Are you more likely to believe a prince in Africa is coming to give his wealth to you (get rich quick), or that AntiFa is coming to take your wealth away from you (get poor quick)? American cognitive trust has a dangerous vulnerability called… bias.
Often I speak about the cultural relativity of privacy. Americans and Swedes will sacrifice privacy for selfish reasons, while on the other end of the spectrum China and India will sacrifice privacy for social good… according to a study by Microsoft buried in a 2013 “connected world” transcript of the FTC.
The last variation is when we look at the value exchange from no benefit to community benefit. And what we see here, and this is a trend throughout the rest of the survey, is that the value exchange for community benefit is much, much larger proportionally in China and India than in the western countries.
Another interesting area of cultural relativity is notions of trust. The following HBR study of “Getting to Yes Across Cultures” may help explain why the 419/AFF scam is so effective on US targets.
Our research has shown how the 419/AFF attack uses an emotional appeal mixed into a cognitive blindness test to disarm even the most rational, trained and intelligent people.
On the above linear chart you perhaps see the issue more easily (note the spread between US and Nigeria).
A purely emotional appeal alone would not work on the cognitive end, since affection sits far away on a trust spectrum for business deals that require a cognitive-style presentation. That is why people assume intelligence is a defense and they are invulnerable by being typical rational thinkers.
However, the emotional appeal becomes very dangerous, weaponized if you will, by building a short-cut bridge to the other end based on a vulnerability in cognition (cognitive bias). It’s dangerous because each end has its own set of expertise, tools and skills to stay safe.
Thus, evidence of bias should be seen as a key predictor to unlock why highly intelligent people still may be vulnerable to emotive fraud campaigns that bridge the two ends (e.g. AntiFa, AFF). Victims act when they have impulse/motivation towards an emotional appeal that has successfully breached their attention, such as greed or fear.
People who connect with false sudden wealth (greed) fall for AFF being real opportunity. People who connect with false sudden loss (fear) fall for AntiFa being real threat.
Again, it is wrong to think that intelligence or success in life is an antidote to these attacks. Someone wise to their own world of defense, law, finance, medicine, etc. is actually at high risk to develop a false cognitive trust when they harbor a bias.
In the case of AFF that bias tends to be ignorance about blacks and specifically Africans (racism), which means victims believe a rich prince or relative of a dictator really might have some money that needs laundering. We’ve seen a lot of this cognitive bias attack since we started formal research on it in 2005.
The movie “Coming to America” gives a good sense of what some people in America would not register as a comedy but think actually how the world works.
More recently, in the case of AntiFa, we’re seeing a new bias vulnerability. It looks to be class-based ignorance (modern versions of racist McCarthyism, or misogynist Birchirsm) with fears of progressive movements causing loss of establishment power. Targets are triggered by the idea of impoverished youth redistributing power (perceived loss) and threatening assets or disrupting sense of control.
Narratives warning of AntiFa seem to have the same attack patterns as AFF that engineer target behavior, yet the complete inversion. While “Coming to America” comedy is about joy from sudden wealth, the AntiFa story is fear of sudden wealth loss. Perhaps a new and updated movie is needed.
Think of it this way. Saying to a hawkish policy thinker there is no chance of sudden loss from AntiFa is like saying to a racist banker there is no chance of sudden gain from an African prince.
It is an emotional appeal to a deep-seated bias why we see far-right sympathetic Americans ignore report after report that AntiFa is not a threat, while ignoring the obvious and mounting deaths from far-right terrorists:
Perhaps most convincingly to the unbiased thinker is a simple fact of history that AntiFa is “anti-fascism”. While it promises to negate threats to life it offers little or no substantial directive power towards any political movement even during troubled times.
…the labor movement’s failure to defeat Hitler and the fact that Germany had required liberation from without drove antifascists to a largely reactive policy, vigorously pursuing former Nazi officials and purging society of collaborators, but neglecting to build a plausible vision for a “new Germany” beyond both fascism and Cold War machinations.
Being anti-fascist thus is a negation of fascism, and historically has lacked the vigor for anything more directed. At best it is a centrist’s guard rail against extremism, because it serves as movement towards defense of basic rights. At worst it’s a nuisance cost when property needs restoration. It’s the opposite of any generalized threat, as it mainly negates an actual and specific threat called fascism. Here are two historic examples that may help clarify:
First, Birchirism manifested in being anti-ERA. That didn’t mean it was not a threat but rather begs the question of whether its negation of equal rights can be taken as such a generalized threat that it demands militarized violent response and classification of being anti-ERA as a form of terrorism?
Second, AntiFa is like calling a seat belt an anti-head-injury movement. Does it threaten American freedom to stop deaths of Americans? There were indeed Americans who used to argue against seat belts in this way (and against air bags, for that matter) yet it turns out seat belts enabled freedom by preventing huge numbers of dead (and yes, death is the most definitive end of freedom).
Of course, it is still true there are both dictators in Africa attempting to launder money (gain wealth) as well as youths attempting to stop fascism (redistribute power) when they see it. The point is not to say these are untrue facts, rather to say that a grain of truth can be made explosive in asymmetric information warfare and turn facts into completely false narratives.
Counter-terrorism expert Paul Cobaugh of Narrative Strategies perhaps put it best:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others are running around trying to make AntiFa into some type of grand, orchestrating terrorist org that’s a threat to the US. This is not true. They do show up in a semi-organized fashion to physically oppose those they consider “fascist”. I don’t condone any violence in our streets but when it comes to being a national threat, they are very low on the priority list, unless of course, you’re a fascist.
Americans on average are no more likely to get rich from African dictators laundering money than they are at risk from liberal youths storming their McMansion walls to take wealth away in the name of racial justice. However, in both cases cognitive thinkers can be seen flipping into very emotional yet unregulated territory and being set up for errors in judgment (manipulated by threat actors hitting them with “get rich/poor quick” attacks).
In conclusion, beware: false emotional appeal triggers cognitive thinkers by attacking a dangerous vulnerability known as… bias. Disnformation trackers/destroyers constantly need to be updated.
A recent post I published gave some of the backstory of modern intelligence and information warfare in America, from 1930s through WWII.
That post really culminates on this day in 1947 when the CIA officially was established. The history department of that agency doesn’t put things lightly when it describes the National Security Act (NSA):
President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 80-235, 61 Stat 496) on July 26, 1947. The act – an intricate series of compromises – took well over a year to craft. […] The importance of the National Security Act cannot be overstated. It was a central document in U.S. Cold War policy and reflected the nation’s acceptance of its position as a world leader.
Speaking of the State Department, their historian is far more muted in assessment of the NSA and takes a weird tangent that leaves the CIA to a secondary story:
Each President has accorded the NSC with different degrees of importance and has given the NSC staff varying levels of autonomy and influence over other agencies such as the Departments of State and Defense. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, used the NSC meetings to make key foreign policy decisions, while John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson preferred to work more informally through trusted associates. Under President Richard M. Nixon, the NSC staff, then headed by Henry A. Kissinger, was transformed from a coordinating body into an organization that actively engaged in negotiations with foreign leaders and implementing the President’s decisions. The NSC meetings themselves, however, were infrequent and merely confirmed decisions already agreed upon by Nixon and Kissinger.
To be fair, while Truman had a particular take on it, those following him into office haven’t been entirely different. The Act created a National Security Council (NSC) with an Executive Secretary to advise the President indirectly (arguably through Department of State), yet did not say anything about a National Security Advisor (NSA). Nonetheless after Eisenhower’s appointment of Robert Cutler in 1952 to be “Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs”, which elevated/oversaw the Council, every president since has appointed a NSA.
The Air Force historian, for some additional perspective, takes an opportunity to thumb its nose at the Army and Navy, while pumping up its own balloon and ignoring the CIA altogether:
This act officially established the United States Air Force as a separate and co-equal branch of the United States Armed Forces. The U.S. Air Force’s quest for independence was a long and often contentious struggle between air-minded officers and the entrenched Army and Navy bureaucracy.
To be fair, the NSA also replaced the Department of War (started in 1789) with an Army Department in a new National Military Establishment (NME). Seems unfair for the Air Force to be talking about independence from an entrenched Army, given an Army department also was brand new and co-joined to the Air Force in NME (by 1950 called the Defense Department).
However, back to the CIA claiming acceptance of world leader position in 1947, it would take another whole year to this very same day in 1948 before Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to formally push Civil Rights and declare an end to discrimination in its own military.
The CIA historian is not wrong about the NSA being a significant event in American history. It completely shifted the entire country to discussion of National Security along the lines that the CIA’s father Donovan in “room 109” had envisioned. It seems obvious now because the shift is complete but back in 1947 it was revolutionary for the term “security” to bring more expansive thinking than prior terms such as defense, adversary or threat.
Somehow both this creation of the National Security mindset and the seminal Civil Rights order for it to work properly always have taken a back seat, if mentioned at all. Almost all narratives given about America during the Cold War focus instead on the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan. Check out my BSidesLV presentation called “Hidden Hot Battle Lessons of the Cold War” for more on this topic of American security, leadership and civil rights.
Important insights come from reading “The German Dictatorship” by Karl Dietrich Bracher, who was a professor of politics and history at the University of Bonn
The German dictatorship did not mean ‘law and order.’ The Third Reich lived in a state of permanent improvisation: the ‘movement’ once in power was robbed of its targets and instead extended its dynamic into the chaos of rival governmental authorities.
Nazi Germany was a state of permanent improvisation.
Today this method of unaccountable governance is seen in headlines such as “[White House occupant] and Woody Johnson act as if the rules don’t apply to them”
Bracher goes on to say it was democracy, through regulation and governance, where the foundations of prosperity could be found because it offered a meaningful level of stability (true order based on justice).
Perhaps the next time someone says they love the “fail faster” culture of Facebook, ask them if they also see it as a modern take on the state of permanent improvisation favored by Hitler.
“We are failing,” [a seven-year Facebook engineer] said, criticizing Facebook’s leaders for catering to political concerns at the expense of real-world harm. “And what’s worse, we have enshrined that failure in our policies.”
…growing sense among some Facebook employees that a small inner circle of senior executives — including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications, and Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy — are making decisions that run counter to the recommendations of subject matter experts and researchers below them, particularly around hate speech, violence and racial bias…
It begs the question again, can the Security Officer of Facebook be held liable for atrocity crimes and human rights failures he facilitated?
After reading Bracher’s wisdom on Nazi platform design, and seeing how it relates to the state of Facebook, now consider General Grant’s insights of 1865 at the end of the Civil War when Lee’s treasonous Army of Northern Virginia surrendered:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
It should be no surprise then that it was Grant who created the Department of Justice.
We won’t rejoice at the downfall of Facebook, despite them being one of the worst companies for which a people ever worked, and for which there was the least excuse. Their unregulated state of permanent improvisation — a fast-fail culture used to avoid accountability for real-world harms for profit at scale — needs to end.
Facebook is a digital slavery plantation. “fail faster” turns out to be just “fail” without accountability, which turns out to just be privilege to do known wrongs to people and get rich.
Grant wasn’t opposed to change or failure, of course, he just put it all in terms of being on the right side of history, which he forever will be (PDF, UCL PhD Thesis) and unlike the Facebook executives who should be sent to jail:
My failures have been errors in judgment, not of intent.
The 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, frames Grant’s memoirs for us like this:
Our intentions matter. They reflect our motivations, our beliefs, our character. If we start with good intentions, and hold ourselves accountable to them, we start in the right place.
Facebook management continuously had bad intentions since it was first conceived as a platform for men to amass power and do wrongs (a failed attempt to invite crowds into physically shaming women who refused to go on a date with the founder).
…opened on October 28, 2003—and closed a few days later, after it was shut down by Harvard execs. In the aftermath, Zuckerberg faced serious charges of breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy. Though he faced expulsion from Harvard for his actions, all charges against him were eventually dropped.
Bad intentions. No justice.
Fast forward to today, and officers of the company haven’t truly been held accountable. They definitely did not start in the right place and they continue to wrong people around the world. Their state of immoral and permanent improvisation has been a human rights disaster and needs to be stopped.
Typically told in terms of reconstruction and establishing rights of black Americans after the Civil War, an 1873 court decision about the meat industry (e.g. wet markets, the kind infamous today for spreading COVID19) offers useful insights into modern culture of health and safety in America.
1868 the 14th Amendment was passed to provide and protect emancipated slaves with citizen rights that had been denied them by America.
1869 a set of lawsuits were brought in New Orleans to test the 14th. Five years later (1873) these so-called Slaughterhouse Cases were decided in Supreme Court, undermining civil right protections.
The key to seeing the parallel to today’s “Anti-mask” movement is in reference to slaughterhouses contaminating New Orleans drinking water:
The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) was a supreme court case which became the first to interpret the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments. After slaughterhouse practices continued to contaminate New Orleans drinking water, Louisiana state legislature passed an act that allowed the city to create a company which essentially monopolized the slaughterhouse industry. All butchers interested in slaughtering meat had to do so at Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company. The Butchers’ Benevolent Association, an organization of New Orleans butchers, assembled in multiple cases to sue on the grounds that the government, by creating the company, violated their privileges or immunities and deprived them of their liberty and property without due process as protected by the fourteenth amendment. Additionally, they claimed that Crescent city violated the 13th amendment, referring to their actions as “involuntary servitude.” They appealed after losing in all trial cases. The supreme court affirmed and held that neither their 13th or 14th amendment rights had been violated. The narrow reading of Privileges or Immunities in The Slaughterhouse Cases rendered the clause nearly insignificant.
Newly developing science of healthy water found that white slaughterhouse companies were in the practice of systemically wronging residents by dumping waste upstream of the black neighborhoods.
In response to the polluting of the river, a New Orleans grand jury recommended that the slaughterhouses be moved to the southern portion of the city; however, since the majority of the slaughterhouses were outside city limits, the grand jury’s recommendations held little weight. The city later appealed to the state legislature and as a result, the Louisiana legislature passed a law that allowed the city to create a centralized corporation that consolidated all slaughterhouses in New Orleans.
Thus a city tried to regulate local harmful practices by organizing a system that mandated reducing pollution, much in how today we have sewer systems designed to route waste away from drinking water. Perhaps look at it like wet market (slaughterhouse) regulation for health and safety in modern terms of COVID19: Americans recently have tried to demand China shut their wet market down while demanding American ones have to remain open, meaning COVID19 spread in America, which led China to ban American imports of meat… it’s complicated.
Anyway, in response to the novel health and safety mandates of 1869 trying to stop disease contagion, powerful lawyers who had recently tried to fight a war to expand slavery took up that cause again by fabricating a strange defense of white slaughterhouses polluting black neighborhoods.
The argument was privileged whites operating businesses were being treated as slaves when they were forced to pay into social safety measures, and also violated when regulated on health and safety (risks organized into a platform and monitored).
Sound familiar? It should, the occupant of the White House has pushed dangerously false propaganda that compares good safety measures that protect society (wearing masks) to slavery:
“Masks aren’t about public health but social control,” a conservative columnist tweeted, linking to a Federalist piece. “Image of Biden in black mask endorses culture of silence, slavery, and social death.”
The lawyers in 1869 very strategically fought a pitched battle that would ultimately attack and water down the new protections of freed slaves.
The Supreme Court ended up extremely narrowly defining rights and protections from the 14th Amendment.
…in limiting the protection of the privileges and immunities clause, the court unwittingly weakened the power of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the civil rights of blacks.
Let me put this another way, because I often find people confused about the man who led this battle to weaken the 14th.
John A. Campbell was a slave owning “Jacksonian Democrat” (white supremacist) attorney serving on the U.S. Supreme Court before the Civil War.
When states declared war to expand slavery he resigned his lifetime appointment and abandoned his oath to defend the Constitution, in order to join a war against his own country. He was the only justice to do this and his reasons became clear when he took a top appointment as Assistant Secretary of War for the expansion of slavery.
In October 1862, with the Confederacy struggling to survive, he accepted an appointment as assistant secretary of war, overseeing the Confederacy’s draft laws.
After Campbell lost the war he was imprisoned for six months as a violent traitor, which was far better outcome than the hanging he deserved.
In 1865 leaders of the war to expand slavery such as Campbell had tried an appeal to Lincoln, begging him for an agreement in the face of imminent military defeat, yet refusing to surrender.
“Mr. President, if we understand you correctly, you think that we of the Confederacy have committed treason; that we are traitors to your government; that we have forfeited out rights, and are proper subjects for the hangman. Is that not about what your words imply?” With brutal frankness Lincoln replied: “Yes, you have stated the proposition better than I did. That is about the size of it.”
Just a few months later, after extending the high death tolls in the war to expand slavery, Campbell was in jail. This is really where the Slaughterhouse Cases begin.
Once released from prison, the treason of Campbell evolved straight back to trying to get his poisonous ideas into the Supreme Court. Thus he cooked up a lawsuit to challenge the 14th Amendment.
Campbell obviously had an uphill battle in the Slaughterhouse Cases. After all, the states were empowered to enact laws to protect the “health, safety, morals, and welfare” of the citizenry. Clearly, this law related to protecting the people of New Orleans from polluted water.
What did Campbell do? He took the language of the Fourteenth Amendment and created an ingenious argument…that there were certain rights that were so fundamental that the government could not take them away even if the correct procedures were followed.
What was the fundamental right that the Louisiana legislature was infringing upon? That right was economic liberty [of whites that]… trumped the police powers of the state [to protect blacks].
So the whites were arguing under Campbell that blacks gaining rights as citizens should be seen as privileged white people becoming victims, on the “fundamental” concept of white people losing their economic “liberty” to wrong blacks.
When someone in US says they want to pollute others as a fundamental privilege and refuse to wear a mask on the principle that to do so would be “slavery”… please remember the tactics started by pro-slavery white supremacist lawyers in 1873; a way to perpetuate racist war via the courts and destroy civil rights for blacks.
However, his tax records show in 1841 how Campbell owned eight humans and within five years he had expanded that to fourteen humans enslaved. In 1857, five years after being nominated to the Supreme Court the records show he again purchased three humans and then seven more the following year.
Campbell was firmly in the camp of slavery as the country slid towards Civil War by secession. He was actively engaged in wealth accumulation through human slavery and jumped to the side preserving human trafficking. Moreover he kept it going while leading anti-American forces to expand slavery, as their Secretary of War.
This hopefully gives some important context for the man who drove a Supreme Court case to undermine the 14th and harm blacks. A man who falsely tried to argue government regulation of health measures that improve social welfare and protect black communities are the exact opposite; that good health is slavery.
Perhaps if he were alive today he would be forced to issue an apology like this one recently posted by an ill-informed and angry COVID19 “Anti-mask” protestor:
My intent was to take a stand for the freedom of all human persons and I mistakenly held a sign that conveyed the opposite.
Indeed. Not wearing a mask conveys the opposite of being for freedom of all human persons. Wear your mask to support freedom.
Is friendly fire still fire? Yes, they certainly embraced racism.
It’s been a problem for Dambuster story-tellers. Back in 2011 the BBC reported that the name of their “mascot”, a black Labrador named the N-word, would be instead called “Digger” in a movie produced by Peter Jackson:
You can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog’s grave and there he is with his name, and it’s an important part of the film. The name of the dog was a code word to show that the dam had been successfully breached. In the film, you’re constantly hearing ‘N-word, N-word, N-word, hurray’ and Barnes Wallis is punching the air. But obviously that’s not going to happen now. So Digger seems OK, I reckon.
The BBC goes on to say that decision reflected a fact of a larger story to tell where a dog’s real name is a tiny, unessential detail.
“The film is not about the dog. My big concern would be if they watered down what the Dam Busters had achieved.”
The Independent then reported seven years later in 2018 that screenings of the original 1955 movie would leave the N-word intact, and instead warn potential viewers of offensive language.
…”send a clearer warning to parents that the film contains discriminatory language of a nature that will be offensive to many”. The name has previously been censored for TV broadcasts, while some American versions have used dubbing to edit the dog’s name to Trigger.
Digger, Trigger… Vigor, Rigor, Bigger. Codewords don’t have to be accurate for retelling the story. Do you really care what the words in the left column are?
Callsign for Operation Chastise
Attack Mohne dam. German word for “pinch badly” and name for a medieval torture device
Mohne dam breached, divert to Eder
Eder dam breached, divert to Sorpe
Cooler 2 take over Mohne, Cooler 4 take over Eder
Attack last-resort targets
Return to Base
Upkeep release status (1-7) with results (8-10) on target (A-F). For example Goner 1-8-A is failed to explode, no breach of Mohne, whereas Goner 7-10-A is exploded on contact, large breach of Mohne
It shouldn’t matter what a dog’s name was to lay out the Dambuster narrative (“convincing people on both sides that the Allies were winning“) unless you also want to talk about racism in the RAF at that time… which tends to undermine “winning” narratives. I mean if the N-word is used in its full form, then historians must also talk about a bigger picture of the N-word being a known wrong in 1943 and allowed anyway.
In other words, if Peter Jackson’s film crew had tried to use the original racist slur name in their movie, they would have needed to address racism with a lot more that just basic context setting.
One can’t simply insert the N-word and pretend like all the RAF racism at the time in 1943 doesn’t also come along with it. And going into the known racism of the RAF (being Racist AF?) would have been a very different movie.
Using the N-word also means doing far more to set the context than tossing out “you can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog’s grave” to learn more. I understand such a sentiment, as it’s low cost to drive interested viewers to some other production. The writers suggested anyone who needs to see the original dog name could visit the grave, meaning the fuller story could be found elsewhere.
That is not an unexpected response but that particular statement no longer will fly, given how Sky News reports today that even RAF Scampton has removed the N-word from the gravestone.
It is understood the decision was taken in order to not give prominence to an offensive word that goes against the modern RAF’s ethos.
So you can’t just go and see the N-word being celebrated anymore (on a base scheduled to be closed next year).
Removal of racism is the right decision by the RAF. However, note how Sky News is itself making a subtle racist mistake.
It really should have concluded it’s sentence with “…an offensive word that goes against the RAF’s ethos.” Saying it goes against the modern ethos is problematic because it means Sky News is passively excusing a legacy of racism in the RAF.
Fortunately the BBC does a better job and reports it the proper way:
The RAF said it did not want to give prominence to an offensive term that went against its ethos.
Right. RAF should take down the distraction and when it comes up explain that unfortunate choices were made, explaining why those choices were mistakes and that they are being corrected.
Everyone should be able to agree it was clearly and widely known to be derogatory after the 1800s, as the definitive book “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” explains:
We do know… that by the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, nigger had already become a familiar and influential insult. […] For many whites in positions of authority, however, referring to blacks as niggers was once a safe indulgence. […] Given whites’ use of nigger, it should come as no surprise that for many blacks the N-word has constituted a major and menacing presence that has sometimes shifted the course of their lives.
“A safe indulgence” by “whites in positions of authority” seems exactly to be what has happened in the case of the Dambusters naming their dog a racist slur 200 years after it was known to wrong blacks.
No matter what its origins, by the early 1800s, it was firmly established as a derogative name. In the 21st century, it remains a principal term of White racism, regardless of who is using it. […] In 2003, the fight to correct the shameful availability of this word had positive results. Recently Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gave a speech at Virginia Tech. There everyone was informed that a landmark decision was made with the people at Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Recognizing their error, beginning with the next edition, the word nigger will no longer be synonymous with African Americans in their publication.
While the word obviously has been harmful this whole time across two centuries, some still try to erase that fact of history by falsely presenting the Dambuster racism as innocent of motive.
It was not innocent, and it was not a different time.
Although, to be fair, during WWII general British society was less racist towards black soldiers than the British military was, and British society also was far less racist than the American military:
…when US military authorities demanded that the town’s pubs impose a colour bar, the landlords responded with signs that read: “Black Troops Only”.
Consider then how a 1964 campaign slogan used the N-word, because it was so harmful, as a weapon to attack Britain. That’s right, a politician won a competition by flouting the N-word in “the most racist election” he could. And this was just 20 years after the Dambusters raid:
Conservative MP, Peter Griffiths, had been elected in the previous year’s general election on the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”
If anyone says that Dambuster dog name was neutral and at a “different time”, ask them how it ended up in a very public 1964 hate campaign.
Griffiths openly acknowledged his use of the term was racist. And it’s not like 1943 was such a different time from 1968; those who used the term in military campaigns then would have been voters in their 50s. Who were the Dambusters really targeting when they grotesquely indulged in racism by messaging the N-word over and over and over again?
The Major says: ‘The strange thing was that throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as n*****s.’ He adds: ‘ “No, no, no, no,” I said, “n*****s are West Indians, these people are w**s”. ‘ “No, no, no,” she said, “all cricketers are n*****s”.’
So you can plainly see a BBC comedy in 1975 was highlighting, as I am here today, how the N-word in Britain was treated by the “old fossil” military types — a hateful word used for a very long time.
That is why by 1943, during the raid that gave the Dambusters their famous name, there should be no question the N-word was known to be racist, as it has been widely documented widely as such before and after.
Its use in fact undermined the fight against Nazism — like dropping bombs all over black neighborhoods of the British Empire — as friendly-fire that was entirely unnecessary and easily prevented.
Again, friendly fire is still fire.
The best case for the Dambusters would be claiming weak leadership — despite public condemnations of racism — as they allowed unfortunate wrongs against their own citizens to continue unchallenged; even that doesn’t change a fundamental fact the N-word was known harmful and use of it by the Dambusters means RAF has to deal with a legacy of racism.
British racism goes bigger than just this one word, of course, given how the N-word is a reference to slavery in the military of a country that used to enforce slavery practices. Keep in mind how a push for abolition of slavery is as old as slavery itself, and the 1700s was when the British experienced mass condemnation (thus leading to its widespread abolition in the early 1800s).
We can’t say in context of this early 1800s abolitionism that because some whites in WWII found that their position of power and privilege conveniently allowed them to indulge in harms without consequences, therefore let’s erase the black experience and instead comfort whites taking the immoral luxury of perpetuating slavery and it’s associated language.
That is very wrong analysis as leaving the N-word prominently displayed without context legitimizes wrongdoing.
Quite clearly there was racism in British ranks, and quite clearly it should be treated as such if their racism is repeated in the open. We even have documentation of the problem from those who suffered it.
…In 1939, the peacetime recruiting regulations…restricted entry into the RAF to men of “pure European descent”. Under the Act, all “men of colour” were automatically debarred…. […] …a Guyanese man…in 1941 was recruited by the RAF. Grant wanted to be a fighter pilot…. Years later after being shown Air Ministry records researched by Roger Lambo be was to painfully learn of the racism with informal Air Ministry policies.
As Robert Murray, who left Georgetown, Guiana to join the RAF, recalls: “I never heard of racism until I got to Britain.” …there is now a desire to celebrate the achievements of those such as Flight Sergeant Jimmy Hyde, the much-decorated Trinidadian piolt, there has been little recognition of the isolation they felt in the RAF. […] There is an official RAF photograph of Hyde, from 132 Squadron, with his Spitfire and holding “Dingo”, the squadron commander’s pet dog. Hyde, while forcing a smile, looks uneasy: it is unclear which one is the mascot.
However, rather than go too far down the complicated paths to explain motives for systemic racism in the military, we really should keep focus on consequences here.
Given the term was known harmful from the 1800s onward, and given that most blacks who heard the term would consider it harmful, with many first-person confirmations of being wronged, historians must conclude:
POSTING OR USING THE DOG’S NAME WITHOUT RACISM CONTEXT ERASES THE BLACK EXPERIENCE.
Perhaps this clarity to me comes from unique experience that makes the right answer more obvious versus those casually looking at the problem?
I spent many hours deep in the UK government’s military archives for my graduate degree in history from the London School of Economics. In those papers and secret memos I found an excessive amount of racism of an almost unbearable level, especially in the war-time Colonial Office correspondence on the North African campaigns (as you might imagine from the office name).
The intolerance and hate is all still there if you want to open the folders, but it most certainly should not be paraded or celebrated. And if someone pulled that racism from the archive and built a gravestone or monument to it for celebration, I would ask them frankly why they are trying to erase history (ignore the black experience) by trying to elevate and apologize for a particular racist tangent.
And here’s a sad example of a historian of Dambusters who fails miserably at this. He both acknowledges the catastrophe of the N-word and also falls victim to the false trope of “said things differently then”. From the 2020 edition of Operation Chastise.
…I have been repeatedly asked whether it is an embarrassment to acknowledge the name of Gibson’s dog, which became a wirelessed codeword for the breaching of the Mohne. A historian’s answer must be: no more than the fact that our ancestors hanged…and imprisoned homosexuals. They did and said things differently then. It would be grotesque to omit Nigger from a factual narrative merely because the word is rightly repugnant to the twenty-first-century ears. […] Yet in the twenty-first century it also seems essential to confront… the enormity of the horror that the unthinking fliers unleashed upon a host of innocents.
This is a clumsy section of the book, which has to be read very carefully. He is saying he leaves in the N-word as evidence of a wrong. Does he call it out effectively as a wrong?
No, it appears he gives far more careful consideration to the wrongs the RAF may have committed against Nazis, than the wrongs against blacks (or against homosexuals) in the RAF who were fighting against those Nazis.
Note the UK after the war coldly tried and executed their own war hero Alan Turing, for example, simply because he was gay. That narrative is almost never told correctly, given how the government today tries to elevate his name in spite of unjustly killing him.
Interesting data point: given this author of the 2020 Operation Chastise book says historians ought not to omit references to the dog’s name, he makes only 2 mentions in all its pages. And I am sure if he had gone to zero mentions, it would have done nothing to change his narrative.
If anyone believes that erasing history is harmful, then they should see removing the N-word is a restoration project (like cleaning graffiti or pulling down fences). Don’t believe anyone who claims the N-word was acceptable at the time, or that it didn’t get a reaction from those it slighted. Again, as I can’t say this enough, presentation of it without context erases the black experience.
To post such a word believing it to be “factual” without thinking of its factual consequences, is an act of erasure. It erases history and continues to promote severe and lasting wrongs, by failing to acknowledge mistakes as such. The RAF is right to correct the mistake, acknowledge the bigger story and fuller history, and move the racist name to where it can be studied appropriately for being racist.
As Randall Kennedy, the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School and author of the definitive history of the N-word, puts it:
“Given the power of ‘nigger’ to wound, it is important to provide a context within which presentation of that term can be properly understood.
What would context look like for the 1943 Operation Chastise? That’s fairly easy to answer.
The BBC three years earlier on May 16, 1940 responded to an angry letter and issued a public apology for its use of the N-word on air, acknowledging it as “sincerely regretted”.
My attention has been drawn to the fact that one of your announcers, when interpreting some records on the 11th inst., made use of the offensive term ‘nigger’. There is no need for me to remind you that this is one of the unfortunate relics of the days of slavery, vexatious to present day Africans and West Indians, and an evidence of incivility on the part of its user. I hope, sir, as a public corporation, you will take some steps to repair the damage done. I shall be glad to be advised as to what steps you take so that I may be able to inform my Committee accordingly.
From the Director, Secretariat of BBC to the President of the League. 16/5/40–
Following my earlier letter, I find that our announcer was at fault. The point raised on your letter is fully appreciated, and is one which the BBC is at pains to keep constantly in mind. It was unfortunately overlooked on this occasion, and a reminder on the subject is being given to announcers. I hope that your Committee will accept the BBC’s apology for this slip, which is sincerely regretted.
And speaking of the BBC, here’s an even better contextual reference from one of their own broadcasters ten years earlier…
She warns very conclusively, a full decade before Gibson so wrongly named his dog, that without any doubt the N-word was considered racist and harmful. Gibson chose the name in spite of these public protests against. Even worse, he chose to use a racist slur as a codeword in spite of known harm to the “RAF ethos” then and into the future.
Have you heard of Una Marson?
Every time someone falsely claims the N-word was somehow accepted, or normal for 1943 in the RAF, they actively are erasing her from history despite her very prominent role and the black community opposition to the term during that exact time.
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, it was intended for everyone. Now it is dominated by a few tech companies who have accumulated huge amounts of data on its users. So Tim decided to make a change. He launched Solid, an open source platform, built to decentralise the web and give citizens more power over their data. Alongside this, a new business called Inrupt was created to design and deliver new services from this technology. VP for Trust and Digital Ethics at Inrupt, Davi Ottenheimer, joins Damian Collins this week. Dr Charles Kriel unpacks the new Twitter-like platform for conservatives, Parler.
I gave this presentation for the Atlantic Council and Accenture. From the Atlantic Council site:
On Wednesday, 17 June 2020, the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center and Accenture held the second episode of the jointly presented Data Salon Series, featuring a presentation from Mr. Davi Ottenheimer, Vice President of Trust and Digital Ethics at Inrupt, that prompted animated discussion among participants about the nature of privacy, consent, and responsibility. The event focused on how our understanding of privacy and its preservation affects our ability to temporarily compromise it in the interest of addressing crises. These issues are particularly relevant to the ongoing pandemic, and their intersections with other topics—integrating different cultural priorities and expectations of privacy, ensuring data is truly representative of a diverse population, and examining the nuanced relationships between privacy, knowledge, and power—are especially timely.
Information warfare in America has continued almost non-stop since the late 1700s when abolition of slavery began to expand around the world. There has been a concerted effort by white supremacists to erase the reality of who really did what, where and when.
One of the most dramatic expressions of this is the mythology of the “frontiersman” of America. I say mythology because, truth be told, there were very blurred groups in the 1800s who drove western expansion far more than only white men.
The harsh frontier was largely explored by those furthest from the mainstream culture (seeking new lives and smashing a glass ceiling such as entrepreneurial women, freed slaves, mixed-races, convicts). This should come as common sense, since you can imagine who would take the most risks when there was no guarantee of rewards.
“The Revenant” story is a good example of this, as the true story was a very diverse group of non-whites and outcasts. A wall-street banker bored with his job picked the story up and rewrote it as a very loaded white man against nature narrative, which unfortunately was widely read and turned into a disgusting movie full of disgusting falsehoods and degrading imagery (innocent white man has to battle against non-whites, animals, women… to survive and conquer).
I assure you white men in comfortable settings didn’t say they’d throw it all away just to expand and explore new spaces for the sake of it. Think about motivations and you can see white men would go when the odds were more in their favor, which in fact usually meant many other people doing the work for them — they didn’t play fair.
It didn’t always mean white men shirked hard work. One example of that is Ulysses S. Grant who has been portrayed as a failure in business, when in fact he was really a do-it-yourself hard-working independent man. He freed his only slave and faced challenges alone. And yet his image, especially as told by the losers of the Civil War, is being tarnished unfairly as someone who struggled.
Think hard about that fact that the best evidence of an American white man (a hero really) doing hard work himself to be a truly “made man” has been viciously and falsely characterized by historians as a failure. In other words the people lauding some for the “fail faster” culture should embrace Grant, and yet you see them distanced and aloof. There’s a subtle reason for this.
On the flip side the complex narratives of success have often been unfairly replaced with a deceptive binary one — successful white men were hardworking even when everyone else was their property/prize and did the actual work.
Confusing matters is the fact that evidence pops up of white men bifurcating from others in the records of westward migration. Those taking the Oregon trail, for example, are described as those who tended to be families who would abide by regulations (e.g. religion and law) settled in with local populations. Those headed to California in contrast were predominantly single white men who waged an all out war on people and nature.
Bifurcation like this tends to end up being an oversimplification that doesn’t quite fit (Oregon was site of mass atrocities and some parts of California became preserves). It does show however a simple good/bad framework of settlement does manifest from a grain of truth as it feeds into narratives told by the self-appointed “good” story-tellers.
Here’s another way of looking at that bifurcation. In one infamous case a white man brought his slaves with him to California to seek gold and when none was found he abandoned them there and went back to a southeastern state. His freed slaves then found gold on their own and… that white man sued them, claiming two Americans and their gold should be seen as his property.
So when people describe the California trail as “single white men”, which it definitely had a lot of, keep in mind they may be (even unintentionally) erasing several or many team members carrying a “single” person on their shoulders.
Really this problem is rooted even deeper in American history. Slavery was banned in the colonial time (prior to 1750) and yet some settlers saw their role in a revolutionary war to expand slavery. Americans saw England making noises about abolition, even banning it in the latest colonies, and aimed to fight and keep slavery going.
This is why abolition arrived in some American states by 1820s in-line with the rest of the world, and a spirit of hard work became foundational. Whereas in Mexico a flood of white men settled and complained bitterly that frontier life was too harsh for white people to survive without slaves.
When I say Mexico, I mean Texas, the area these white men immigrated into then violently seceded, calling itself a “lone star” because it aimed for a white supremacists nation, to keep oppression and slavery going even if it meant being the last slave state in the world.
It is no coincidence that the sole survivor from the white supremacists side of battle at the Alamo was a slave. Mexican forced liberated that black man and killed his oppressors. “Remember the Alamo” really means don’t forget the battle for slavery that was lost when white people were defeated and their slave was set free.
Freedom comes with responsibility. Being stupid is irresponsible. Does being free to be stupid therefore violate the principles of freedom?
The FT article skips right over the crucial fact that Texas “exceptionalism” and “frontier” spirit meant slavery.
Again, Texas was Mexico until white immigrants came with slaves and said no white man could survive the harsh conditions without non-whites to do all the hard work for them. They usurped power and seceded from Mexico (and later from America) just to avoid hard work and keep slaves instead.
Being “free to be stupid” is thus a dog-whistle to slavery, which is not freedom at all. It really means doing harm to others in the most selfish way possible.
This article also erases the significant role of women in the frontier, as men not only looked up to them but treated them as superiors and often substituted them for judge (where none could be found) in disputes.
“Madonna of the Trail” is such a memorial just outside Custer’s base camp in Kansas (just one of twelve placed along National Road US40, the first interstate highway established by act of Congress in 1806 and expanded 1926).
Commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which had a well-deserved reputation for racism, every single statue is identical and unfortunately depicts only a white woman:
Springfield OH – July 4, 1928
Wheeling WV – July 7, 1928
Council Grove KS – Sept 7, 1928
Lexington, MO – Sept 17, 1928
Lamar, CO – Sept 24, 1928
Albuquerque, NM – Sept 27, 1928
Springerville, AZ – Sept 29, 1928
Vandalia, IL – Oct 26, 1928
Richmond IN – Oct 28, 1928
Beallsville, PA – Dec 8, 1928
Upland, CA – Feb 1, 1929
Bethesda, MD – April 19, 1929
It’s not expected to see history told by the FT in such a way that leaves out minorities and women. However it must be recognized more widely how this is continuation of information warfare methods in America that go all the way back to the late 1700s.
Some white men tend to claim to be doing hard work while erasing the fact that their privilege means the work is being done for them without real cost/responsibility.
Avoiding the true history of Texas and the role of women is precisely why this FT article is bunk. You can’t separate them. When “free to be stupid” means a privilege that translates direct to harms to others (e.g. human trafficking and slavery is stupid) that’s not real freedom, it’s oppression.
Calling stupid a freedom, when it means whites stupidly harming blacks, is the continuation of information warfare.
In 2015 the Guardian published a story about the Confederate flags ignorantly flying in Brazil.
Many American slaveholders moved there after losing their Civil War in 1865 because… it was still legal to own slaves and land was being appropriated and granted to white settlers
Most were lured by newspaper ads placed in the wake of the war by the government of Brazil’s then emperor, Dom Pedro II, promising land grants to those who would help colonise the South American country’s vast and little-explored interior.
Brazil used the harsh “pro-life” system of slavery that turned black women into birthing machines, rather than extend life by providing humane work conditions. The brutality of white power economics meant life was extremely short and brutal for non-whites.
They worked on average from 6am to 10pm, almost without rest, and aged very quickly. At 35, they already had white hair and no teeth.
That’s why you see such huge volumes of slavery transit (nearly 40%) directed into Brazil.
American slaveholders directly contributed to perpetuating these slavery practices in Brazil after losing their war at home, ensuring it would be the last country in the world to abolish officially May 13, 1888.
A BBC documentary in 2012 called this “an inconvenient history”, where historians and anthropologists explain how Confederate flags are just a tiny part of how modern Brazil isn’t addressing its slavery past: