Author: Jessica Malitoris

Q&A with John Lindsay-Poland, Author of Plan Colombia

photoJohn Lindsay-Poland is Healing Justice Associate at the American Friends Service Committee. He is the author of numerous articles, reports, and books, including Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama and The Rise and Fall of “False Positive” Killings in Colombia and the Role of U.S. Military Assistance, 2000-2010. In his new book, Plan Colombia: U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism, Lindsay-Poland draws upon his human rights activism and interviews with military officers, community members, and human rights defenders to describe grassroots initiatives in Colombia and the United States that resisted militarized policy and created alternatives to war.

What initially drew you to this project? How did the 2005 massacre in the San José de Apartadó Peace Community become the focus of your inquiry?

In the late 1990s, Colombia was experiencing 14 political murders a day, and Washington was ratcheting up its military involvement, which already had a long history, yet very few people in the United States were talking about it. When I visited San José de Apartadó in 2000, the war was all around them, they were determined to resist it, and I was moved by their commitment to each other—the “community” part of being a Peace Community. So the organization I worked for, Fellowship of Reconciliation, started a project to accompany the community to strengthen their security.

The massacre of two families, including three children, in 2005 during an Army-paramilitary operation, followed by the military’s cover-up, caused indignation among many people, and it deeply affected the community and our band of accompaniers. It was an example of how the U.S. narrative of fighting a war on drugs in Colombia was both untrue and wrong. And our presence in the community gave us an intimate and privileged view of that. The community’s and accompaniers’ versions of the atrocity had to be told.

How does human rights activism inform your approach to historical research and writing? In the same vein, how has historical inquiry influenced your activism?

My activist work led me first to seek out and hear the stories of people impacted by the policies of the United States, my country, then to meet with the policy-makers and military officers who are enacting these policies, and to do both of these over a long enough time that I began to see the patterns as well as the blind spots in the narratives, especially of people in government. So many of these folks believe that anything the United States does will have a positive effect, but don’t stick around to see their impact.

I also saw how valuable both testimony and quantitative data are for policy advocacy, and worked with human rights groups to assemble data in ways that could be used in policy discussions—for example, by identifying military units responsible for civilian killings in order to deny aid to them, under U.S. law.

Your book features striking testimony of victims of armed conflict. What tribute did you wish to pay to these figures?

I was moved by the determination of women and men in communities in the midst of war, such as the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, who denounced its violence and took an independent path. For many of them, “victim” was not a term of passivity.

If from the outside you perceive only violent actors, as is often portrayed in media accounts, then it’s easy to believe that the only way for outsiders to engage the conflict is to support the violent group that is least objectionable. But in Colombia—as elsewhere —communities resist displacement to farm their lands, organize local power to hold armed groups accountable, develop nonviolent guard cells, and resist war and injustice from their identities as feminist, labor, indigenous, Afro, youth, campesino, religious, and international communities. If people facing such overwhelming circumstances can create and resist, what can we—readers in our own circumstances—do in solidarity with these communities, and in our own communities that also face structural violence?

What resources does Plan Colombia provide for activist readers interested in creating peace in the region? How can readers get involved in peace activism in Colombia?

While much of Plan Colombia analyzes U.S. policy at the macro level and narrates the Peace Community, the massacre that took place there, and its aftermath, there is an important chapter on projects of life. One of the most important things readers can do is to visit Colombia, especially in human rights delegations like those organized by Witness for Peace and Global Youth Connect. Groups like Peace Brigades International, Colombia Support Network, and the Latin America Working Group also publish useful resources and actions people can take.

What do you see as the political and ethical consequences of your intervention?

International accompaniment of campesino communties in Colombia and elsewhere establishes a different relationship between those who’ve been harmed by empire and war, on one hand, and those who—like it or not—have benefitted from them. It places accompaniers in a role of support for people who’ve historically faced structural violence, while also using our position to reduce the risk of attack. This book grew from that relationship. Besides the precedent set by accompaniment, we worked to change U.S. policies from above that were wreaking havoc on many levels.

What contentious or controversial material can readers find in your book?

Although the normalization of war can make it seem ordinary, armed conflict is by its nature contentious, and what is accepted truth for some provokes anger and indignation in others. The book presents stories and analysis of the Colombian army’s “false positive” killings—murders of civilians later claimed as combat deaths. I also examined what role the United States played in both the forces that fed the “false positive” murders and the pressures that led to their decline as a systematic army practice. I think the evidence is strong, but it contradicts the dominant conclusion that Plan Colombia is a model that the United States should replicate in other conflicts.

What is the central lesson you want readers to take away from Plan Colombia?

Plan Colombia serves as a template for Washington’s military interventions all over the world, from Syria to the Philippines to Mexico, with few U.S. boots on the ground and a heavy investment in client military forces. U.S. intervention has become normalized in many forms, but its impacts on violence and on communities are rarely scrutinized. They should be.

How do you foresee U.S.-Colombian relations evolving in the coming decade?

The two countries remain strong military allies. U.S. military aid actually increased in the wake of the 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas, supposedly to fill a vacuum created by guerrilla demobilization. The Trump administration is reigniting the drug war, and the land issues at the root of the conflict are also heating up, leading to more killings of social leaders. Unless people in the United States examine and prioritize the impacts on the ground of Plan Colombia, I am concerned that the cycle of hubris and violence will continue to repeat itself. The people-to-people relationships like those recounted in Plan Colombia will still be critical.

Read the introduction to Plan Colombia free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E18PLAN.

Sanford Levinson on Public Monuments and 20th Anniversary Edition of Written in Stone

Sanford V. LevinsonSanford Levinson is Professor of Law at the University of Texas Law School. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today (with Cynthia Levinson). The 20th anniversary edition of his book Written in Stone addresses debates and conflicts over the memorialization of Confederate “heroes,” with a new preface and afterward that take account of recent events. In this guest post, Levinson meditates on some of the newest controversies, including protests surrounding UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Silent Sam” and sports team mascots.

I am immensely grateful to the Duke University Press for giving me the opportunity to publish a 20th anniversary edition of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies, with a greatly augmented afterword (and new preface as well).  As I noted in the preface, my original suggestion in 2016, when I floated the idea of a new edition, was to prepare about 5000 words that could be submitted in August 2017, with publication taking place in late winter or early spring.  Instead, in part because of what happened in Charlottesville and afterward, the additional material totals around 20,000 words, taking into account events that occurred as late as the summer of 2018, just before the book went to press. As John Lennon is said to have said, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans!

But, already, I have sent emails to my editor, Miriam Angress, suggesting, only half-jokingly, that we begin thinking of a 25th anniversary edition in 2023, for the simple reason that the central topic—how do sometimes drastically changing societies come to terms with monuments, building names, and other such efforts by previous ruling elites to shape a certain view of the society that reflected their own hegemony?—constantly generates brand new, and challenging, examples.

So even in the relatively brief period between the time the book went to press and its publication in October, new examples have arisen from around the world.  Consider the response in Lithuania to a book written by the American granddaughter of a Lithuanian “hero” who had valiantly opposed Soviet hegemony; indeed, he was executed by the Soviets.  In the course of her research, she discovered that he had also been a vigorous anti-Semite and collaborator with Nazis during World War II. An almost full-page story in the New York Times detailed the anguish these discoveries caused the granddaughter, who had expected to write a hagiographic biography of her esteemed grandfather, but who believed that historical facts had priority.  As one might imagine, many present-day Lithuanians do not want to be told that their hero, suitably commemorated in statuary and the names of schoolhouses, might have had feet (at least) of clay. Older readers might remember the great film Who Shot Liberty Valence?, the most memorable line of which is a newspaper editor’s saying that when faced with a choice between reinforcing the legend or writing about the perhaps disillusioning truth, “print the legend.”  Memorialization is quintessentially about myth-making and preservation; suggestions to tear down, or even supply more nuance, to monuments is to attack myths that are important to lots of people. It is not surprising that they resist having their illusions (or outright delusions) shattered.  

Within the United States, students at the University of North Carolina tore down the statue of “Silent Sam,” the anonymous figure commemorating soldiers in the Confederate Army that fought to secure North Carolina’s independence from the United States (and also, of course, to maintain the system of chattel slavery).  This triggered a strong response from the conservative Republican legislature, and it remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome will be with regard to a possible restoration of the statue. The University of Mississippi quickly announced that it would change the name of one of its buildings when it was discovered that the generous benefactor who contributed to its construction (perhaps on condition that it would be named after him) had sent out racist tweets.  A California state college that memorialized “Prospector Pete” as a quintessential participant in the great California Gold Rush of 1849 decided to remove the statute (and change the name of some sports teams from the “Forty Niners”) when informed by a number of Native American students that from their perspective these invading miners were basically imperialists who had destroyed the existing Indian culture and, therefore, deserved no public honor. One might wonder if San Francisco’s professional football team will now receive any of the criticisms that have been long directed at the Washington football team’s use of a racist term as its name.  And Stanford University announced that it would change the name of the street on which it is officially located from Junipero Serra Way to Jane Stanford Way. Father Serra, the most important force behind the settlement of California by Catholic missionaries (and the missions they built throughout the state), is also now regarded by many in California as an agent of imperialism and cultural destruction.

As suggested in the new materials for the Second Edition, the rise of the #MeToo Movement has also called into question a number of namings of buildings at universities and elsewhere.  One can be confident that that many more examples will emerge in the future. One suspects that the reports discussed in the text by the New York Mayor’s commission on public monuments, or by select committees at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton will be avidly read elsewhere, as will former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s truly great speech explaining the removal of  Robert E. Lee from his pedestal atop Lee Circle in that city. The physical removal provides the truly wonderful cover of the new edition of Written in Stone.

There have even been suggestions that Austin, Texas consider changing its name, given that Stephen F. Austin held slaves and that one impetus for the secession from Mexico that created the Republic of Texas over which Austin presided was to assure the maintenance of chattel slavery.  One can doubt that Austin will in fact change its name, any more than Ohio will seek a more anodyne name for its state capital honoring Columbus, the subject of significant and ambivalent discussion by the New York Mayor’s committee. The only thing one can be confident of is that the problems posed by monuments and namings will not be going away in the foreseeable future anywhere in the world.  

Read the introduction to Written in Stone free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E18STONE.

Open Access Week Q&A with Director Steve Cohn

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Today our Director Steve Cohn answers questions in honor of Open Access Week, a global event dedicated to discussion and education about Open Access within the scholarly and research community and to the expansion of access to research and information across disciplines. Steve Cohn got his start in publishing as the managing editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, which he brought with him to the Press in 1984 as the Press’s eighth journal (we now publish over fifty), and which the Press continues to publish today. He came to the Press as the Journals Manager, and after building and strengthening that program he became Director in 1993. Steve led the Press back from a period of financial insecurity in the nineties, through the transition from print to digital formats, and through significant growth and expansion of its publishing program.

Why is it important that Duke University Press experiment with Open Access?

Given the way our world is changing—with many librarians, funding agencies, and governments pushing towards a fully open-access publishing environment—we feel it is imperative that we begin experimenting with open-access publishing, even though we see no way for open-access publishing to be feasible (or desirable) on a broad scale for the sort of publishing we are now doing.

Mainly for that reason, but also because we believe that demonstrating ways to publish open-access projects successfully can allow us to attract some excellent projects that we could not otherwise have attracted, we have begun publishing both journals and books in open-access arrangements, in each case insisting that the OA arrangement must be financially sustainable over the long term.

What was the Press’s first venture into OA publishing?

Our longest-running OA project by far is the Carlyle Letters Online (CLO), the electronic database that has mainly superseded the long series of printed volumes (now nearing fifty) that began in 1970 and will continue to be published steadily at the pace one volume per year, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, until we reach the end of this voluminous set of letters from Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle in a few more years.

The CLO is widely considered to be a model “lives and letters” database, much used, much loved, and much imitated. We hope it can soon start to serve as the model and the base for a much wider set of annotated letters, diaries, and other Victorian life-writing.  

What open access initiatives have been most successful for Duke University Press?

In the realm of journals, we have concentrated our open-access efforts on what are alternatively called diamond or platinum models, i.e., models that do not depend on author payments as their source of sustainability. In the areas we publish in primarily—the humanities, the interpretive social sciences, and mathematics—most authors do not have grant funding to cover OA charges, as they do in the sciences; so they would have to pay article fees out of their own pockets.

The model for those efforts is our very successful publication of Environmental Humanities, a journal that is supported through annual contributions of $5,000 each from five academic centers scattered among Australia, Canada, Europe, and the US. (Magazines for Libraries said, “Environmental Humanities is one of the most beautifully realized open access journals I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing. This is a title whose URL should be shouted from the rooftops: it’s that good.”)  

This is a model we are promoting for other open-access journals that want to work with us, and we have recently signed an agreement with Judith Butler and the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs for taking on a fledgling journal called Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory, which we expect will be equally successful.

How do you decide whether to participate in an OA initiative? What are your criteria?

Our criteria for publishing an OA project of any sort are the very same criteria we use for choosing to take on any publishing project: the project must be intellectually significant and it must be financially sustainable. Both our OA books and our OA journals pass through the very same peer-review processes, including final approval by our faculty board, as everything else we publish.

The books we have published in OA form have almost always already been through the approval process long before they are chosen for OA publication. The main OA funding programs for books that we now use—Knowledge Unlatched and TOME—have so far been focused on already-accepted books that are well along in the production process by the time they are chosen for receiving the financial support that will allow the access to be opened up.

But even if we knew from the first that a book would be published OA, we would take it through the same review and approval process; and also we would design, edit, produce, market, and sell it in all the same ways as a book that had no open access.

How do you find ways to make OA book publishing financially sustainable?

So far, we find it impossible to imagine receiving funding that would be sufficient to pay all the costs for our very labor-intensive methods of book publication. Our books are expensive to produce, given the amount of time and care we put into them, and the unlatching amounts provided so far by OA funding sponsors like Knowledge Unlatched and TOME are not nearly sufficient to cover our full publishing costs (including staff time). So, with the exception of a few early and not very successful experiments, all of the books we publish in open access form electronically are also for sale through all our usual sales channels: we print them like any other book we publish; and we also offer them for sale in electronic formats in all the usual ways.

This is sometimes called “hybrid” OA publishing. We expect that the subventions or “unlatching fees” that enable us to open these books up can cover the revenue losses that come from electronic availability, as people choose to use the OA version rather than buy a copy. But we definitely do not expect those fees—on the order of $15,000—to be our sole source of sustainable income on these books, as it would not be nearly enough. With 75 books that are hybrid OA now on the market, we are starting to be in a position to collect good data on the effect of electronic OA publishing on the sales of these books. The ability to measure the effect of OA in a hybrid publishing arena is crucial for us to be able to assess whether a payment of something like $15,000 is enough to cover our revenue losses when we open the electronic access.