself to ending the repression.

Although Romero had insisted on the church remaining apolitical, he began to preach against the injustice of the military regime. While it may have been prudent for the church to remain unbiased, they also have a duty to stand on the side of their followers and as the political regime was corrupt and repressive, Romero realized he could no longer remain neutral. In one of his sermons he spoke of a letter he sent to the President of the United States imploring them not to send anymore arms to El Salvador. This was a serious problem during the war in El Salvador between the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and their peasant supporters and the El Salvadoran military and state-sponsored terrorist groups throughout the 1980s.

In 1980, Romero was assassinated as a result of his speaking out against the El Salvador regime. However, the year of his death marked the beginning of the civil war in which the U.S. would continue to provide arms and training to the regime’s military and paramilitaries. 80,000 people attended Romero’s funeral at which another massacre occurred and 39 people were killed and 200 injured. Although the event was displayed on television, the US Congress approved military aid in the amount of $5.7 million to the El Salvadoran government. Even despite the challenges the campesino faced, they decided to challenge their oppressors and would spend the next 12 years fighting repression. Clearly, Archbishop Romero played his part in inspiring these people to stand up against injustice and fight for what is right. Ultimately, he died for his beliefs but after viewing various other priests around him being assassinated he was well aware of where his actions would lead. Romero evolved into a humanitarian who fought for the less fortunate majority, not the minority who abused their power and position until they could no longer hold it with guns and money. Today, El Salvador is still developing its economy and democratic foundations but it has certainly moved forward since the assassination of Romero. It appears that the Archbishop did not die in vain.

Coming of Age in Africa

The continent of Africa was carved up among European powers in the General Act of Berlin in 1885, in effect sealing the fate of Nigeria who would be ruled by Britain for many decades. Wole Soyinka was born into British colonial rule just before World War Two and grew up in a fairly wealthy and educated Nigerian family, receiving a college education both in Nigeria and Britain and was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Soyinka documented his early childhood memories in Aké: The Years of Childhood where he eloquently drew out the contrasts and conflicts between colonial influences and his own Yoruba heritage. While his memoir provides many insights into British colonial legacy, as a primary source one must be careful to remember that memoirs can be influenced by the passing of time and one’s own personal bias. However, being mindful of possible errors, memoirs still play an important role in retelling a social and personal history that is not always available through other sources.

The effects of British colonial rule in Nigeria are apparent from the very opening of Aké as Soyinka highlights two very familiar indicators of white colonial rule: the Christian god and the English language, the former of which saved his most “exotic presence” for the church service carried out in English. It appears that the Mission left Aké and they did not see fit to leave a bishop, instead leaving the parsonage to be maintained mainly through local efforts. Although the impact of British colonial rule is obvious, it is interesting to see that the missionaries did not completely win Nigerians over to Christianity. There seems to be a constant struggle between their Yoruba spirituality and Christian teachings, with spirits forming a common element of their belief system, like the egúngún or spirits of the dead. However, Soyinka and many Nigerians seem oblivious to the fact that these two belief systems exist almost in contradiction to one another and instead have apparently reconciled any differences to create a belief system that suits their own circumstances.

The paradox between tribal and colonial teachings is aptly dealt with by Soyinka who possesses the special talent of recording his memories as if he is reliving them and not trying to reinterpret them as an adult. In the recollection of his family’s visit to his father’s village Isara, it is evident colonial influences have not yet penetrated into all Nigerian villages. As Soyinka encounters the locals they are “overawed by these aliens” who speak in the “whiteman’s tongue” and he and his siblings are admonished for not being able to perform the proper prostrations to tribal elders. Their one saving grace seems to be their father who although a headmaster and Christian in Aké, still retains his position in the royal house of Ayo. Soyinka’s family adopted Christian beliefs, western education, and the English language but they are still linked to their ancestral origins, unable to sever all ties. This is emphasized most profoundly when Essay, Soyinka’s father, allows his son to undergo an initiation ritual with his grandfather where his ankles and wrists are cut in a precise pattern. This struggle between religious and cultural beliefs and a Christian elite created by colonial rule, sets the scene for the development of religious and ethnic tension leading to war and violence that will become the legacy of British colonial rule in Nigeria for many decades following their departure.

Soyinka’s ability to draw out this contradiction between ethnic culture and colonial influence is one of the strengths of his memoir, but it is important to remember that his work is a collection of his memories, written decades after the events. Although memoirs are described as primary sources, there is always the danger that bias and personal experiences can influence the retelling of events, with some going so far as to describe memoirs as “creative non-fiction”. Of course we must also remember that an autobiography is only limited to the memories of the author and may not reveal the whole picture. Clearly Soyinka comes from a wealthy and educated family, attending the prestigious Abeokuta Grammar School and so it is important to supplement his history with other primary and secondary sources.

However, even if Soyinka comes from a privileged background, one of the great strengths of Aké is that he attempts to document observations of those outside of his social class. He is determined to remain true to the memories of his childhood and so his reflections are innocent and informative and show us a side not often captured in secondary sources. His description of the “saddest wedding” and his childhood understanding of the event are very telling. Even as a child he was able to discern that the ill-fitting clothes the bridal party wore were their attempt to conform to an “alien” ceremony that did not symbolize their own spirit or their Nigerian “identity”. While we could accuse Soyinka of bias, through his memoir he exposes some of ‘white man’s” biases. When the women’s movement reached its climax, imperialist issues became predominant and Soyinka drew attention to how a Nigerian woman felt that Germany was spared from the atomic bomb, whereas Japan suffered its terrible destruction because they were “just a dirty little people”. Such comments provide insight into how those outside of our own social and cultural group may have interpreted one of the most significant events in contemporary history. Historians have access to newspaper articles, government documents, and other official records, but without the work of writers like Soyinka it is difficult to find the social and personal history of Nigerians told from a Nigerian perspective.

Perhaps the greatest insight into British colonial Nigeria provided in Aké is the struggle between the new Western culture of Christianity and the English language and the ancestral spirituality and culture of the Yoruba, which form the underpinnings of future conflict in Nigeria. As with any memoir, the reader must be careful of bias and social standing and how they may affect the retelling of Soyinka’s memories. However, his style of storytelling from the perspective of the child allows him some objectivity in recording his observations. While some may dismiss memoirs as inaccurate and unreliable, Aké still holds a critical role in filling in some of the gaps in the social history of Nigerians. In his controversial work Orientalism, Edward Said highlighted the role that Western assumptions can play in recreating colonial history and more recently memoirist Patricia Hampl emphasized “If we refuse to do the work of creating this personal version of the past, someone else will do it for us”. It is Soyinka’s contribution as a Nigerian writer who is writing on his own society that is perhaps the greatest strength of Aké and while we must be mindful that it is a memoir, Aké still has much to offer us on the late colonial period of Nigeria as he sees it.

Was Hiroshima and Nagasaki Necessary?

The decision by President Truman to use the atomic bomb against Japan in August, 1945 was made without drawing on all the facts and alternatives available at the time. Proponents of his decision argue that the bombing brought the war to a swift end, saving the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers. They criticize opponents of this fateful decision for being too removed to understand or pass judgment and tend to illicit an emotional response in defending Truman’s position. However, at the time Truman was making his decision he was aware of the fact that Japan was in a stranglehold, was ready to surrender, and that the Soviet Union would soon be free to threaten Japan with a northern invasion. While peace could have been brokered with this knowledge in hand, Truman went ahead with his fateful decision in order to avoid a land invasion that was just as unnecessary as dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The most logical reason for Truman moving ahead with the bombings in Japan was that he was saving thousands of American and Allied lives by avoiding a land invasion. One author placed the range between 20,000 and 1.2 million and, drawing on dates and figures from available primary sources, concluded that this anomaly arose from a “political agenda” and the need to justify the decision. For those facing a possible land invasion, the bombs certainly would have seemed a more viable alternative. One such soldier vehemently criticized opponents of Truman stating that those not on the front line, those not even born, or anyone removed from the immediate situation in Japan were unqualified to criticize Truman’s decision. When the Enola Gay exhibit became a contentious issue in 1994, Cokie Roberts maintained that questioning history made “very little sense”. However, questioning and interpreting history is a necessary process; providing one uses the appropriate sources available and is able to maintain an unbiased perspective. It is not enough to rely on raw emotion and experience to interpret a decision such as the one Truman made. Therefore, one must delve deeper into the facts and circumstances surrounding Truman’s decision to determine whether or not he made the right one.

Available sources before the bombings reveal a Japan already war weary and ready for surrender. The Mariana Islands had been retaken by the United States in July 1944, removing a key defense area from Japan. The U.S. aerial attack had left much of Japan’s cities and industrial centers devastated and as Stimson highlighted, there would be little left as a “background” for the atomic bomb. According to Admiral Leahy, in late 1944 Japan was already facing complete defeat as a result of an almost “complete sea and air blockade”. It appeared that Japanese forces were contained to their main islands and were fast running out of resources to continue fighting. In addition, the Soviet Union had previously declared their intention to invade Japan in February at the Yalta Conference, of which the U.S. was party to, which would further debilitate Japan’s ability to fight on.

The Japanese Government was aware of their weaknesses and key leaders had been contemplating an end to the war months before the bombs were dropped. On June 22, 1945, at a meeting of the Supreme War Council, Emperor Hirohito took the bold step of criticizing the military and calling for an end to the war. In response, Japanese leaders requested help from the Soviet Union in mediating a peace agreement. The U.S. had previously broken the Japanese code and knew of the Japanese desire to bring an end to the war. They also knew that unconditional surrender, without protection for the emperor, was one of the impediments to obtaining a peace agreement with Japan; yet in the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945 unconditional surrender was included as a prerequisite for any agreement with Japan. Despite knowledge of Japan’s desire for peace and that Soviet forces would soon enter the war against Japan, Truman made his decision to drop the bombs the day before the Potsdam Declaration. Given this knowledge it seems that the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, was unnecessary and avoidable; particularly given that the Emperor system was maintained after Japan was defeated, the one condition stopping Japan from surrendering earlier.

By the beginning of August 1945, Japan’s resources were depleted, they were contained to their main islands, were facing invasion by Allied and Soviet troops, and many government leaders were ready for peace. The Japanese were willing to surrender providing their emperor system was not abolished and Truman knew this. However, he made his decision to go ahead with the bombing in order to save American lives. Perhaps it is true that thousands of soldiers lives would have been lost if the bombs had not been dropped and Allied forces had carried out a land invasion. However, given the knowledge possessed by the President and military leaders of Japan’s weak position, a land invasion seemed just as unnecessary as the decision to drop the two nuclear bombs. The evidence shows it was not as simple as a choice between a land invasion and dropping the atomic bombs, but that there were other alternatives to ending the war that were not seized upon. Since these two bombs were dropped, science and technology has developed many new tools of destruction. If this fateful event has taught us anything it has taught us that we should not settle for what seems to be the simplest solution to peace, but rather should seek out the solution that involves the smallest loss of life for all concerned parties.