The following was submitted as a letter to the editor at The Guardian
On September 12, 2018, The Guardian reported that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), in California, allowed ads in two of their stations produced by the organization, The Institute for Historical Review (IHR). IHR has been classified as a Nazi-defending hate group which promotes Holocaust denial. The BART spokesperson, Alicia Trost, says the company cannot deny the ads. Why not? Of course the company can, it simply chooses not to. Train companies cannot sidestep the messy realm of ethics.
Having worked for over a decade as a senior advertising executive before earning a doctorate focusing on corporate accountability, I find the company’s position deplorable. My research focuses on the role of the French National Railways (SNCF) in the transport of deportees in World War II towards death camps in horrific conditions. I also study the contemporary debates over whether the company has made sufficient amends to do business in the U.S. The SNCF’s participation in the Holocaust makes clear that companies cannot position themselves as not playing a moral role in society. Another example: In 1993, RTLMC, a Rwandan radio station, promoted the genocide against the Tutsi people. Serving as a vehicle hate speech, the radio station proved just as crucial for the fulfillment of the Rwandan genocide as trains proved crucial for the Holocaust.
While the first amendment protects free speech, companies have a right to refuse service. BART can contact the SNCF and the victims to learn more about the consequences of pretending ethics do not apply to them.
Champions du Monde!!
It’s 9:30am I’m sitting Place Charles de Gaulle in Lille, France, the morning after France wins the World Cup.
Every time I look up from my computer, « Champions du Monde: Merci les Blues!” greets my eyes.
The town center is already spotless—the all night festivities washed away – now the side streets are getting their power washing. No smell of beer, urine, or the sweat of the thousands upon thousands of folks here last night.
Last night, after the game, I joined the mostly under thirty crowd– cheering, dancing, and swirling around for hours without destroying themselves or anyone else. Red and blue smoke filling our lungs and occasional fireworks rattling our ear drums, but other than that we were fine. I usually associate mobs waving national flags with revolution and/or all its accompaniments (hate-filled discourse, looting, violence, and, ultimately – death).
War and Sport in Celebratory France
Arriving in May allowed Ron Niezen and me to enjoy the celebrations at each turn. In the past few weeks, we have heard the Marseilles over 50 times (but still don’t know the words). French flags grow out of the ground and sprout out of windows at every turn. Car buses in Paris honked in unison whenever France scored a goal, even in the semi-finals.
(Now, Ron permitted me to note how he dragged me away from the Hotel Crillon where we were about to see the team heading out to the World Cup. There were 20 of us then. Now I'm watching about 1,000,000 people waiting to catch a glimpse of them returning home...he'll never live that down).
Anyway, to have this celebration – to have this win – inspired this already self-proclaimed optimist for many reasons. In part, because this country has been so rattled by terrorist attacks. To see such fêtes lead to little more than hangovers, dirty streets, and strained vocal cords is a true victory. This experience inspired me for another reason.
This past week at SciencesPo Lille, in my course on Approaches to Conflict in a Globalized World, we talked about sports and conflict and considered sport as a replacement for war.
Of course, suggesting that Boko Haram might be up for a game of volleyball seems more than far-fetched. Stateless militant groups might not be willing to trade guns for soccer cleats but for the nation-state I’m hoping it is still possible. And maybe if we get to young folk before they join terrorist organizations, we can have a chance with them too.
We Americans only see this unity of country and team during the Olympics. That energy is diffused by so many different sporting events. No one knows all the athletes. Anyone interested can quickly learn about all the football (soccer) team members. And unlike the Olympics – which is largely an individual test – the World Cup is about team. We Americans have grown up on a steady diet of individualism. So this “family” nature of the sport promotes values in which we might be in short supply. It felt nourishing.
Lastly, seeing nationalism with the involvement of state leaders unaccompanied by military agenda feels almost utopic. Yesterday evening, Croatian and French team members individually greeted Putin and Macron on the football field. The soccer field instead of the battlefield.
For a moment, at least during this cappuccino, I can pretend we are in a post-war era of humanity. Of course, even the morning after we’re not post-problem. Four homeless-looking young men asked me for money while I wrote this short piece and beautiful young French girls continue to fill their lungs with cigarette smoke.
Of course, sport isn’t replacing war anytime soon, it cannot solve most problems, but after years of studying the causes and effects of war, don’t mind me if I relish a few more days this feeling of well-being and hope for a nationalism without hate.
To complement Christie’s work, I provide a framework for ideal perpetrators. They are 1) perceived as strong, 2) abstractable (inhuman), 3) representative of the nature of the crime, and 4) have a champion-opponent, someone who keeps them in the news.
To demonstrate, I use the example of the French National Railways (SNCF), which for the past decade has found itself embroiled in lawsuits and legislative battles in the U.S. over its role in the World War II deportation of Jewish deportees towards death camps.
This article, published in Security Dialogue, side-steps the question of the SNCF’s guilt (addressed more fully in my forthcoming book), focuses on why the SNCF remains in the news while other culpable actors hide in the shadows (i.e. the French police who conducted the round-ups and corporations like IBM and Ford).
When we focus on one perpetrator, many other guilty parties hide in the shadows, like the guard in the photo above. Furthermore, by isolating the perpetrators always as someone or something outside ourselves, we skip the important work of considering how we, our policies, our societal values, etc. contribute to mass violence. Without this work, we will likely find ourselves in conflict again.
Scholar Vivienne Jabri argues the creation of these victim and perpetrator groups is violence. Once we begin to exclude members of society, we begin the process of legitimizing violence against them. We then become the agents of suffering and the cycle continues. If the processes of separating victims and perpetrators is violence, is it not vital to understand how we select our perpetrators?
FOR THE FULL ACADEMIC ARTICLE PLEASE VISIT:
Security Dialogue Federman, Sarah. The 'ideal perpetrator': The French National Railways and the social construction of accountability
Albright, Madeline, Conversation after presentation From Words to Action, the Responsibility to Protect, The United States Holocaust Museum, July 23, 2013.
Braithwaite J (2004) Restorative justice: Theories and worries. Visiting Experts’ Papers: 123rd International Senior Seminar, Resource Material Series 63: 47-56.
Christie N (1986) The ideal victim. In: Fattah EA (ed.) From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. London, UK: Macmillan, 17-30.
Federman, Sarah. The Last Trains to Auschwitz: The French National Railways’ Role in the Holocaust and the Struggle to Make Amends. (Under review)
Jabri V (1996) Discourses on Violence: Conflict Analysis Reconsidered. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Minow M (1999) Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
One of the conundrums of teaching conflict resolution is that we can become really, really good at explaining why things are such a mess. We have thousands of theories and empirical studies to help explain our conundrums and many reasons to just put our heads in our hands and give up.
Unfortunately, when studying problems you can forgot how much power and voice you DO have.
That's why, this semester, half-way through a masters class at the University of Baltimore on Ethnic and Cultural Factors of Conflict, I decided students needed to be reminded of their power by cultivating their voices.
The Extra Credit Assignment
I offered students the following extra credit assignment:
1. Write a letter to someone in power (could be a politician, business owner, etc)
2. Tell them what you're concerned about
3. Tell them why it matters to you
4. Then tell them exactly what you want them to do about it.
I wanted to share this with folks, in case you have students and can assign this as well. If every student in graduate or undergraduate school wrote a letter, can you imagine the amount of voices we would have active in this country?
Nawal Rajeh, co-fouder of By Peaceful Means, Baltimore's free Peace Camp, knows all about this power of engagement. Her campers repeatedly and successfully protested the closure of the pools in their Baltimore neighborhoods. They were not even teenagers!
If you have folks you can assign this to, for credit or extra-credit, please consider doing so.
I study how we talk about evildoers and how this affects how we respond to them. When we label folks or events as "evil" we never have to reflect on our own role in the crime, violence, or loss.
We love these good-bad binaries. Our superhero films are filled with them. They bring us comfort, they reassure us of our pure victimhood and help us identify the bad guys so we will not be harmed in the future.
What I am finding, however, is how we talk about the "enemy" often sets us up for more long-term problems.
Negotiating with IRMA
I spent most of Sunday terrified as IRMA barreled towards my family huddled on the 4th floor of a condo in Naples, Florida. First we waited to find out if they lost the roof and if the windows had blown in. Then we waited to see if they could survive the 10-15 foot anticipated storm surge.
First we focused on their lives and then all their few, but most precious possessions. The surge never came and the roof remained, but we are all changed. Below is a photo of one IRMA victim near their home.
I began last night's negotiation class last night talking about times when negotiation is NOT possible -- IRMA you cannot negotiate with IRMA. And yesterday was the 9/11 anniversary. You cannot negotiate very well with folks willing to die to drive a plane into a building. Accountability seems very clear in these instances; IRMA ruined the beaches and the terrorists killed those working in the Twin Towers. This seems so clear.
Is IRMA Innocent?
Then a National Geographic video challenged this narrative that IRMA and her friend JOSE are at fault. They showed how rising sea temperatures increase the likelihood of category 4 and 5 hurricanes. Some scientists anticipate these can become the norm, not the exception. My parents survived one, but I am not sure they can survive another.
National Geographic talked about how this administration will not acknowledge any connection between climate change and these hurricanes. This made me wonder, who benefits when we externalize IRMA and JOSE making us innocent victims of these abstract, inhuman perpetrators? Does industry benefit? Do consumers unwilling to change their behavior benefit?
By naming them and blaming the storms, we opt out of responsibility wherever it does lie. I am not a scientists, I cannot say whether rising temperatures are causing these hurricanes. But no one wants to inhale pollution, everyone wants clean water. Rather than just being victims of an outside terror, the storms are if not a call at least an opportunity to step up and cool down the planet.
Back in April, I popped into Grinnell College for a few weeks to teach a course on the role of market actors in mass atrocity and to give a campus-wide presentation on the French National Railways (SNCF) as a case study.
The school organized a lovely talk, filling the room with students, faculty and community members. (After you've been doing this for awhile, you appreciate all the good planning. Presenting to two people at 8:30am after traveling hundreds of miles is the pits). Grinnell does it right.
The Peace and Conflict program had me had me in a bright, cheerful room in the library. I offered my presentation, talking mostly about responses to the Holocaust in France and only briefly mentioning my research with genocide survivors in Indonesia.
At the end of the talk, Valerie Vetter, who used to run the Peace and Conflict Program came running up to me.
"We need to talk. I was so surprised you called it an Indonesian "genocide." I had always heard it described as a "coup."
I got a bit nervous at first. Not because I doubted my word choice, but because the identification of what happened in 1965 in Indonesia is still contested. Some people who where in power then are still in power now. They are, as the expression goes, "Holding each other's beards."
The Holocaust is easier to study and write about than the Indonesian genocide because Germany accepted responsibility. (So did the French, except for Marine Le Pen who -- during this past election -- tried to rescind France's acceptance of its role. Sigh.)
Valerie and I were not going to cover the whole subject in a brief five-minute chat. So, she invited me to lunch. Her husband Roger was an ethnomusicologist at Grinnell College. He specialized in the Javanese Gamelan. That's an enormous instrument played by many people simultaneously. The two had spent much time in Indonesia.
Coup vs. Genocide: What's in a name?
Valerie made us a delicious Indonesian lunch of Gado Gado. We sat for a couple hours discussing this question of "Coup" versus "Genocide."
I started by saying that I had always heard the term genocide to describe what happened when Suharto took power from Sukarno.
During my field research, my colleges and I (led by Indonesianist Leslie Dwyer) went to Jakarta to see how the government spoke about what happened during that year when over a million people were murdered and power changed hands.
I explained to Valerie and Roger how we explored the national narrative at "The Communist Museum of Treachery"
National Narratives of Genocide
So what is this museum of treachery? Well, in Jakarta, a very cheap way to spend your day is to visit this museum-- kept inexpensive to encourage people to come. The museum has enormous dioramas showing Sukarno handing over power peacefully to Suharto. These were life-sized models enacting the events-- as they decided they unfolded.
The Communist Museum of Treachery is not at some random location-- it's at one of the most infamous sites in the country. The story goes, a number of top military generals were thrown down this well as part of a coup attempt. The photo below is of said well.
The funny thing is, Suharto was the only top military general untouched by the alleged coup. (This is the coup Valerie had heard about.) The museum recounts the tale of these generals, offers old uniforms and personal artifacts of each. Then, in display after display talks about all the terrible things the "communists" did to disrupt the country. Now, "communist" was more of a label than necessarily an affiliation. One could be labeled a "communist" simply to make them a target of the government. In fact, during our research when I asked survivors and their descendants what a communist was, few had a very clear answer.
It just meant, "enemy of the state."
The museum did not talk about the estimated 1 million people murdered. But it justified an actions taken against them. The image below is a display on the exterior of the museum showing how theses "communists" tortured innocent people.
Definitely not a kids museum....
When it comes to "coup" versus "genocide", we're really not saying "pot-a-to" vs. "po-tot-to." There's a significant difference between a group trying to overthrow a stable government and the mass murder of folks.
Valerie, Roger and I had a good chat about this. They were astonished at the narrative I had learned about what happened. We compared versions of history. None of us had been there. We all rely on stories, confessions and video footage. If you want more gruesome testimony, have a look at the films, The Act of Killing or The Look of Silence. Again, not for kids, I and I don't recommend watching it after 8pm. It disrupts the dream world.
Thanks to the Vetters for sparking this great conversation.
(This blog is part of the Never Eat Alone series)
The Never Eat Alone Series
In 2005, Keith Ferrazzi came out with a business book called Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success One Relationship at a Time. Now in its second edition, Ferrazzi discusses importance of relationships for professional advancement.
The book sparked an idea!
What would happen if I started to avoid eating alone?
What kinds of incredible conversations might I have?
The purpose of this series is to record these rich conversations and inspire others to eat with others. See where these conversations take you. I would love to hear your stories, so please add them in the comments below!
Once governments, institutions, and the public acknowledge past human rights abuses, it has become a common practice for the perpetrating entity (even if all the actual perpetrators are dead) to issue an apology, commemorate the victims, offer transparency, and in some cases, offer compensation. Usually this occurs only after the harm has been made visible by an outside group. This happened in 2016 to Georgetown University.
Georgetown University acknowledged (with some encouragement) that the institution sold 272 individuals as slaves to sugar plantations to keep the college afloat. A Georgetown working group, organized by the university’s president agreed to apologize, name a building after one of these enslaved men and offer descendants of these enslaved people priority admission. A good step. Sadly, as The New York Times pointed out, they did not offer to cover the cost of this education. So, these students could be saddled with $240,000 in debt at graduation. The school loses nothing; it keeps its money and boosts its reputation by showing a willingness to compensate descendants of slavery.
While rather stingy when it comes to compensation, Georgetown University made a move that could lead to a very interesting, and important response to slavery. With the African American Museum just blocks away from Georgetown in Washington D.C., the question of what to do about compensation for slavery hangs in the air. With the U.S. Holocaust museum just across the Mall, it stands as a constant reminder that some victims of slavery and persecution have been compensated in some way.
Money as compensation for violations
As part of my doctoral research, I interviewed over 80 Holocaust survivors about their thoughts on compensation. Man survivors received compensation in the 1990s or later and made comments like, “The money was nice, but it was after the war when I needed it.”
Many had no homes, no jobs, no bank accounts, and nothing to eat. France, for example was tremendously poor after the war. After returning to Paris from Auschwitz, Daniel recalls the bank telling him his family account was closed due to inactivity. Daniel told me, “I understood the bank had their policies, but it really hurt.”
The French, like many other, were quite poor after the war. People wore wooden shoes and used wood to fuel cars. People starved. Survivors lived in train stations. They needed the money then. (As did those freed after the Civil War.)
Some Holocaust survivors still desperately need money. Today, in Haifa, Israel a Christian organization cares for some of the very poor Holocaust survivors as does BlueCard in the United States.
But in most cases, the money arriving fifty or more years after the war was symbolic. Survivors told me they used the money for a piano, to build an addition on their house, to buy a locket for photos of murdered loved ones. In many cases, it was the letter of apology that meant more.
What's Better than Money? An Education
These hundreds of hours of conversation with Holocaust survivors made me think about financial compensation for irreparable harm. When I read the story about Georgetown, a new idea was born.
I heard an idea espoused during a book group dinner hosted by Dr. Sara Cobb, professor and Director of the Center for Narrative and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, I thought, “That’s it!”
A number of faculty and a few students were at Dr. Sara Cobb’s house discussing Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter about race to his fourteen-year-old son. Because a number of us study how societies can and do respond in the aftermath of human rights violations, we soon moved to the question of compensation for slavery
Sara Cobb thought the best solution would be to give three generations of all descendants of slavery free higher education.
Free Education for Three Generations
Dr. Cobb suggested this because this would not only be a recognition of the harm and a significant financial contribution to folks, especially those attending schools with tuitions up to $60k/year, such a program would help up-end the structural disadvantages many African Americans still suffer. African American men are the group most incarcerated. Their salaries and advancement remain far below the average white American. Slavery has ended, segregation has ended, but structural violence remains entrenched.
This issue is close to my heart because this fall I will be starting as an Assistant Professor of Negotiations and Conflict Management within the University of Baltimore’s School for Public Affairs. The school ranks high in social mobility. Many of my students, masters students, will be first generation college students. I am concerned about the amount of debt my students will carry upon graduation. I do not want them to be saddled with debt that holds them back. Many taking my class will be working full-time and have young kids. I will do my part by not wasting their time in the classroom.
I also love the idea of having three generations (starting NOW) of descendants of slaves receiving an education. I would love if the University of Baltimore had the endowment to offer this.
The idea needs to be worked through, of course. There would be many details to consider. Would it be for any college? Who would pay for it? At the very least, I believe in no age limit. If you’re 85 and want to go to college, good for you! It’s never too late.
Perhaps you can help us come up with some answers. My goal today was, with Dr. Sara Cobb’s permission, simply to share her brilliant idea and see how it may grow now passed on to you.