Adam Hochschild’s “Bury the Chains” Tells Gripping Story

If I’m taking the lazy blogger’s path lately — turning The Picket Line into a barely-annotated linkfarm — I’ll put the blame on Adam Hochschild, who wrote the book Bury the Chains that I got as a Christmas gift.

Here’s the quick version of why this book is capturing my attention:

[P]icture the world as it existed in . Well over three-quarters of the people on earth are in bondage of one land or another. In parts of the Americas, slaves far outnumber free people. African slaves are also scattered widely through much of the Islamic world. Slavery is routine in most of Africa itself. In India and other parts of Asia, some people are outright slaves, others in debt bondage that ties them to a particular landlord as harshly as any slave to a Southern plantation owner. In Russia the majority of the population are serfs. Nowhere is slavery more firmly rooted than in Britain’s overseas empire, where some half-million slaves are being systematically worked to an early death growing West Indian sugar. Caribbean slave-plantation fortunes underlie many a powerful dynasty, from the ancestors of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to the family of the fabulously wealthy William Beckford, lord mayor of London, who hired Mozart to give his son piano lessons. One of the most prosperous sugar plantations on Barbados is owned by the Church of England. Furthermore, Britain’s ships dominate the slave trade, delivering tens of thousands of chained captives each year to French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies as well as to its own.

If you had proposed, in the London of , to change all of this, nine out of ten people would have laughed you off as a crackpot. The 10th might have admitted that slavery was unpleasant but said that to end it would wreck the British Empire’s economy. It would be as if, today, you maintained that the automobile must go. One in ten listeners might agree that the world would be better off if we traveled instead by foot, bicycle, electric train, or trolley, but are you suggesting a political movement to ban cars? Come on, be serious! Looking back, however, what is even more surprising than slavery’s scope is how swiftly it died. By , slavery was, at least on paper, outlawed almost everywhere.

It’s more gripping than a “who dunnit,” and I’m eager to get to the “how they dunnit?” Chances are I’ll report on some of what Hochschild found out, so stay tuned.

Some views from Greg at viewsfromhome:

[T]he subject few people want to talk seriously about is this: that all American taxpayers share the responsibility for these atrocities and others, because we support them with our tax dollars. Every time we dutifully surrender our tax monies — that is, every time we’re paid and every time we fill out a tax return and send additional money — we fund exactly the things to which we morally object.…

These monies keep the wheels turning, the immoral agenda moving forward — and these monies come from us. If we hope to address and influence the process of American politics, we must consider forming a massive tax resistance movement, in which tens of thousands or millions of Americans band together to withhold the fiscal lubricant until serious changes are made. In short, we need a fiscal revolution!

I urge anyone who reads this blog to take action by withholding their federal taxes ; by changing the number of exemptions they claim to eliminate the withholding of taxes by employers; and by urging groups such as MoveOn to push for a national movement in this direction.

Taking the money away is more than a symbolic gesture. It may well be our last hope.

Jessica’s antiwar blog has started trumpeting war tax resistance: Don’t Pay for This War!

Martin Luther King used to say “No one can ride your back unless it’s bent.” It is time for the American people to unbend their backs and stop paying for a war that is robbing us of our sons and daughters, bankrupting the country, and creating so much anger against us in the world that we may be in greater danger of terrorism than ever before.

You may not know Alberto Gonzales, but we’re sure you’ll recognize his work

Now that all of those FBI memos about torture at Gitmo have become public, the U.S. military have decided to launch an investigation.

Goes to show that there’s a big difference between:

  • “Sir, our investigators have found that we’ve been torturing detainees at Gitmo and have left them naked and shivering in their own feces for 24 hours at a time.”
  • “Sir, the ACLU is about to leak to the press that we’ve been torturing detainees at Gitmo and have left them naked and shivering in their own feces for 24 hours at a time.”

The first one prompts a “ho hum… file that one under ‘W’ for ‘Who Cares?’ ” while the second one prompts a “quick: another investigation to investigate the previous investigation!”

I’d become a little cynical about the ACLU — they seemed to spend a lot more effort on fundraising and identity politics than on protecting civil liberties. But they’ve redeemed themselves and then some, and now I feel ashamed for doubting them. They’re rising to today’s challenges admirably, at a time when so many other institutions are letting us down.

Among the institutions that could be making a little more noise about this are the religious ones. A couple hundred religious leaders of various stripes have stepped up to try and correct this:

Alberto Gonzales was at the heart of deliberations in high places about skirting the Geneva Conventions and international law. The question was not how to prevent abuse, but how far interrogations could go in getting away with it. It was but a short step from there to Abu Ghraib.

What kind of message does it send to the world if a lawyer soft on torture is rewarded with the post of attorney general? How does that make America more secure? What does it say about our nation’s commitment to human decency and human rights? Above all, as religious leaders and people of conscience, we must ask: What kind of people have we become?