Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Your book "Crash course: From the Good War to the Forever War" is an essential book for anyone who is interested in U.S. history. The U.S. has waged imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. In your opinion, why the United States needs to go to war? Behind all these wars, one evokes the weight of the military-industrial complex in the United States. What is its influence in political decision-making?
Dr. H. Bruce Franklin: The U.S. has indeed been waging imperialist war after war ever since the end of World War II. None of these wars has been necessary. As I document in Crash Course, Washington unilaterally divided the nation of Korea into two nations three days before Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, thus making the Korean War inevitable, and eight days later Washington agreed to full partnership in the French war to recolonize Vietnam. The enormous productive power of American industry had to go somewhere after satisfying consumer needs unmet during the war. Instead of becoming our monstrous military-industrial complex, it could have eliminated poverty, created a near utopia for health care, education, the environment, culture, and ample leisure for everyone. But the class running the society thought that this would be socialism and the end of capitalism.
You have studied the US prison system which you describe in several books including "Prison Writing in 20th-Century America" and "Prison Literature in America: The Victim as Criminal and Artist". Seeing the fascist practices applied in the American prison system, can we still talk about concepts such as "human rights" and "democracy" in the United States?
Central to the history of America from 1619 on has been a struggle between those seeking to extend human rights and democracy and those seeking conquest and power over others. The struggle reached one climax in the Civil War, which ended in Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments that outlawed slavery and proclaimed the equal rights of all male citizens. But as soon as federal troops were withdrawn from the South, a reign of terror destroyed all the freely elected progressive legislatures of the southern states and replaced them with legislatures that devised the “Black Codes” to effectively turn every freed slave, as well as most Black freedmen, into criminals and therefore slaves. Prison slavery turned out to be even worse than that old form of private plantation slavery. And then even those who survived prison slavery automatically lost their right to vote, thanks to felony disenfranchisement, still used today to strip the vote from millions of African-Americans.
How do you explain that in a country that calls itself a democracy, the American police regularly murders African-Americans, as we saw with the case of George Floyd and others? Is the United States a democracy or rather a fascist State?
Ever since World War II, the U.S. has assumed more and more of the hallmarks of a fascist state, including unending imperial wars, an unrestrained militarized police force, mass incarceration, omnipresent surveillance, elections dominated by wealth, racism, and misogyny, and a culture heavily loaded with superheroes and the glorification of war. The Republican Party has become a neo-fascist organization. But powerful progressive and resistance movements have continued to fight against these oppressive forces, with some success. If Trump and the Republicans win control in our upcoming elections, we will be soon be living under a true fascist state, especially after they replace Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Breyer with two enablers of fascism.
In your masterful book "War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination", we note that the history of the United States has been a never-ending quest for the superweapon. How do you explain this quest for the absolute weapon on the part of the United States?
America’s quest for the ultimate weapon that would end all wars and grant benevolent global dominance to the United States is a corollary of the belief in American Exceptionalism. In War Stars, I trace the evolution of this belief from Robert Fulton’s 18th-century submarine throughout American culture and history to the development of weapons capable of destroying our species. The book owes much to my own experience flying as a navigator and intelligence officer in the Strategic Air Command.
The question of war comes up often in your work, not to say that it is central, and the Vietnam War has marked you, as it has marked several generations of Americans. How do you explain the impact of the Vietnam War on generations of Americans?
In 1958, 76% of Americans believed that our government was run “For the benefit of all” and only 18% believed it was run “For a few big interests.” By 1978, only 24% believed it was run “For the benefit of all” while 66% believed it was run “For a few big interests.” That tells you volumes. Opposition to the war was so powerful that the class which runs the nation realized it could never again field a conscript army. We learned that America was not invincible and many of us learned, as Martin Luther King put it, that we are fighting “on the wrong side of a world revolution” and that “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” is our “own government.” American culture is re-fighting the history of the Vietnam War every day.
You have had a remarkable and impressive career as an activist and as an intellectual and you were very involved in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War, among others in the setting up of the European network of GI deserters. What is the weight of the anti-war movement in the USA today?
The vast majority of Americans oppose our Forever War. The proof of this? Every major candidate for the White House claims to be against our recent wars, and the candidates routinely accuse their opponents of favoring and even voting for these wars. The demonstrations against the Iraq War were actually larger than the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Ever since, our government has been forced to fight our present wars with drones, Special Forces, assassinations, proxies, or even in secret.
America is heading towards presidential elections much awaited by the whole world. How do you explain that the USA has not found a reliable alternative to Trump? Don't you think that the re-election of Donald Trump would be a great danger for world peace? Doesn't the American Left need to rebuild itself in order to possibly propose an alternative to the current power holders?
The voters in the Democratic primaries overwhelmingly selected Joe Biden as the candidate most likely to beat Trump. As things look right now, I think they were probably right (although I voted for Bernie Sanders). The evidence? The current polls, and the fact that the Republicans’ main strategy is trying to paint Biden to make him look like Bernie.
The current movement, led by Black Lives Matter, is the deepest and broadest mass movement I have seen in my lifetime, and the rise of progressives within the Democratic Party has changed the national conversation.
I don’t believe that Trump can win an honest election. If he steals the Presidency, he will complete the triumph of fascism. He is a sick person, and he poses grave risks to peace, now and until he is removed from the White House. As an ardent representative of the industries and forces destroying our environment, he also poses a grave threat to the survival of our species.
You wrote the book "The Most Important Fish in the Sea" in which you draw attention to the importance of menhaden fish in the Atlantic and Gulf food chain and its role in the marine ecosystem. As a result of your book, two nature conservation bills have been passed in the U.S. Congress. Doesn't this book and its impact prove that an intellectual can have a positive influence on issues related to the environment, especially in relation to the challenges of global warming?
The Most Important Fish in the Sea has played an essential role in getting the Commerce Department to consider ecological effects in fishery management. Equally important is the mass movement that used the book to force this crucial change in management of the marine environment. In the ten years after the first edition of the book was published, most of my grassroots organizing involved speaking to saltwater fishing clubs. The typical club is all male, all white, and overwhelmingly working class. Many of the men are skilled workers—plumbers, carpenters, electricians, landscapers, sheet metal workers, mechanics. Some run their own business. We usually met in a Knights of Columbus, American Legion, or Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting room and began our meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The mass movement of these men was crucial in the struggle. When I tried to get local liberal organizations to relate to the movement, they dismissed these men as hopelessly ignorant rednecks. But in reality, the marine environment was central to the lives of these men, and they wanted it to be healthy for their children and grandchildren. I am one of these white men. I wish that liberals would began to recognize that we fishers and hunters dearly care about the natural environment.
In one of your articles "What Is Covid-19 Trying to Teach Us", you mention that long before the Covid-19 crisis, there were signs of recession. With the Covid-19 crisis, the situation worsened. In your opinion, aren't we heading towards an even worse recession than in 2008?
Thanks to Trump’s mismanagement, this recession is already far worse than 2008, although proving quite lucrative for some corporations and stock-market speculators and investors. If Biden wins, he will inherit a far worse mess than the one George W. Bush left Obama to clean up.
In your opinion, isn't Trump's economic war against China a dangerous adventure for the world economy?
It surely is. People forget that in 2008-2009 it was the Chinese economy that served as the engine that pulled the world out of recession. Trump looks upon everything as a zero-sum game, with one winner and one loser. But cooperation and a recognition that we are one species—an endangered species—are necessary to create a livable future.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Dr. H. Bruce Franklin?
One of America’s leading cultural historians and scholars, H. Bruce Franklin is the author or editor of nineteen books and more than 300 articles on culture and history published in more than a hundred major magazines and newspapers, academic journals, and reference works. He has given over five hundred addresses on college campuses, on radio and TV shows, and at academic conferences, museums, and libraries, and he has participated in making four films. He has taught at Stanford University, Johns Hopkins, Wesleyan, and Yale and currently is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Before becoming an academic, Franklin worked in factories, was a tugboat mate and deckhand, and flew for three years in the United States Air Force as a Strategic Air Command navigator and intelligence officer.
Dr. Franklin has published continually on the history and literature of the Vietnam War since 1966, when he became widely known for his activist opposition to the war. His pioneering course on the war and his book M.I.A. Or Mythmaking in America have had a major national impact, and he is co-editor of the widely-adopted history text Vietnam and America: A Documented History. Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, offers a sweeping vision of American culture into the 21st century.
Another area where Franklin’s work has achieved international distinction is the study of science fiction and its relation to culture and history. In 1961 he offered one of the first two university courses in science fiction, and his book Future Perfect played a key role in establishing the importance and academic legitimacy of the subject. His Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction won the Eaton Award for 1981; in 1983 he won the Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Scholarship of the Science Fiction Research Association; in 1990 he was named the Distinguished Scholar of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts; and in 1991 he was Guest Curator for the “Star Trek and the Sixties” exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
Franklin’s first book, The Wake of the Gods: Melville’s Mythology, has been in print continually since 1963 and is regarded as a classic work of scholarship and criticism. He is a past president of the Melville Society, and continues to publish about Melville.
Prison Literature in America: The Victim as Criminal and Artist established Franklin as the world’s leading authority on American prison literature. His anthology Prison Writing in 20th-Century America is widely influential.
The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America shows how menhaden have shaped America’s national—and natural—history, and why reckless overfishing now threatens their place in both. The book has already led to the introduction of two bills in Congress.
War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination has been widely hailed as a classic since its original publication in 1988. In 2008, he published a revised and expanded edition that sweeps through more than two centuries of American culture and military history, tracing the evolution of superweapons from Robert Fulton’s eighteenth-century submarine through the strategic bomber, atomic bomb, and Star Wars to a twenty-first century dominated by “weapons of mass destruction,” real and imagined. Interweaving culture, science, technology, and history, he shows how and why the American pursuit of the ultimate defensive weapon—guaranteed to end all war and bring universal triumph to American ideals—has led our nation and the world into an epoch of terror and endless war.
Published in American Herald Tribune September 01, 2020: https://ahtribune.com/interview/4377-bruce-franklin.html