Friday, February 22, 2008

Fact checking: the Difficulty with Historical References in Political Fights...

I am struck by the self-appointed watchdog role that Delawareliberal appears to be undertaking with respect to Selander and Jensen on WDEL.

Two statements by Jason stand out here--the first from the post, and the second from the comments:

Number One:

I think we all know the dangers of allowing right-wing disinformation and lies to go out through the media unchallenged especially in an election year.


Number Two:

I have to remember that our side is bound by things like “reason” and “proof” and “facts” but guys like Jensen think that you can create truth by repeating a lie at ever increasing volume.


Let me be clear: I'm all for real correctives of factual inaccuracies, but when I read it I was reminded of a recent post--"Four More Years"--that Jason also authored. In it, he cited as authoritative an article by smintheus entitled "Derangement Syndrome Redux," that contains the following:

George W. Bush’s failures are so dizzying in scale and scope that, ironically, plenty of Republicans still can’t even make them out against the gloom-shrouded horizon. These are like the Republicans who wanted to re-elect Herbert Hoover in 1932, only much dumber. [Emphasis added]


My problem? While Herbert Hoover was a political failure in dealing with the onset of the Great Depression in such fashion as would give him any chance to win re-election, to dismiss him as a do-nothing prototype for Dubya is--as the consensus of pretty much all modern historians suggests--simply at odds with the facts.

I take you to one of the most influential histories of the period, Barry Karl's The Uneasy State: The United States from 1915 to 1945, who argues both persuasively (and with evidence) that Hoover deserves far more credit for dealing with the Depression than either FDR, early progressive historians, or modern Democrats are willing to give him:

pp. 89-90
"Hoover agreed to increase government involvement in public-works projects and to revive the wartime agencies for lending money to selected industries. He finally approved both the creation of the Federal Stabilization Board for planning public works and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for making the necessary loans; but his initial reluctance to take these steps lost him the credit he ultimately deserved.

p. 90
The drama of New Deal legislation, particularly at the beginning, sheds a false light on the years that preceded the New Deal, for it seems to imply that Congress pass the new laws in response to a public that demanded massive Federal intervention after the Hoover years of inactivity. Emphasis on the Crash distorts our view of a crisis that grew slowly. Confidence in Hoover and the government ebbed gradually, and it never completely disappeared....

p. 99
His [Hoover's] policies had not caused the Depression, and it is difficult to see what he could have done to prevent it. Once it began, his gradually escalating efforts to cope with it pushed the federal government further into economic interventionism that it had ever gone before. Yet it was not enough to inspire the confidence in his leadership that was the sine qua non of political survival. Even so, his defeat was more than a political event. Hoover was ultimately made to bear responsibility for the national catastrophe the Depression had become.

p. 100
The government ought not to frame a public-works policy, he [Hoover] believed, until it had first surveyed existing plans for public works in the state and local governments around the nation....

Similarly, government could not have a proper relief policy until it had exact information on the amount of relief already being provided by private and local relief agencies....

Much of Hoover's work from 1931 on was devoted to this kind of requisitioning of information, most of it being assembled in Washington for the first time. It looked like foot-dragging, and when it did result, finally, in presidential action, Hoover appeared to be pushed and shoved into positions he had at first rejected. The fact that his successor [FDR] inherited a wealth of plans and program ideas based on the hardest data researchers had been able to collect did not help Hoover's reputation....


Hoover did not master the Great Depression (nor, arguably, did FDR--it took the Second World War to finish it off), but to make the argument that supporting Hoover in 1932 as a complete presidential failure is along the same lines as supporting Dubya today is both superficial and distorts the actual historical record.

I need to point out that Jason did not say this about Hoover--he merely reprinted the post of someone who did. But the framing of that post suggests strongly that Jason was endorsing that view.

However, if you're going to set yourself up as the arbiter of "right-wing disinformation and lies," and to hold yourself to the standard of having to "remember that our side is bound by things like “reason” and “proof” and “facts”," then you have to pay more attention to the details.

The same caution applies to recent references to Turkish cross-border excursions against the Kurdish PKK. Regular Delawareliberal commenter Dorian Gray objected to my references to the Turkish government committing cultural genocide against the Kurds inside Turkey:

Turks and Kurds get along swimmingly… inside Turkey. PKK are terrorists from Northern Iraq. I guess we can ivade to fight fanthom AQ but the Turks aren’t entitled to destroy PKK? Of course other countries aren’t mocking of and apologizing for our Native American genodice either so it’s good for the goose, but for the gander, not so much.

This story has been building for years. I happen to follow this quite closely. (Disclosure: Donviti and I have some very close Turkish friends. Expats actually - with dual citizenship.)

As far as the “cultural genocide” Steve mentioned, I don’t know what he’s refering to. Considering “Turkiye” is 99% Muslim but quite secular, I think we should gine the G-word a rest. We have enough enemies right now.

Three cheers for Ataturk, Galatasaray and black tea!


Jason followed this with an Ataturk quotation designed to bolster the argument.

The problem: the idea that "Turks and Kurds get along swimmingly ... inside Turkey" is simply unsupportable by the evidence.

Here's the most even-handed discussion of their relationship from Human Rights Watch you can find:

Denied political, and cultural rights, Kurds have been the principal victims of the Turkish state's excesses since the military coup of 1980. (It should be noted that, ironically--or tragically--the majority of victims of PKK abuses have also been Kurds.) Kurds are not targeted by the security forces because of their ethnicity per se. Many Kurds who align themselves closely with the Turkish state have been elected to parliament or hold high political office. However, any attempt to assert political or cultural rights based on Kurdish identity is looked upon as treason and as a threat to the very foundations of the Turkish state--and punished accordingly.

The denial of cultural and political rights has generated a long-standing sense of grievance among some sectors of the Kurdish minority, and this has made them a fertile source of recruits for illegal radical armed organizations--in particular the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which began attacks on gendarmerie posts and other state installations in 1984. These attacks in turn provoked fierce repression--mass arrests followed by interrogation under torture, and trials in martial law courts and State Security Courts which fell far short of international standards of justice....

The village of Nurettin serves as a good example of how the state used the village guard system to displace those villagers who refused to join. The 1994 Human Rights Watch Report "Forced Displacement of Ethnic Kurds from Southeastern Turkey" documents how in November 1993, the security forces burned about twenty of the three hundred houses in the village, because they were allegedly PKK sympathizers. After local elections in March 1994, approximately one third of the villagers from the "Burukans" tribe became village guards and then forced all those who did not join to leave the village. By August 1994, most villagers in Nurettin who were not Burukans had been forced to flee, and their houses had been destroyed.

Due to obstacles to reporting from the emergency region, the program of village destruction has gone underreported in the Turkish and world press. In July 1997, then Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit announced that 3,185 settlements had been completely or partially depopulated since fighting broke out in the region in August 1984. This has not been an orderly evacuation procedure, but a punitive measure, frequently conducted with considerable brutality, and villages are still being cleared. The exact number of displaced is unknown because no independent group has been able freely to conduct research in the region. In any case, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish villagers from the southeast have been displaced to shanty-towns throughout Turkey....

Meanwhile, attempts to organize and articulate the Kurdish identity through parliamentary politics have been consistently frustrated. Since 1971, every party that has explicitly voiced the need to tackle the problems of the Kurdish minority has been closed down as "separatist" under Article 81 of the Law on Political Parties which forbids mention of racial or religious minorities. In the 1990s alone, eight political parties were shut down on these grounds. The People's Labor Party (HEP) and its successor parties have been subjected to relentless persecution by the state and its security forces for over a decade....

Kurdish political leaders have also been murdered. Fifty-seven members and officials of HEP and its successors DEP and HADEP have been killed since 1991. In September 1993, the DEP parliamentary deputy Mehmet Sincar was shot dead in broad daylight. The killers were never arrested, and many believe the security forces were behind the killings. There is a good deal of evidence to support such a claim. Muhsin Melik, president of the Urfa branch of DEP, was attacked outside his office in Urfa in June 1994. Before he died, he made a statement in front of witnesses that he recognized his assailants as police officers who had been following him for some time.

In March 1994, the Ankara State Security prosecutor began to intensify the legal assault on DEP, and party leaders Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak (among others) were arrested and put on trial as supporters of the PKK. After a trial that was a travesty of justice, and in spite of the fact that none of the four had ever been accused of participation in acts of violence, they were given sentences of fifteen years of imprisonment which they are currently serving at Ankara Closed Prison.


I encourage everyone to read the entire document, and search for others. You will find that what I have cited here is the consensus view of Turkish repression of the Kurds. Even Al Jazeera has been forced, repeatedly, to deal with the issue (here, here, and here)

The point is simply this: if you're going to appoint yourself the watchdog of media accuracy, you'd better have a pretty firm grasp of the facts yourself.

1 comment:

Hube said...

Stev: Thorough job, sir. Of course, it is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, but cathartic nonetheless...! ;-)