Hunger Strikes and Self-Immolation (May 12th)

Image result for buddhist monk burning vietnam photographer

How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you kill for your beliefs? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest?


Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved to death in the Maze Prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The Irish prisoners were objecting to the treatment they were receiving by the British prison authorities, and they were wanted political prisoner status to be granted to Provisional IRA prisoners. Following in the footsteps of India Independence leaders -most notably Gandhi, the Irish nationalists organized a Hunger Strike in 1980, and another strike in 1981. Bobby Sands (March 9, 1954 – 5 May 1981) was the leader of that 1981 hunger strike. Now, it should be noted, Gandhi was a pacifist and these IRA members were part of a violent terrorist organization. This narrative is not as an endorsement of the prisoners’ violence either in prison or before, but a recognition of a milestone in “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland’s history.


But how can a person shut down hunger? Hardwired into our being is a sense of self-preservation…

In 1975, Article 6 of the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo stated that doctors are not allowed to force-feed hunger strikers. They are supposed to understand the prisoner’s independent wishes, and it is recommended to have a second opinion as to the capability of the prisoner to understand the implication of his decision and be capable of informed consent. Having said that, it is US Federal policy that when “a medical necessity for immediate treatment of a life or health threatening situation exists, the physician may order that treatment be administered without the consent of the inmate.”


Apparently, some things are worth dying for, or at least risking one’s life for. And, respectfully, it seems to me that donning the uniform of our nation-state is relatively easy… After all, with the exception of the Vietnam era, there is a national admiration that goes out to those in uniform… and some perks too: Preferential boarding on Southwest Airlines, preferential hiring in some police departments, GI Bill, VA Housing Loans, etc., etc. Now, I’m not suggesting that soldiers don’t deserve it, nor am I saying that soldiering is not hard work. What I am saying, is that it’s not an incredibly difficult moral decision to wear one’s countries uniform. However, what if one doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the nation-state, then that’s a harder situation to put on the uniform, and perhaps it is an easier decision to raise weapons against the nation-state.


For example, also on this day, May 12, 1885, the four-day Battle of Batoche ended with a decisive rebel defeat. The rebels were the Métis people who had organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government. The Métis are a people in Canada who trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers, though only 1.7% of the Canadian population. They are now recognized as one of Canada’s aboriginal peoples under the Constitution Act of 1982, along with First Nations and Inuit peoples.


On this day, May 12, 1998, the Trisakti shootings, or the Trisakti Tragedy took place at Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia. A planned non-violent protest against the Suharto government started at the university on the 12th May 1998. By 10:00, over 6,000 students, lecturers, and staff had assembled in the university parking lot; the demonstrators began the protest by lowering the Indonesian flag to half-mast.

While the demonstration was primarily a protest over the declining economy, it is worth noting that the Indonesian government had a history of repression as well. The 1965 Tragedy in which 500,000 Communists were systematically murdered; later declared a genocide by an international tribunal, which also found the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia were all complicit in the crimes.

The Papua Conflict between the Indonesian government and the indigenous populations of Western New Guinea (Papua) since 1962, the East Timor Genocide (1975 to 1999)… Indonesia seems to have a propensity to use military force -with weapons supplied by the US and US allies- on ethnic, religious and ideological populations.

And May 12, 1998, was no different. During a demonstration against President Suharto, Indonesian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors. Four of the students (Elang Mulia Lesmana, Heri Hertanto, Hafidin Royan, and Hendriawan Sie) were killed and dozens more were injured. The shootings caused riots to break out throughout Indonesia eventually, in fact, leading to Suharto’s resignation.


What about self-immolation: Remember Thích Quảng Đức, the famous Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963. [Photo Credit: (AP), Malcolm Wilde Browne]. He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the American-supported South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm. John F. Kennedy said in reference to the Thích Quảng Đức picture, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” That photograph of the self-immolation is as powerful today, as it was then…

Even today, we see Tibetan monks and even civilians using self-immolation as a tactic to bring attention to the Hanification of Tibet and the repression of Tibetan culture, religion, and political self-determination…


Even in the US, there have been a series of hunger strikes in the extrajudicial detention in the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba. Apparently as early as 2002, then 2005-2008, and as recently as 2013, there have been hunger strikes by the detainees. Records show more than 80 inmates weight dropped below 100 lbs during the peak of these strikes. The organizer of many of these strikes, Shaker Aamer, was later repatriated to Saudi Arabia when the US Government admitted there was insufficient evidence for trial.


Self-immolation and hunger strikes. How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest? Buddhists monks have done it. Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved himself to death in the Maze Prison of Northern Ireland. Those Northern Irish Catholics also killed for their, albeit twisted means, but their belief in the right of the Irish to be independent of the UK, just like the Métis organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government although the rebellion was ultimately defeated on this day, May 12, 1885. And May 12, 1998, was no different. Four students were killed and dozens more were injured while demonstrating against the autocratic rule of President Suharto…


What would you die for? I know many of us would die for our family and friends, but Americans are blessed to live in relative safety compared to the rest of the world. What ideas would you die for, what principals would you sacrifice yourself for. Many of us would also probably defend our own demographic tribes, such as our government, as well as justice for our ethnic, religious and racial communities… would that we stood up as easily for other ethnic, religious, national and racial communities. Today, the Rohingya of Burma are dying, today the civilians of Yemen are dying by American weapons being used by Saudi forces, today the Syrian Civil War continues into its year… civilians that don’t look like many of us, Muslims who don’t pray like many of us, people that don’t live in our neighborhoods… It’s easy to stand up for our community and our beliefs, too bad we can’t stand up for other communities and people with differing political or religious beliefs as readily…

And that’s what happened This Day in Today…
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
I am, Tom Keefe, the Babbling Professor!
Thank you for listening!

Two Nazis and a Military Analyst Walk into a Bar… (May11th)

~May 11~

On this day, May 11, 1960, four Israeli Mossad agents, with the help of Simon Wiesenthal/the Nazi Hunter, captured fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann who was living under the alias of Ricardo Klement in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

After his trial in Israel and the denial of his appeal, Eichmann was scheduled for execution. He refused a last meal, instead, Eichmann requested a bottle of wine, and he also refused the traditional black execution hood.  His last words were:

“Long live Germany.  Long live Argentina.  Long live Austria.  These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget.  I greet my wife, my family, and my friends.  I am ready.  We’ll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men.  I die believing in God.”

He was executed shortly after midnight on June 1, 1962; his body was cremated at a secret location, and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea, outside of Israeli territorial waters by an Israeli Navy patrol boat…

And, I guess, that’s the end of the story, right?

Well, no, in my opinion, there’s more. How did Eichmann get to Argentina, how was he able to hide for so long, how was he found, and perhaps, most importantly, why was he not extradited, why was he kidnapped by one nation-state from inside another nation-state. Could you imagine the outcry if the Russian’s kidnapped an American in the US, and snuck him to Russia for trial?  Look at the situation in the UK, where Russians have assassinated and attempted to assassinate British residents twice in the past several years… if its outrageous for Russian operatives to work inside the UK, isn’t it somewhat outrageous that the Israeli Mossad operated within Argentina? Or are international norms only for the bad guys to follow? It seems, at times, that we have Double Standard in terms of expected international norms by state actors, and, additionally we don’t even always know what our government is doing.


Take this other example: On this day, May 11, 1973, the charges against Daniel Ellsberg, for his involvement in releasing the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, were dismissed. Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, had leaked/released the report to the Times. The report was a history of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967 and had demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress”. More specifically, the papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of its actions in the Vietnam War with the bombings of nearby Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, none of which were reported in the mainstream media.

The Pentagon Papers were announced and described on the front page of The New York Times in 1971. Ellsberg was initially charged with conspiracy, espionage, and theft of government property, because of the leaks… but on May 11, 1973, the charges were dismissed after the Watergate prosecutors discovered evidence that the Nixon White House had ordered the so-called White House Plumbers to engage in unlawful efforts to discredit Ellsberg.


Finally, on this day, May 11, 1987, Klaus Barbie went on trial in Lyon, France, for war crimes committed during World War II. Known as the “Butcher of Lyon,” Barbie personally tortured French prisoners of the Gestapo while stationed in Lyon. After the war, United States intelligence agencies used Barbie for their anti-Marxist efforts and also helped Barbie and others escape to South America. Later, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (the West German intelligence agency) recruited Barbie. Barbie is even rumored to have helped the CIA capture Che Guevara in 1967, as well as assisting in the Bolivian coup d’état orchestrated by Luis García Meza Tejada in 1980 [I mentioned that coup briefly on the May 5th podcast of This Day Today]. After the fall of that dictatorship, Barbie no longer had the protection of the Bolivian government. In 1983, Barbie was extradited to France, not kidnapped by French intelligence agents, and he was ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity. He died of cancer in prison on September 23, 1991.


May 11th: An Israeli operation, quite illegal from an objective point of view, to capture a Nazi; the arrest of an American who leaked to the public the truth of what the government was hiding from the American people, and the doll-faced Nazi named Barbie, who was recruited to work for the US Government as well as West Germany, even though both agencies knew him to be a war criminal.

Certainly, politics makes strange bedfellows. Yes, the enemy of my enemy, maybe my friend, but shouldn’t we have some standards? If its ok for the US to lie to the American people, to hire known war criminals, and to look the other way as Israel violates the national sovereignty of other nation-states… then, are we any better than those we criticize in the world community? Are we really the beacon on the hill, the New Jerusalem? …Or are we just another rogue state ourselves?


And that’s what happened This Day in Today…


Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.

Thank you for listening!

Will the ProJo give me a chance to reply?

In his original letter, Bourget said “I am also tired of politicians’ and news media’s comparing this war to Vietnam. I think it should be compared to World War II…On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists launched an unprovoked attack on New York City and Washington…The United States went to war to remove terrorists, and sever their support from host countries” (March 23, 2006). Then, in the second letter (which the ProJo afforded him the opportunity to print), Bourget said “I did not say in my letter that Iraq was connected to 9/11” (April 7, 2006 ProJo). Quite simply, Bourget is changing your argument. It was strongly implied that Bourget was linking 9/11 with Iraq. If he was not then why did he include all the casualty statisics from it? We impeached a president for slicing and dicing the word “is” and Bourget would have us slice and dice the word “say” so he can distance himself from the implications of his original letter. I also talked with “Other people” who drew the same conclusions from Bourget’s piece and thanked me for pointing out the errors and misleading nature.

While I even agree with most of Bourget’s second letter, he can not deny what he said in his first. Even in his second, again, Bourget makes blanket statements that are not true “Everyone thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction prior to our invasion.” The UN Weapons Inspectors said there was no evidence of WMD. The US Ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson said the allegations of Iraq gettting enriched uranium from Africa were false. [And of course, we now know the President punmished Wilson for speaking the truth but ruining his wife’s career with the CIA and putting her life in danger by identifying her as a CIA operative.] “Everyone” did not think Saddam had weapons of mass destruction; the correct statement would have been “Many people though Saddam HAD and wanted to develop WMD.”

And again, this is the danger of printing letters without including editorial notes. In Bourget’s piece on April 7th, there should have been an editor’s note that ran beneath that said not everyone thought Saddam had weapons. The failure to include such editing encourages misleading statements and artificially supports a war that is based on lies and assuptions.

Flipflop Republican?

See what happens when you throw facts at a ractionary conservative or quote their own words at them? They change their story to sound more reasonable. In his first letter, Bourget said “I am also tired of politicians’ and news media’s comparing this war to Vietnam. I think it should be compared to World War II…On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists launched an unprovoked attack on New York City and Washington…The United States went to war to remove terrorists, and sever their support from host countries.” That’s what he said, and when someone pointed out how stupid it was he backed off.

Friday, April 7, 2006
Regarding Tom Keefe’s April 3 letter (“9/11 not comparable to Pearl Harbor”): I did not say in my letter that Iraq was connected to 9/11 (“War in Iraq can be lost by sapping morale,” March 23). I said that we are in a war on terrorism and that Saddam Hussein was a terrorist. Everyone thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction prior to our invasion.
We know that he hates the United States as much as Osama bin Laden does. The invasion was a pre-emptive strike, so that a situation like 9/11 does not happen again — something that should have been done with Osama in the first place, especially after the first attack on the World Trade Center.

This is not a war like any other. Some of our enemies are right here on American soil. Anyone who hates America and is willing to hurt us is an enemy. They don’t even have to be Islamic. Remember Oklahoma City?

My point in writing my letter was to try and get people to support our troops, so they don’t lose their focus. It was not to try and convince people to agree with a war they don’t support. A united country stands tall; a divided country will fall.

As far as the comment Mr. Keefe made about the editor printing my letter, it is his opinion that it was not factual. Other people thought it was factual and praised it. Mr. Keefe should reread it and see if he can understand the true meaning behind it.

West Warwick

Why print factually incorrect letters?

As tired as Mr. Bourget is “of hearing all the negative comments about the war in Iraq” (Letter to the Editor 3/23/6 and added to the end of this email), I am equally tired of the endless misinformation about the connections between Iraq and 9/11. Mr. Bourget’s piece is passionate and well-articulated. However, his comparison of Pearl Harbor and WWII to 9/11 and Iraq is misleading and as dangerous as the negative comments he himself laments.

On September 11, 2001 fifteen Saudis (the remaining four came from Eqypt, Lebanon and the UAE) attacked the United States. None were Iraqi. Since the terrorists trained in Afghanistan, we had a direct link to justify our subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. But not Iraq. In July of 2004, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission issued its report and declared there is no evidence of a connection between 9/11 and Iraq (source The Congressional GAO Bourget’s regurgitation of incorrect information is irresponsible. Bourget calls on others to “stop playing ‘What if?’ games,” yet his plays the most dangerous game of ‘what if’ Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

I love this country and I support our troops. I worry and pray for both the troops and the civilians of Iraq. But do not use emotional games of misinformation to engender support for an unjust war. Furthermore, I also question the motives of the editors who choose to print factually incorrect letters.

In response to:
War in Iraq can be lost by sapping morale
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, March 23, 2006 ProJo
I am tired of hearing all the negative comments about the war in Iraq. We should be supporting our troops, and not commenting on a civil war that has not happened.
By saying that civil war is inevitable, we bring down the morale of the troops, and raise the morale of the insurgents. Now that Iraq is not under dictatorship, it has more access to what the American news agencies are reporting. So, unless it is factual, it should not be said.
I am also tired of politicians’ and news media’s comparing this war to Vietnam. I think it should be compared to World War II.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack on U.S. naval forces in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese killed 2,403 people that morning.The United States went to war to remove a dictator, Adolf Hitler, and to avenge the loss by declaring war on Japan. The war lasted about four years, costing about 300,000 soldiers’ lives, with another 300,000 wounded. American support never wavered, and the war ended with a victory.
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists launched an unprovoked attack on New York City and Washington. The World Trade Center was not a military target; it employed civilians. The Pentagon is a military facility but also employs civilians. If reports are correct, Flight 93 was supposed to hit the White House and kill more civilians. The terrorists killed 2,967 people that morning, the majority of them civilians. (That is 564 more than Pearl Harbor.) The United States went to war to remove terrorists, and sever their support from host countries.
At this point, we are three years in Iraq and have lost 2,317 soldiers, and another 17,004 have been wounded. We are still in a winning situation and will win, if we support instead of criticize. The only way we will lose is if the media and politicians undermine public support with their negative tone.
President Bush declared war on terrorism and is fighting it. His polls are dropping because he is not playing politics; he is doing what needs to be done.
Let’s support our troops and our president and stop playing “What if?” games. Let’s show support, so this war can end in victory for us and the world.
West Warwick

Diplomacy and War: Vietnam, and Iraq

At what point does a nation have the right to go to war without the blessing of the international community? Russia did not ask anyone if it could go to war with Chechnya or Afghanistan. Yet, Russia was adamantly against the use of force in Iraq. Jordan, Syria, and Egypt never asked permission to invade Israel. Did the United Kingdom ask permission to retake the Falkland Islands, when Argentina declared they wanted them back? Do you think that China will go before the U.N. to annex Taiwan?

Interesting points, but I would question comparisons to other wars.

1) Chechnya is an internal/civil war

2) The invasion of Afghanistan was an unjust, aggressive war perpetuated by a declining power in order to artificially mask internal problems and project a greater sphere of influence forcibly. The current government of Russia, while it has not made a complete break from its past is a significantly different country…would you say it was inconsistent for France to resist Nazi aggression since France itself sought to aggressively conquer Europe under Napoleon? I wouldn’t.

3) When Egypt, Jordan, and Syria invaded Israel, there was no “Israel” sort-of-speak…Israel was a paper creation of non-Middle Eastern powers by imposing UN Resolution 181. Nearly every new country was created by a conflict with its neighbors and/or previous owners of the land (perhaps with the exception of the Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution). Of course, they wouldn’t ask the UN, since it was the UN which had imposed Israel on the Middle East.

4) Again, the Falkland Island War, the UK was responding to an aggressive war by the Argentinians. A better point might have been to ask if Argentina asked to invade the islands, however, its worthy to note that many believe Argentina was baited into taking the Falkland Islands (

5) As for any possible mainland Chinese invasion of Taiwan, no China would not ask the UN because (as in the case of Chechnya) the tension between mainland China and Taiwan is technically an internal matter. In fact, there is no country in the world that recognizes both “countries,” even the UN itself recognizes only one.

Most importantly though, the invasions of Chechnya and the Falkland Island were a response to attacks by the Chechnyans and Argentinians respectfully. Therefore it is nearly impossible to compare these conflicts to the Iraq War in which there was no prior attack by Iraq.

Also, we did not fight Vietnam alone. How about Australia, New Zealand and The Republic of Korea? Likewise, we are not going it alone in Iraq. How about Australia, England, Spain, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, and Japan? Saying the United States is fighting alone is misleading. The United States is not going it alone; it is going it without the United Nations and there is a difference. Just throwing some food for thought out there. Nothing personal.

Technically you are correct and so I obviously agree with you. On the other hand, it is my understanding that when the comment “going it alone” is made, it is meant figuratively rather than literally. Waltz (p.302) points out that at any given point, there are only eight powers. Only one of the world powers backed the US invasion, while the others opposed it. One of the best differences between the two coalitions in 1990/91 versus 2003 is that in 1990 the US received active military support from regional (and Muslim) powers. No regional powers or countries gave any military support to the war in 2003. Turkey, a member of NATO, even refused the US access to Iraq through Turkey.

I also don’t believe the US use of force in Iraq is not deterrence because Art goes on to say that “If a threat has to be carried out, deterrence by definition has failed” (Kaufman, p.81). I believe Art would call the Iraq War compellence, not deterrence.

Finally, I agree with the basic problem you’ve identified…”At what point does a nation have the right to go to war without the blessing of the international community?” It seems to me that there three types of war: formation, aggression, and defense/response. The US has fought eleven major wars and I would divide them as follows: Formation (AmRev, 1812, Civil War), Aggression (MexAm, SpanAm, Vietnam, Iraq), and Defense/Response (WWI, WWII, Korea, Persian Gulf). Few people question wars fought (if it’s successful) or in defense/response. Nor do I believe a country needs international blessings. But to initiate an aggressive war without an international blessing is what seems questionable.

Fair or not, the comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq start early in that they were both begun with lies…The Tonkin Gulf Resolution and Colin Powell’s Presentation to the UN.