The Soldier who Liberated Ohrdruf-Buchenwald Concentration Camps, What He Saw and Why He Never Talked about It

Written by C. Cole Fairbanks l @ccole_f

Captain, and later Colonel, George Fairbanks smoking a Chesterfield cigarette and saying his farewells before deploying to Europe with the 4th armored division in the Spring of 1943 (Reiff Center)

Colonel George Fairbanks never talked about the war in Europe.  He only mentioned that following the infamous Battle of the Bulge, “I could never keep my feet warm again.”

George, 24 years old, was hours away from graduating as part of Norwich University’s class of 1939 when he and the rest of his class received their marching orders.  They were shipped off to Texas that afternoon to train for a war they now believed was coming.

3 months later, Hitler invaded Poland.  America prepared for the worst.

Young and determined, George would become one of the first American “iron soldiers” to operate the modern M4 Sherman tanks as part of the United States’ newly created 4th armored division.

Although the rolling hills of Texas provided an ideal training ground for American G.I’s to drill their tanks, nothing could prepare George and his young classmates for the horrors that laid in store for them in Belgium and Germany.

5 years later – winter 1944 – Captain Fairbanks’ 4th armored division breaks through the German lines in Bastogne, Belgium.  The German counter-offensive ends.  The Allies continue their push into the heart of Germany.

You actually may of heard of the “breakthrough” 4th armored division due to its recent popularization in the latest film, Fury (2014), starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf.  Above is the movie trailer that includes Sergeant Collier’s (Brad Pitt) famous quote:

“Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.”

4th armored and 89th infantry divisions liberate Ohrdruf, the first discovered concentration camp on the Western Front. Upon entering, American G.I’s immediately find 70 dead bodied scattered in the courtyard on April 4, 1945 (

Holocaust rumors are confirmed and documented as ‘worse than ever imagined’  

George, 30 years old, was by this time a seasoned fighter.  He had spent the past winter carrying and burying the bodies of his fallen Norwich classmates in the frozen dirt.  But now spring had finally come, and the soil began to thaw into mud as the 4th armored division rolled into the first Jewish concentration camp to be liberated by American troops.

Here is the actual footage of what George saw in 1945 but never talked about:

1.)  70 starved bodies shot dead by machine guns laying in the courtyard

According to survivors, 150 died daily, mainly from shooting or clubbing.  The Nazis fed prisoners a crust of bread each day, worked them until they were exhausted, exterminated them, and then replaced them with 150 new prisoners.

“It was a beautiful spring morning…[the camp] was surrounded by a by a high barbed wire fence and had a wooden sign that read ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (work makes you free)…As we stepped into the compound, one was greeted by an overpowering odor of quicklime, dirty clothing, feces, and urine.  Lying in the center of the square were 60-70 dead prisoners clad in striped clothing and in disarray.” – Bruce Nickols; 89th Infantry Division, 3rd Army U.S.A

“The Americans who went through the camp looked quietly at the dead and spoke softly to the living…Colonel Hayden Sears, [Captain Fairbanks’ commander and longtime friend] assembled the leading citizens of Ohrdruf and took them to visit the camp of death.  Col. Sears spoke to them through an interpreter, ‘You have been brought here to see with your own eyes what is reprehensible by any human standard…we hold the entire German nation responsible because of its support and toleration of the Nazi Government.” – Sgt. Saul Levitt; May 18,, 1945

2.)  65 naked bodies cross stacked like ‘cordwood’ in a nearby shed

“[There] was a small shed which was open on one side.  Inside, were bodies stacked in alternate directions as one would stack cordwood, and each layer was covered with a sprinkling of quicklime.” – Bruce Nickols; 89th Infantry Division, 3rd Army U.S.A

“[The] bodies were piled in one place…tumbled together on top of each other in a nearby shack…some of the bodies were clothed in rags and some were completely naked…Blood had caked the ground around the bodies into puddles of red mud” – Sgt. Saul Levitt; May 18,, 1945

3.)  10 bodies laid on a grill made of railroad lines, burned to ashes

“Does this meet with your conception of the German master race?” – Col. Sears; April 8, 1945

One German officer answered, “I cannot believe that Germans did this.”  George and his division seized Ohrdruf’s townspeople from their homes by gunpoint and forced them to dig the graves of the thousands slaughtered during the carnage.

The mayor and his wife committed suicide later that day.

General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and later president of the United States, tours the Ohrdruf concentration camp shortly after its liberation by U.S. forces on April 12, 1945 (Ron Johnson/Matthew Nash/

Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley arrive to tour the camp and witness the horror for themselves

“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses – because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.” - General Dwight D. Eisenhower; April 1945

According to the 80 survivors, 3000 – 4000 prisoners had been slain by SS troops.  The rest were marched back to Ohrdruf’s mother camp – the infamous Buchenwald.

This site, although small compared to other internment camps such as Auschwitz, made strong impact on General Eisenhower, who requested that American journalists and members of Congress thoroughly document the atrocities taken place.

Eisenhower wrote:

“We continue to uncover German concentration camps for political prisioners in which conditrions of indescribable horror prevail.  I have visited one of these myself and I assure you that whatever has been printed on them to date is an understatement.” –Eisenhower; April 1945

General Patton was also personally affected by Ohrdruf.  In fact, he refused to enter the ‘punishment shed’ due to nausea, which eventually left him vomiting later that afternoon.  In his diary, Patton recounted the site being, “one of the most appalling things that I have ever seen.”

70 years later – winter 2015 – International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp, is now a museum. Photo taken September 24, 2009 (FaceMePLS/Creative Commons/Flickr)

Remembering those slain during the Holocaust

January 27, 2015.  President Obama today marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement:

“[Today] demands from us the courage to protect the persecuted and speak out against bigotry and hatred,” Obama said.

See Related: How to Remember the Victims

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris are “a painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms,” he added, “including the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust.”

The president also said:

“This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made confronting this terrible chapter in human history and on our continuing efforts to end genocide.” David Jackson, USA Today

See Related:  Anti-Semitism and Islamic Extremism in Paris

Senior politicians, dignitaries and religious leaders will join survivors at a national commemoration ceremony in central London.  There, 70 candles, representing the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, will be lit at the ‘Death Wall’ near Block 11  to remember those who were lost. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron will be present among other world leaders.

The only question really left now is why George never talked about what happened.

One of many survivors from Auschwitz, Mr. Knoller, may be able help answer this question.  As part of the same ‘Greatest’ generation, Knoller like George, never spoke about the war and for years tried to suppress the memories of what he experienced:

“I didn’t talk about it for 35 years, Knoller said. “But one evening my family forced me to. We stayed up until 4:00am talking. “Before I ever spoke about it I had lots of nightmares, but after that the nightmares stopped.”

Reportedly, George never had extreme nightmares. But he did smoke Chesterfield cigarettes and drank Early Times bourbon before going to bed every night, which may have actually helped him sleep better.

One thing was certain, like many from his generation, he never wanted to talk about it.

Perhaps the despair of burying his dead ’39 classmates and the reality of Ohrdruf was too much for him to bear to remember, let alone talk about.  After 30 years of service, Col. George Fairbanks retired from the army and spent the last decade of his life baking and building wooden clocks and furniture.

Maybe this lifestyle of creating instead of destroying was his way of reconciling with a past filled with death, destruction, and sadness.

At his funeral, shots were fired in the air as it began to snow.  In a white symbolic scene, very much reminiscent to the Battle of the Bulge, George was lowered into the frozen dirt to join his dead classmates.  On the other side, it is possible they were already waiting for him to attend their prolonged graduation ceremony –  Norwich University, Class of 1939.

A memorial stone marks the place where millions died at Auschwitz-Birkenau at the hands of the Nazis. Photo taken September 24, 2009 (FaceMePLS/Creative Commons/Flickr)

For George, Doris, and Jeff.


Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the authors’ opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

A Step in the Right Direction: Ending Organ Harvesting in China

Photo: 上達 葉
Photo: 上達 葉

When I was 16 years old, I, like so many teens before me, reached a milestone in my life: I received my driver’s license. This meant no more relying on mom to drop me off at school, no more asking older friends for rides to tennis practice; I was finally free to drive on my own, and the world was mine to explore. After what seemed like hours of waiting at the DMV, I quickly filled out the information which would be inscribed on my license. My sex, my eye color, my date of birth: all listed off quickly and without much of an afterthought. These were all questions that I was used to being asked. However, there was inquiry I had never seen before. When you fill out the information for your license, the form asks you if you wish to be designated as an organ donor. Though at the time it did not seem like an important decision to make, looking back, I wish I had given the question more thought. Organ transplants save thousands of lives each year. In the United States, 28,953 people received organ transplants in 2013. While organ transplantation and donation is both relatively high and safe compared to other countries, China is a profoundly different story.

January 1st of this year marked China’s end in its practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners. China has one of the highest needs for organ transplants in the world, and yet has one of the lowest transplant rates, with only 6 transplants per million people  in 2013.  What is especially striking about this statistic is that 65% of the donors are deceased, with 90% of those donors being executed prisoners. Human rights groups around the world protested organ harvesting, manly due to the accusations that the country quickens the execution process in order to increase its organ yield. 

Falun Gong Protesting Organ Harvesting (Photo: William Murphy)
Falun Gong Protesting Organ Harvesting (Photo: William Murphy)

Many of these prisoners are members of  Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a relatively new and rapidly growing spiritual movement that stresses “Truthfulness, Compassion,and Forbearance.” It was first practiced in 1992 by Li Hongzhi and grew quickly. By 1999, it had over 70 million members and was larger than the  Communist Party with  61 million members. The Party saw this movement as a threat, labeling it as a “heretical organization,” and instituted an immediate crackdown which included anti-Folun Gong propaganda and the detention of thousands of practitioners in the years since.

Many of these prisoners have been executed.  Ethan Gutmann, for example, estimates that 64,000 Falun Gong practitioners were executed for their organs from 2000 to 2008 ( The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Descendant Problem). A similar study by former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas shows that there have been roughly 41,500 transplants originating from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.

Falun Gong Protesting Organ Harvesting (Photo: William Murphy)
Falun Gong Protesting Organ Harvesting (Photo: William Murphy)o

Interestingly enough, despite the low transplant rate, the waiting time for an organ is much shorter and the cost of a transplant much lower in China as compared to the rest of the world. This led to transplant “tourists,” who, frustrated by the long waiting times in their country, often travel to China to receive a timely transplant. This suggests prisoners executions are expedited in order to meet this demand. China’s prison system is notorious for its prisoner abuse and its lack of transparency. Prisoners have little say in their organs being harvested, and their human rights are completely disregarded. The use of executed prisoners as a source of organs is a morally despicable and illegal practice under international human rights law.

Some first hand accounts have even claimed organs are harvested while the subjects are still alive. In one chilling testimonial in front of the Scottish Parliament, Dr. Enver Tohti, a Uighur, recalled how he was asked to remove the liver and kidneys from a prisoner who had just been executed by a firing squad. When cutting open the subject, he found that rather than no blood being drawn from the incision, the prisoner began to bleed profusely, indicating that he was still alive.

China’s decision to discontinue forced organ harvesting of prisoners will create issues for the Communist Party. China heavily relies on the prisoner’s organs to meet the demands for transplants as only 0.6 out of every one million people have volunteered to donate their organs posthumously. With China’s population being 1.35 billion in 2013, if no prisoners have their organs extracted when they die, only 8,100 organs will be available for transplants.  If considering that a successful transplantation is based on the premise that  the organ is healthy and matches the blood type and tissue of the recipient, an even smaller number of organs will be available. Only 1 in every 20 organs will meet these criteria, which will hardly accommodate the estimated 300,000 requests for transplants.

Gate of Shanghai's Tilanqiao Prison, one of the most notorious places of organ harvesting (Source: WikiCommons)
Gate of Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison, one of the most notorious places of organ harvesting (Source: WikiCommons)

There are also significant cultural barriers that restrict a transition to a purely voluntary system for organ transplants. In Eastern philosophy the body and the soul are considered to be equally important. In China, it is believed that your body must remain intact after death in order for your soul to be reincarnated. Some have viewed organ transplants as a noble aspiration, and would act as a “continuation” of their life, yet this is still a minority view in the country. Others have expressed the hope that with the rise of information accessibility and the new generation, modern views regarding the issue will rise in popularity, yet, even if this is so, the old beliefs of China will persist for quite some time, especially in China’s agrarian heartland.In addition, an ancient belief in Chinese culture conveys that your body belongs to your parents, so a parent must provide consent in order for their child to be an organ donor. The Communist Party will still allow for prisoners to become organ donors before they are executed if they have permission from their parents. However, this hardly mitigates human rights concerns, as parental consent can be easily forced or forged.

An additional concern is that the donated organs will be sold on the black market. In August of 2011, police arrested gang members for attempting to recruit individuals online to smuggle kidneys disguised as frozen food. A kidney can sell for $32,000 on the Chinese black market. With corruption in the Chinese government already rampant, officials will be quick to look for other means to offset the loss in profits created by the outlaw of forced organ harvest. Illegal selling of donated organs will be high on their lists, as the organizational infrastructure and contacts already exists, and with a restriction of supply the payouts will grow even higher.

President Xi Jinping (Photo: Global Panorama)
President Xi Jinping (Photo: Global Panorama)

So what could China do to solve this dilemma? First and foremost, Xi Jinping’s government needs to abide by their January 1st resolution to discontinue the harvesting of prisoner’s organs. This activity is an affront to the basic human decency rights of prisoners and needs to stop immediately. Ideally, this would also lead to better treatment of the Falun Gong detainees. A hard stance on prohibiting organ harvesting would distinguish President Xi Jinping from his predecessors as a progressive president. For a short-term solution, the government should encourage greater enrollment in the voluntary organ donation scheme. Explicit government support could have a great impact on attitudes towards organ donation in China, and further monetary incentives would support this growth. In the long term, China needs to invest in organ generation through stem cells. If developed in an efficient and cost effective manner, this method would accommodate the needs of the population without necessitating organ donations.


Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the authors’ opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”








Why 2015 May Be the Start of Something Bigger than #BlackLivesMatter

Written by C. Cole Fairbanks l @ccole_f

Ferguson protest at Penn State
Penn State student Zaniya Joe wears a piece of tape over her mouth that says “Black Lives Matter” during a Ferguson protest organized by a group of Penn State University students on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, in University Park, Pa. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/TNS via Getty Images)

This year I spent a week prior to Christmas in New York City, America’s ethnic and cultural melting pot. I have frequented NYC many times, but this year, something different stood out in the midst of holiday shoppers in Manhattan.

There was a feeling of discontent and controversy that could be felt by everyone.

On the streets of Chinatown, peaceful demonstrators swarmed streets and sidewalks, chanting popularized slogans such as: “no justice, no peace,” “this is what democracy looks like,” and of course the most popular, “black lives matter.”

#BlackLivesMatter was voted 2014’s word of the year. But perhaps this movement and other sporadic ones like it are just the start of something much bigger.

Perhaps, these Progressive trends will not only continue to gain steam in 2015 and 2016 presidential elections, but also usher in a new era of sweeping reforms reminiscent of the Progressive Era and Civil Rights Movement during the early 1900’s and 1960’s respectively.

Here are 3 reasons why:

Protester in NYC stands in solidarity with Ferguson, MO, encouraging a boycott of Black Friday Consumerism on November 28, 2014 (The All-Nite Images/Creative Commons/Flickr)

1.) The majority of Americans no longer believe their justice system is colorblind

The first item on America’s list of ‘things to fix’ is the judicial system. Today, fewer than 4-in-10 (38%) Americans believe that black Americans and other minorities receive the same treatment as white Americans in the criminal justice system.

Just one year ago, the public was evenly divided, with nearly half (47%) the public agreeing that all Americans in the criminal justice system receive equal treatment regardless of race. Interestingly, the biggest drop in confidence came from Millennials (age 18-29), who are now 21% more likely to believe that their judicial system is tailored towards whites.

But why the sudden change? Was it the Trayvon Martin case? Does #BlackLivesMatter’s integration with social media more directly impacts Millennials?

Here are some disturbing videos that may help explain the American public’s growing concern with police brutality and the indictment process and/or lack of for police officers.

There is plenty of reason to believe that the media frenzy revolving around the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as well as the consequential #BlackLivesMatter movement had a clear hand in this latest phenomenon. However, this does not exactly seem to be the case.

According to Washington Post writer, Christopher Ingraham, who wrote a recent article on this latest American Values Survey issue by the Public Religion Research Institute, wrote:

“Significantly, most of the responses on this question were collected before the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which drew national attention to the treatment of blacks by the police and courts. Had the survey been fully conducted after Ferguson, it stands to reason that the drop in confidence in the justice system may have been even steeper. Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post

If those figures are steeper, that would mean that an overwhelming majority (62% or more) of Americans feel the system is unjust and therefore, be more inclined to support the 2016 presidential candidates who support Progressive judicial reform. And make no mistake, this is an issue that cannot easily be ignored during the 2016 presidential elections due to its strong connection with inequality and economic growth.

Although states like New York may be grappling with ideas about grand jury reform, whether America’s future presidential candidates decide to adopt some sort of judicial reform to their policy agenda remains to be seen.

However, such a move could be politically attractive.

This is especially true for potential candidate Rand Paul (KY-R), who will try to avoid being labeled as a racist after two controversial incidents involving his ex-aide, Jack Hunter, and Nevada cowboy, Cliven Bundy.

Two women show their support for legalizing marijuana on April 20, 2013 during the 420 Rally in Denver, CO (Cannabis Destiny/Creative Commons/Flickr)

2.) The decriminalization & legalization of marijuana now seems inevitable

Marijuana policy reform is another legislative initiative to look for in the coming years, especially during the post-2016 presidential election period.
75% of the American public already believe the sale and use of marijuana will eventually be legal nationwide.

If you are wondering what the correlation is between marijuana and the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement, here are some troubling statistics that have been compiled for your reading pleasure:

  • African-Americans are 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons, yet they represent only 12 percent of the U. S. population.
  • Black men are sent to state prisons on drug charges at 13 times the rate of White men.
  • Drug transactions among Blacks are easier for police to target because they more often happen in public than do drug transactions between Whites.

These statistics were compiled by Forbes contributor, Erik Kain, and Huffington Post writer, Dr. Boyce Watkins who conclude the ‘War on Drugs,’ “disproportionately targets blacks and other minorities and the poor across all racial demographics.”

The debate sparked by Ferguson following the events of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths seems to have confirmed this belief. What is interesting though, is that the American public may be finally ready to confront this new drug policy landscape.

According to a recent Pew Research study that dates back to February 2014, Americans have a far different view of drugs than they did during the Reagan Administration. For example:

  • For the first time in American history, 54% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and that number continues to grow with each passing year
  • 67% of Americans believe the government should focus more on providing treatment to for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine instead of prosecution
  • 63% of Americans support moving away from mandatory prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes

These striking statistics briefly highlight the American public’s transformed view on drugs. Interestingly, mandatory sentences guidelines and draconian “hard on crime” policies, which partially tie back to judicial reform, seem to draw negative connotations from most Americans.

On the other hand, there is one thing that would most likely draw a positive reaction from Americans in the future – reform, reform, reform.

An Oakland native lets his voice be heard with power on October 14, 2011 during the #OccupyWallStreet protests in Oakland, CA (Glenn Halog/Creative Commons/Flickr)

3.) Economic inequality is becoming a colossal problem in the US

Welcome to the 21st century, where economic inequality continues to accelerate at an alarming rate. Whether you blame technology, globalization, financial deregulation, or some combination, income and wealth inequality is a growing threat to American society.

It has inspired mass protests that include the most famous #OccupyWallStreet moment in NYC’s Zugatti Park following the 2008 financial meltdown.

Interestingly, the 20th century also started off this way. Those were the days of the Progressive Era, in which Americans witnessed their battle with inequality reach a tipping point in the 1920’s.

In fact, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, 2014 is starting to look a lot like 1929. And everyone remembers how great the roaring 20’s were; it was like a big party. The 1930’s then, could best be defined as a 10 year hangover.

“Now, the richest Americans have a share of the country’s wealth almost big enough to rival those in the late 1920s…Even the 1% are lagging behind the .01%.” Henry Gass, Christian Science Monitor

Again, how does #BlackLivesMatter relate to inequality? Recent events revolving around the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, which include the NYC, Washington DC, and Oakland protests have shed major light on the issue. This is primarily due to the fact that inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines since the Great Recession.

This controversial political issue will be the primary thrust of President Obama’s state of the union address tomorrow. The president is expected to announce a series of proposals aimed at reducing inequality, including a populist tax plan that will target inherited wealth accumulated via a legal loophole that allows wealthy Americans to pass on tax-free assets to their heirs.

Furthermore, his proposal plans to tax capital gains for incomes above $500,000 from 23.8% to 28% and eliminate a loophole used by a handful of wealthy individuals, including Mitt Romney, who turn tax-preferred retirement plans into tax shelters. These two proposals in addition to a plan to tax companies with assets over $50 billion are expected to raise $320 billion in revenue over the course of the next decade.

Although critics like John Boehner’s spokesman claim it to be “more of a talking point than a plan,” Obama will also announce his community college proposal tomorrow. Under this proposal, students who attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 grade point average while in college, and make steady progress toward completing their programs would have their tuition eliminated.

To Sum it Up

2014 was a big year for social change advocates. 2015 may be an even bigger year as America prepares for its 2016 presidential elections. Beyond 2016, there is a very good possibility that Progressive reforms are on the horizon for the US due to its racially biased justice system, draconian drug laws that have prompted the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, and the rise of economic inequality that has widened on racial and ethnic lines. Historically speaking, it is only a matter of time before social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter turn into political movements.

As the saying goes, history tends to repeat itself.

Rekindle the dream. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Seattle Municipal Archives/Creatve Commons/Flickr)

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the authors’ opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

Extremists in Paris: The Terrorist Attack on Charlie Hebdo (Part II)


Sign of solidarity with the victims of the Paris shooting.
Sign of solidarity with the victims of the Paris shooting.

With John D’Angelo. There is still a lot we don’t know about Wednesday’s attack on the satirical magazine at Charlie Hebdo, discussed in yesterday’s blog post. What we do know is this: besides killing twelve people, these terrorists have attacked fundamental human rights, specifically the right to freedom of speech, expression, and press. The attacks sparked waves of protest in support of the upholding and protecting of these fundamental freedoms. Prominent figures and newsmen everywhere have declared that terrorism will never stamp out the foundational freedoms of man. British PM David Cameron stated that “[the British] stand absolutely united with the French people against terrorism and against this threat to our values – free speech, the rule of law, democracy. It’s absolutely essential we defend those values today and every day.” What began as a horrible massacre of human lives has sparked a much greater debate about protecting human rights. A conversation, in our opinion, that is long overdue. The Western world has long talked of protecting lives and property from terrorism, and now we must also protect our values – freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression.


Freedom of speech is the political right to express one’s opinion freely and fully to anyone and at all times. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the most important and most widely ratified international human rights treaties, states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Article 19 ICCPR goes on to say that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.”

Does this mean we should limit freedom of speech? The answer is a resounding no. Freedom of speech includes the right to controversial and opposing opinions, even if it means to occasionally offend someone, which in the case of Charlie Hebdo was specifically Muslims (among other religions as well as political opinions and figures). The magazine is actually a good example of standing up to trends in the Western world rolling back protections of free speech. Charlie Hebdo has been targeted before, but wasn’t deterred: it insisted on its rights to free speech and its editor, Stephane Charbonnier, famously said he would rather “die standing than live on my knees.” The public outrage at the shooting and the unity and support people have shown for freedom of speech and human rights is therefore encouraging in spite of fear mongering and anti-Islamic, anti-immigration responses of some.

Protests in Paris (Photo: Valery Hache/Getty Images)
Protests in Paris (Photo: Valery Hache/Getty Images)

Human rights are granted to all people, based on the very simple fact that we are human. We therefore all have a responsibility to defend them and stand up for them, regardless of who threatens them and for what reason. As former The Onion editor correctly points out, “you cannot kill an idea by murdering innocent people.” In a free society, the flow of ideas, thoughts, and expression cannot be stopped. The very meaning of freedom is ingrained in these ideas, expressing our values. It is worth standing up for these ideals.

We cannot and should not stop talking about our ideals and discussing our values, even if some disagree. As the Charlie Hebdo case shows, the fight against terror, intolerance, and xenophobia cannot be limited to political discussion and military means. It’s a fight that concerns all of us, we are all part of the struggle because we all carry these rights. We shouldn’t forfeit our freedoms and our liberty easily. Human rights are universal and indivisible, which means that freedom of speech is just as important as any other human right given to us. Whether you believe human rights to be from a God or from a secular social contract matters little. What is vital to understand is that until we unite against terrorism, extremism, and radicalism, and develop a proper channel to bring human rights violators such as terrorists to justice, they will continue to undermine the very idea of universal human rights. Singling out specific groups will only aid their goals and aims and violates another fundamental human rights principle: the right to non-discrimination. The events in Paris need to be handled with care; we must do everything in our power to prevent acts of discrimination against the Muslim community, work for tolerance and to protect our freedoms, and think carefully about our words and action. Otherwise, the terrorists win.


Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the authors’ opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

Extremists in Paris: The Terrorist Attack on Charlie Hebdo (Part I)

French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the capital was placed under the highest alert status
The Conflicting Scene of Art and Security                       Source:

With Daniel Falcone. My time in Paris was a beautiful and amazing experience. I climbed the Eiffel Tower, saw the Louvre, and the majestic arches of Notre Dame. Even so, there exists an overtone of a focus on security in the city. As I walked down the escalator on the Métro, I encountered a member of the Police Nationale, who happened to be carrying a very large rifle. As a nervous American, I asked “is the Métro open?” in timid French, and the only response I got was “oui.” Still, the recent events in Paris make it evident why the French created a powerful domestic security force. Ever since 9/11, when the Eiffel Tower was on Al-Qaeda’s hit list, the French have become wary of Islamic extremism, like much of the Western World, and yesterday, the French’s worst fears became reality. The once sonorous bells in the city of love were horribly interrupted by an AK-47 rifle.

At 11:30am local time on Wednesday, January 7th, two hooded gunmen stormed into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, gunning down 12 and injuring two.  Among the dead are cartoonists Jean Cabut, Bernard Verlhac, Georges Wolinski, and Stephane Charbonnier, the chief editor of Charlie Hebdo, as well as French economist Bernard Maris and two police officers assigned to protect the satirist and editor.

ISIL terror outfit using American arms destined for moderate Syrian ...
ISIS – A Global Threat –  Source:

The French National Police have identified the suspects to be brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, and have apprehended an 18-year-old suspect who surrendered to the police.  Authorities are still unsure if the shooters were acting alone or if they were carrying out the orders of a larger organization.  With an estimated 1000 Frenchmen having either returned or currently returning from fighting for the Islamic State, the latter is certainly a possibility.

The shooters were heavily armed, wielding AK-47s.  After entering the second-floor newsroom and shooting the journalists while they were in a meeting, the two men fled in a black Citeron.  While fleeing, they crashed into another car, and made their escape by commandeering a bystander’s vehicle.  As the shooters were running through the streets, they were heard yelling, “Allahu Akbar” and “The Prophet is avenged.”  The French police have organized a massive manhunt, and President Francois Hollande stated, “…We have to protect all public places” in order to prevent any further attacks on French soil.

This is not the first attack that has been carried out against the newspaper.  In November 2011, the office was firebombed and hacked.  The attack was in response to an edition of Charlie Hebdo entitled “Charia Hebdo,” which listed the Prophet Muhammad as editor-in-chief.  Recently, officers had been assigned to protect the office as a result of previous threats against Charbonnier.

Earlier, in 2006, Charlie Hebdo came under fire for reprinting twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, originally produced by Dutch satirical newspaper Jyllands-Posten, under a cover image of a bawling Muhammad saying, “it’s hard being loved by jerks.”  The French newspaper then became wrapped up in several lawsuits from Islamic groups under the accusation that Charlie Hebdo had published the cartoons in an attempt to purposefully incite hatred against Muslims .

This shooting is the deadliest attack that has occurred in France in over 50 years. As expected,  the French public is outraged at the actions of the extremists.  President Hollande has declared a day of mourning along with a moment of silence at noon, and thousands held a silent vigil in the Place de la Republique in Paris for the victims, holding signs saying, “je suis Charlie,” meaning “I am Charlie,” a hashtag that was trending on Twitter.

Leaders around the world have expressed their support for the victims.  President Obama stated that the United States would, “provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice.” Across the pond,  British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his support for the French people, declaring that Britain and Germany would stand with the people of France.  Muslims around the world have also condemned the attacks, saying that it is in no way representative of Islam.  As fear spreads, Jyllands-Posten has boosted security concerned of suffering a similar attack.

The Charlie Hebdo shooting will only add to the tension between Non-Muslim and Muslim populations across the European continent, which will bolster support for anti-immigration campaigns.  Some believe that Islamists are incapable of adapting to democracy, and instead will react violently to Western ideals.  This event will only give cadence to the discriminatory voices calling for xenophobic immigration reform.  This presents a conflict between the notions that Islamists should not be allowed in Europe because they pose a threat to the freedom of speech and that not allowing Muslims into Europe undermines religious tolerance.  Dutch politician and founder of the Party for Freedom Geert Wilders tweeted, “This is war.” Unless the radical passions of both sides are quelled, this conflict threatens to plunge Europe into a war over tolerance in relation to freedom.

Obama Administration: Charlie Hebdo ‘Offensive’ or ‘Martyrs for ...
A World in Mourning – Source:


Terroism is a bona fide threat for much of the world, and is especially in the Middle East and South Asia. Since the 1970s, the world has been in a wave of terrorism underpinned by Islamic extremists. Due to this, the Muslim community has received plenty of flack, and we have seen a rise of Islamaphobia  throughout much of the western world. Of course, it is vital to remember that most Muslims are not terrorists, and actually follow a very peaceful interpretation of the Koran. Even so, Islamic terrorists do exist, often found in groups such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and ISIS. These groups have marred the name of Islam, and provide a threat to the entire civilized world.

Terrorism can be and is defined in a variety of ways – in fact one of the greatest semantical battles is over the idea of “who is a terrorist.” Some terrorists may be labeled as such, but are in fact a dissident faction in a single-party system or an insurgent group. A good working definition for a terrorist can be stated as “Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” (Paul R. Pillar, Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution Press 2001, p. 13). In basic terms, terrorists use violence to get a point across. These smaller groups often cannot declare war on a nation-state, and thus attack asymmetrically in order to lower morale and cause pain in a nation. The latest attack on Charlie Hebdo is only one reminder of this.

Check back tomorrow when we will post an analysis of the Charlie Hebdo attacks from a human rights perspective.


Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the authors’ opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”


From a Revolution in Orange to Ukrainian Blues: Understanding the Ukraine Crisis

On November 6th, the Reiff center at Christopher Newport University in conjunction with the Alexander Hamilton Society and the Center for American Studies at CNU had a panel of experts give insight into the current conflict in the Ukraine. These experts were Christopher Newport University’s very own, Dr. Tatiana Rizova, along with Dr. Gerard Alexander, the Associative Professor of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, and The Honorable David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House. These speakers lent significant insight into the constantly developing situation of Ukraine and the international response to it.

Dr. Tatiana Rizova, CNU, discussing the latest developments in the Ukraine crisis.
Dr. Tatiana Rizova, CNU, discussing the latest developments in the Ukraine crisis.

The first person to speak in the panel was Dr. Rizova who provided a brief overview of the history of the Ukraine. She began by providing details about how corruption was a huge issue within the country. According to her, Transparency International, an organization that monitors individuals’ perception of corruption in their own country, gives Ukraine a dismal rating. Additionally, she discussed how Russia and the Ukraine had close ties especially in regards to trade. One statistic stated that Ukraine’s exports to Russia were more than 25%. Lastly, she stressed the fact that Ukraine’s issue with corruption has been constant and despite efforts at reform, Ukraine still remained tied to Russia along with its illiberal tendencies.

Dr. Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia.
Dr. Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia.

The next speaker was Dr. Alexander and he explained how American Policy works in international relations. He began by saying that international relations is essentially anarchy because there is no higher government in which individual states have to answer to. Each state therefore has to contend with predatory actions made by other states upon them. His next point was that states have a concern with deterring this predation and one way of doing this was to keep states from engaging in predation in the first place. Some examples of this is by punishment, cultivating allies, and maintaining a healthy perception abroad. This, in theory, makes states that might consider predation (i.e. illiberal democracies, dictatorships, and autocracies) from attempting it in the first place. He ended his lecture in international relations with talking about how the post cold war climate is shaped. Essentially, with the theories of predation in mind, there is this fear of possibly jeopardizing alliances when America lets another state take territory. Other allies might then interpret this as no reason to stay in alliance with America if the U.S. doesn’t bother to do anything about predatory actions. Dr. Alexander related this to the Obama administrations current policy of “speaking loudly but not using a stick”. His belief is that condemnation requires some sort of physical action.

The Hon. David Kramer, President of  Freedom House.
The Hon. David Kramer, President of Freedom House.

The last speaker to present was The Honorable David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House. He began by stating that the current crisis in the Ukraine was comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis and that everyone in the international community is carefully watching the events unfold. But what exactly set events in motion in the first place? Well first it is important to realize that Putin views democracy and the west as a threat. Recently, many Eastern European Countries have been pivoting away from Russia and towards the west, something that Putin sees as a challenge to Russian power and influence over the region. The irony of Putin’s logic is that NATO allied states are actually the safest borders for Russia but his logic is based upon perceptions and influence as opposed to physical threats.
Next, the Hon. David J. Kramer talked about Donetsk and Luhansk, the two eastern Ukrainian provinces. He believes that they did not support Russian forces in the most recent elections and that Russia influenced the results in its favor. Additionally, he argues that this current situation is not a civil war but a war between Russia and the Ukraine. It is his belief that the Obama administration’s actions were simply too slow in crafting sanctions and lacked adequate stopping power since they were not preemptive. Among these mistakes, he also believes that the situation shows what our limitations are as a nation and illustrates weakness in how we react. Lastly, he stressed the fact that we must protect the Ukraine and that the United States cannot stand idly by when an ally is suffering from such a monumental threat.

I personally believed that this panel was a superb addition to the Reiff center events for this year. What particularly enraptured the audience was the logical progression of the speakers and their topics. In other words, each speech flowed well from one speaker to the next. The panel also had some time for questions afterwards and the student body made full use of the opportunity. One particularly interesting question was whether or not the United States could recover from its low position in the current international climate. The answer was yes but we would have to make sure we send a message across that there will be no more Ukraine situations in the world. Some other interesting points brought up during the Q and A were Russia’s actions out of the conflict. For instance, recently there was a deal between China and Russia on constructing a pipeline between the two states, something that Russia desperately needed after international sanctions on oil. Instead of perceiving this action as the beginnings of friendship, one of the panelists argued that China and Russia still hated each other and China used its leverage over Russia to gain a lucrative deal since it knew Russia was in a poor bargaining position. Russia also seems to be expanding its operations in courting influence abroad. Apparently “RT” or “Russian TV” has been growing at a rapid pace in other countries. The panelists made clear that RT is a very crafty form of Russian propaganda that is cleverly orchestrated to look like an accredited news source. These efforts at expansion will inevitably attempt to foster a pro Russian identity around the world.

The Panelists during the Q&A session.
The Panelists during the Q&A session.

The final question that remains is very simple, what should the United States do? Many of our panelists believe that America has every right to intervene and should do so as soon as possible. Although I agree, I can’t help but wonder about Russia’s current position. After annexing Crimea, undergoing sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, and having been exploited by China in the most recent oil deal, I can’t help but wonder if Russia is in for some serious economic trouble. This is speculative but I seriously believe that although Russia might be succeeding in the short term, it has a rocky long-term future ahead of it.

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

The Future of Armed Conflict – Lt. General McMaster

LTG H.R. McMaster, Director, Army Capabilities and Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, US Army Training and Doctrine Command
LTG H.R. McMaster, Director, Army Capabilities and Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, US Army Training and Doctrine Command

This past week, the Reiff Center had the great honor of hosting a spectacular event, regarding the future of armed conflict. We would like to thank all of the people who came together to make this event a success:

The World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads, whose generous support is always greatly appreciated

Dr. David Fautua for an excellent introduction of our esteemed speaker

Lt. General H.R. McMaster who provided an amazing wealth of crucial information in record time




Armed conflict is something that puts peoples’ nerves on edge. There are many opinions surrounding war, which range from pure disgust to resounding support. War and conflict is as ancient as it gets. The development of truly complex societies, the rise of agriculture, and the technological revolution of the Bronze Age brought about the rise of mass conflict and warfare. In fact the earliest known standing militaries are found in Egypt and Mesopotamia, dating back to about 2100 BC. The Realist branch of political science attempts to explain this development in that Man is naturally self-interested and Man is naturally a social creature. These two facets of humanity join together to justify the idea that war is inevitable. Looking at historical and contemporary examples, it would seem that the Realists might be right, although many would and have argued their foundational principles. Still, the reality of the situation is that war pervades every era and every location of known history. Going through the ancients, the Persians, Hellenistic Greece, Rome, the Huns, The Crusades, The Caliphate, it becomes impossible to discuss their history without discussing the role of conquest and military. Into more modern examples the same fact remains with British and greater European imperialism, the various Wars of Independence, and the constant conflict in Europe, which culminated into WWI, the “war to end all wars.” Here, we see the creation of the League of Nations, the first large scale attempt at diplomatic means to avoid conflict, which obviously failed as two decades later WWII devastated the European continent. Now, the rise of the United Nations comes forth as the beacon of diplomacy and peace – could Man work out its problems without pointing a gun (and at this point very big guns). The answer to this question is of course still highly debated, but recent history tells us that the UN’s success in reducing conflict is limited. We see that war continues throughout much of the world, found in Vietnam, Korea, and now in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, to name just a few. It comes to be seen that war is as much a part of humanity as culture, religion, science, and commerce, if not even more so during certain eras.

US Army in Iraq – 2011 Source: The Huffington post

War is constant, but how humanity fights its wars is dramatically different through the eras. From the early sharpened sticks to the mechanized infantry and UAVs of today, technology has evolved at a rapid pace making war deadlier and much more costly. Not only the technology, but also how we fight war has changed, as Dr. Fautua mentions, today we fight nuanced wars and avoid the ‘annihilation of the enemy,’ as seen in WWII. The nature of the enemy has changed as well, what were once great powers and nation-states fighting over territory and resources, has evolved into armed insurgents, terrorists, or “non-state actors.” So much has changed on the war field, and still the goals remain the same as Man hunts for power. What does all of this mean? What is the future of American and world armed conflict? These are the questions that Lt. General McMaster tackles on a daily basis – reinventing strategies and experimenting with multifaceted approaches, all to further American interests. As Fautua called him, the “most respected officer of his generation,” McMaster provided, what I found to be an indispensable viewpoint for understanding the future of American warfare.

LTG McMaster speaking at the Reiff Center/World Affairs Council Event at Christopher Newport University.
LTG McMaster speaking at the Reiff Center/World Affairs Council Event at Christopher Newport University.

Perhaps indicative of the military to be concise and consistent, McMaster asserts his major findings in groups of four. The first section addresses four continuities found in all of war across time and space. Firstly, war is an extension of politics. This interestingly has been expressed by a variety of military scholars, notably Major General Carl Von Clausewitz of Prussia. In his study, On War (1832) Clausewitz makes a claim that “war is merely the continuation of politics by any other means.” It would seem that when diplomacy fails, war is the next option to pursue political outcomes. Importantly, politics and power are the real drivers of war, even if they are masked by an ideological system. In order to be successful, McMaster believes that the military must reach a sustainable outcome in order to consolidate the political gains of conflict. It is when policy makers fail to understand this that gains are lost, institutions fail, and regions become a breeding ground for extremism. We must also remember that war is purely human. This goes back to the realist philosophy that I outlined previously- McMaster extends this idea by saying that humans fight for three things. They fight for they are fearful, for they seek honor, and for their own interests. War is also uncertain, as our actions will be met by opposing forces, which cannot always be foreseen. Finally, War is a contest of wills. As soon as a force loses the capability or will to fight, the opposing side will gain a great advantage in the field. Think of WWI’s “War of Attrition.”

US National Security Council Source: Wikipedia

The second segment focuses on four fallacies, which result in American leaders making similar mistakes between conflicts. The first of which is the Vampire Fallacy, as the fallacy routinely comes back into the forefront and cannot be killed. Our vampire is not Dracula, but rather the belief that such a complex political and human endeavor  as war can be solved by technology, from afar, as stated by the military theory about the future of warfare expressed in the Revolution in Military Affairs. Technological advantages are critical, but they cannot achieve what troops on the ground can, and relying solely on technology will result in severe repercussions. The second is the idea that Americans believe all we need is a raiding party to go in, complete an objective, and leave. McMaster entitled this as the “Zero-Dark Thirty” Fallacy, based on the popular film where American troops quickly completed the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, and then were out of harm’s way. While this is an ideal method, it cannot be considered feasible for all conflicts, even though it would make war so much easier. The next fallacy may require the younger readers (and me) to do some Googling. The popular 1960s-80s T.V Show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, features a host who would have his dutiful sidekick play with Lion and Bears, while he sat back and supervised. McMaster proposes that like a T.V host, America finds it can order “proxy armies” to do the dirty work. While our military should work with other forces, it is necessary that the US Military take an active role in order to achieve long and short term goals on the ground. The last fallacy is the RSVP Fallacy, where some Americans believe that war is simply a cordial invitation, which one can accept or decline at will. The fact of the matter is that, war is unpredictable, and Americans should be ready for the inevitability of conflict.

Why do Americans fall for these fallacies? McMaster asserts that the American culture, its optimism and progressive thinking may be partially to blame. While this is a strength in America, it becomes a weakness when we allow our optimism to cloud our judgment in preparing for future conflict. The Military-Industrial complex also plays a role in maintaining policies that are guided by fallacious thinking. Those fallacies are the answers Americans want to the hard questions of war. We allow hope and short-term interests to guide long term decisions. Lastly, Americans often invoke a narrow view of world affairs, which degrades the power of the military. In order to win, all of the branches of the military must be properly empowered, so that America has its “rock, paper, and scissors” ready to go, as McMaster puts it.

McMasterFlyer2The future of armed conflict is bleak, as non-state actors will most likely continue to grow in capabilities and numbers. Non-state combatants will attack civilians, disrupt American capabilities, and emulate American technologies. America must develop new and creative strategies in order to combat this unique enemy, which is exactly what McMaster and his colleagues are hard at work to do. Technology will not save us, as there is no magic bullet – a countermeasure will always come about to contest new technologies. McMaster argues that the army is vital to the future of armed conflict. He asserts that the US army will be responsible for providing multiple options to the military form the ground, and then project American military power from the ground to the air, sea, and cyberspace. The US Army must continue to work diligently with multiple partners, including other branches of our military, multinational partners, and other Departments of the American government. Likewise, the army must learn to operate across multiple domains, by controlling land areas and the holding them in order to allow safety for other branches of the military. Lastly, the US military must offer unique and numerous challenges to the enemy on a variety of fronts. Only through these changes will the US Army and military at large be able to contend in the future of armed conflict.

Regardless of your views on war, the fact remains that it will stick around in the foreseeable future. Diplomacy and commerce may prevent some conflicts, but others will require war to achieve American policy goals. War is bloody, violent, and cruel, but it remains a necessary tool to protect American interests.  Let us take McMaster’s advice that war in the future must be looked upon with a frank and scrutinizing eye, using history’s lessons to guide our policies. We must abandon fallacious thinking, develop new strategies, and be ready for a future we cannot predict. The American Military is made up of great minds and honorable men and women – with the right tools, they will see this nation through the battles of tomorrow.

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the aftermath of the Gaza war

Before I begin writing about the details of the speaker, I have to first relate a quick anecdote. I remember having a discussion with a friend about the recent bombing in Israel and Palestine and he said something that still registers with me today, “Its hard to pick a side to hate because both have some responsibilities contributing to the current day situation”. I think this statement is fairly accurate in highlighting a fundamental error of human thought, the propensity to compartmentalize two sides; a good and a bad. One has to remember that the Israeli Palestinian crisis is a twisted amalgamation of hatred, fear, and death on both sides. With this objectivity in mind, let me relate to you the context of the most recent Reiff Center talk in regards to this ongoing conflict.

Dr. William Quandt
Dr. William Quandt speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On September 11, the Reiff Center had the honor of having Dr. William B. Quandt speak about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the efforts at peace. Winner of numerous awards and author of several books on the subject, Dr. Quandt was more than well equipped to speak about such a controversial topic. He began by talking about how the conflict originated and stated that he believed the current crisis is a result of “two nationalisms” starting a hundred years ago. The core of this issue is the question of who is entitled to what land and what would be a fair deal to ensure lasting peace.
After a very brief history lesson of the declining Palestinian territories due to West Bank settlers, Dr. Quandt talked about the current day peace talks. It should come as no surprise to the reader that they were extremely unsuccessful and resulted in significantly more casualties than other peace talks. Additionally, the destruction lasted longer and involved greater physical damage to Palestinian infrastructure. Sadly, the recent conflict led to greater Hamas support amongst the thoroughly disenchanted Palestinian citizenry. Netanyahu, on the other hand, had a spike in approval at the onset of the conflict (at roughly 80 percent approval) with a drastic downturn, which is currently around 30 percent.


Dr. Quandt discussing the difficulties of a peace process in Israel-Palestine.
Dr. Quandt discussing the difficulties of a peace process in Israel-Palestine.

He also explained how the current situation is hopelessly deadlocked. Although some contend that Israel will be able to envelope Palestine with their constant efforts at settling into the West Bank, Palestinians are rapidly becoming the numerical majority. As a counter to what Palestinians perceive as threats to their livelihood, many are procreating at a rapid rate so that they do not get “erased”. Its oddly fascinating and horrifying that both sides are resorting to such desperate measures so that they might be victorious. Israel is sticking to its military strength and U.S. support while Palestine is mainly reliant on demographics.
After his presentation, Dr. Quandt fielded a Q and A, which the crowd took full advantage of. One such interesting answer came from a question related to Obama’s efforts at establishing peace before the current violence. In 2009 Obama urged Netanyahu to cease new settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu responded to this by taking a trip to America, telling Obama that he was wrong about the situation and then preceded to go to congress delivering a speech that netted twenty-nine standing ovations. Obama gave up soon after.
Modern U.S. support for Israel runs extremely deep. AIPAC, a lobbying organization in America for pro Israeli relations, is considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the nation. Opposing this lobby is often considered to be political suicide due to its overwhelming power. Interestingly, both the Senate and the House of Representatives were unanimous in a decision to support Israel against Hamas. Considering the current day political climate, a unanimous decision on anything is exceedingly rare and borders on the impossible.
Unfortunately, the situation looks exceedingly bleak on both sides. Palestinians are adamant about staying and are willing to produce more children as a way of retaliation against Israel. Many young people in Palestine, disillusioned by the caustic political and social climate, want to leave. Who can really blame them? Lasting peace has been attempted over and over again and has failed on every occasion. Dr. Quandt ended by saying that there were few times he was discourage more of peace than he is now and considering all of the factors leading up to the recent bloodshed, I have to agree.

Lessons From Ferguson, Missouri

This past week, The Reiff Center was honored to co-sponsor an event dealing with the sensitive, but critical issue of Race. An event entitled Lessons from Ferguson: Race, Law Enforcement and the Potential Abuse of Power explored various aspects of the issues of race and law in the Ferguson crisis, inviting perspectives from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Panelists (left to right): Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Reiff Center Director, Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology, Dr. Pete Carlson, Government, Prof. Harry Greenlee, Government, and Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English
Panelists (left to right): Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Reiff Center Director, Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology, Dr. Pete Carlson, Government, Prof. Harry Greenlee, Government, and Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English

The Reiff Center would like to offer special thanks to our panelists: Dr. Pete Carlson, Government Professor Harry Greenlee, Government Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology Their interesting perspectives and comments made for an exciting panel, with agreement, disagreement, and critical knowledge in understanding key issues facing the past, present, and future of this nation. I would like to take some time to outline some major ideas and takeaways from the panel in order to shed light on the issues found in Ferguson, MO and the greater issues of law enforcement.

Protesters claiming the injustice of Brown’s shooting Source:

This talk stems out of the larger national discussion regarding Ferguson, MO, and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a law enforcement agent. The death of the alleged unarmed Male of Color resulted in a series of both violent and peaceful protests. The local and state government responded harshly to these protests, invoking a state of emergency and calling in specialized forces to quell the upheaval. The issues in Ferguson present questions on Racism in Law, the potential abuse of power by law enforcement, and ideas for preventing future Fergusons. Firstly, I found the discussion on Ferguson representing a greater trend in the national sphere critical to the discussion. Several professors explained an issue of “distrust” of law enforcement by people of color and distrust of people of color by law enforcement. This cultural issue dates back several centuries, and results in the “community of distrust,” as Dr. Hopkins aptly put it. Due to the suspicion, several deep and frightening implications arise from the field of law enforcement. Speaking rhetorically, Hopkins and Randolph both talked of the “fear of the black body,” where the only manner in which the threat – the fear- can be abolished is to “put it down.” This disheartening view demonstrates a monstrous problem that completely degrades the civil rights movement and the American Dream. When the solution to a problem is violence and lethal force, we see the failure of enlightenment, and the failure of human progress, resorting back to primitive aspects of human nature, as theorized by Freud and Hobbes. Along the same lines, Randolph provides several empirical issues in regards to racism and the law. On one hand, there exists no ‘official’ records on the issues of police and lethal force, thus demonstrating a problem in even drawing  substantive conclusions about race and law, as empirical evidence fails to support it. Thankfully, non-state actors have attempted to rectify this issue with their own research. Randolph presents data that clearly indicates a racial gap in the enforcement of law. Part of the problem, however, is the lack of official statistics by law enforcement on unjustified lethal force by its officers. A study conducted by ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter of lethal force by law enforcement over the scope of the 10 largest cities shows that the proportion of blacks killed by lethal force, are double the percentage of blacks in the population.  Likewise, there is clear evidence on racial gaps in arrests, prison sentencing, and death penalty use, where African Americans and Hispanics receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts. Now, granted, these statistics only tell a part of the greater story, but they do provide a general paradigm in which it becomes clear that race does play some role in the justice system, although more comprehensive research may done to provide empirical evidence. That role is often a negative one, resulting in a system of unfairness, which defeats what many would argue is the whole point of the “Rule of Law.” In the modern world, racism continues to slash at the core of American values, and qualitative evidence and personal experiences continue to drive the cultural divides of whites and blacks.

Heavily armed riot police at Ferguson, MO Source: Time

The second argument comes from the idea of abuse of power and potential abuse of power. All of the panelists agreed that the police response to the protests could in many ways be considered ‘heavy-handed.” One interesting point is that Dr. Carlson, a former Prison Warden, argued that these types of response by the police are actually considered “normal,” as public peace and security must be maintained at all times. He goes on to explain, in his experiences the best way to deal with certain situations is to muster up all the force you can, and quickly stabilize and contain the situation, to the best of your ability. Even so, there are some discrepancies over the legality of the arresting of journalists, the excessive use of force, and the treatment of peaceful protesters. Of course, cases exist outside of Ferguson – that is – unarmed persons being fired upon fatally, and otherwise. Carlson presents an interesting argument regarding this exact issue, the idea that the choice of using lethal force, is one of the most difficult decisions an officer of the law must do. They are placed in high stress situations, where their lives are at risk, and must choose whether or not to fire a weapon. The idea of taking another’s life, even if ‘for the greater good,’ is something that I and many of us cannot even imagine. The officer must risk his/her own life, and must risk others’ as well, all of which comes down to the pulling of a trigger. It’s not easy, I think we can recognize that, but the difficulty level fails to excuse any abuses of power, which become possible due to the system of American law enforcement. In order to mitigate and respond to abuses of power, America must further certain cultural and policy changes, which in the future could prevent another Ferguson, MO.

Source: Photobucket

The panelists offered some broad reform ideas, which could help remedy some of the issues plaguing our system. Dr. Carlson, among others, claimed that the major issue is accountability and transparency in the system. Meaning that, investigations of alleged crimes must be made open and fair. The officer, who gunned down Michael Brown, is currently under investigation, which is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, as Greenlee and Hopkins pointed out, can we be sure that the investigations and conclusions will be fair and justified, due to special interests of the prosecution, which favor protecting the officers. Professor Greenlee argues that we must cut this issue at its roots, meaning that we create a much more stringent system of hiring, in which we keep the uniform away from those who would abuse the power. Several panelists suggested that America dissolves the community of distrust, increases minority percentages on the force, and create positive connections between the police and the communities they protect.  Another promising point, is the fact that generational research identifies that those under 30 are more likely to consider the Michael Brown case as an issue of serious concern (PEW). It is often stated that younger generations are more open and progressive, so perhaps in the next few years, we will see a shift in policy and perception. Unfortunately, even with these ideas, the research is spotty, the facts are often biased and warped, the suggestions are idealistic and speculative, and any progress is stilted and limited. Obviously, there is a great deal of work that scholars, policymakers, and individuals still need to complete in order to address this issue comprehensively – if that’s even possible. Is there still hope? We are 151 years form the Emancipation Proclamation, 50 years from the Civil Rights Act, and still there is evidence of a prejudiced Justice System. Granted, as Dr. Greenlee makes it clear, “we are not talking about all cops,” but we are talking about the law enforcement, and the Judges, and the law codes that often tend to prejudice against various races or classes. Thankfully, we have not given up yet, many Americans are hard at work to rectify some of these issues, which result from systemic, cultural, and foundational facets. America is a nation based on basic human rights and a Rule of Law, and it’s not quite there yet. In order for America to be truly exceptional, we must strive to reach the endpoint, as promised by our forefathers, “Liberty and Justice for All.”

American Flag, Ferguson MO Source:

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

The True Potential of Social Media
Facebook Logo

I am guilty of being a Facebook junkie, a Twitter fiend, and a Tumblr fanatic. I think many of us in this new century are. Social media has become an outlet for ideas, photos of cats, and a whole slew of other activities. In recent years, social media has evolved into something of a necessity for the technological age. Even more than that, social media exists as an instrument of social activism.

Cosmopolitanism is a Philosophical theory that has been critical in defining a wide variety of societal and moral outlooks. The word stems from the Greek word kosmopolitês, roughly translating to “citizen of the world.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Cosmopolitan generally as the “idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community.” As one community we then take on a duty to deliver those around the world from injustice, poverty, and other innumerous inhumanities.  I personally ground my ideas of Cosmopolitanism in the phrase “global citizen,” and I will often use these words interchangeably.

United Nations Logo

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the ideal of the sovereign State has come under fire. The growth of the UN, EU, and other regional bodies is a clear indication that society has come to find importance in the formation of international lawmaking to institute international norms on human rights . The underlying philosophy is actually much older than that, as found in the writings of the French philosopher Anacharsis Cloots who advocated “ that sovereignty should reside with the people, and that the concept of sovereignty itself, because it involves indivisibility, implies that there can be but one sovereign body in the world, namely, the human race as a whole” (1793).  These movements towards transnational institutions exist as an outcropping of Global citizenship, as they blur national borders. In order to be truly global, one must release nationalism from their psyche. In a purist theory, one must identify themselves as a global citizen before anything else. Still, I believe it is possible to exist as a citizen of a state, but also act in a manner which supports a global unity. Of course, others may disagree.

So why is global citizenship important? Why should you attempt to act as a global citizen? This question has many answers, and ultimately it is up to you to determine the real reason for YOU. One possible suggestion comes from a religious grounding. The Holy Bible reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 NIV. The Holy Qur’an goes on to state “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair of a) male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other” (Al-Hujurat 49:13). Almost every religion I can think of has some sort of claim to unity in a higher being. Even though these phrases are open to interpretation, I find there is some semblance of a global unity in them. There are more secular calls to Global citizenship as well. The US Declaration of Independence puts forth the ideals of inalienable rights of Man (capital M). The UN conventions have eradicated most forms of discrimination, and the UN charter states that one of the major goals of the UN is “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Oxfam, a nonprofit designed to fight poverty, claims that global citizenship is critical to the future as it:

  • “Acknowledges that we have power as individuals: each of us can change things, and each of us has choices about how we behave. But this power can be even greater when we work collectively.
  • Demonstrates how the world we live in is unfair and unequal, but promotes challenging and changing this.
  • Encourages us to recognize our responsibilities towards each other, and learn from each other.

    Oxfam Values Source: Oxfam America

Along with these examples exists a whole slew of others from every culture and paradigm, claiming that there is at least some good in the ideas of a global unity, through global citizenship. Lastly, there is your own moral conscience, which is created by a variety of experiences and institutions. I will almost guarantee that you can find something in your life that will force you to look at the world in a global light, and perhaps even foster the belief that you must take up the torch of helping those around world escape injustices.

Tunisian Uprising Source: The Guardian

Alright. Now why in the world did I start this conversation with Facebook and then throw us into a philosophical discussion of Cosmopolitanism? If you haven’t connected the dots yet, it is because social media has become one of the most vital ways to act as a global citizen. One of the first great successes of social media as a venue for global citizenship and fighting injustice comes from the Arab Spring. After a street vendor in Tunisia lit himself on fire in protest of government policy, the story went viral across news outlets and social media alike. The exposure, due to social media, partly led to the Arab uprisings of 2011-present. After that, it was a landslide. Stories, videos, and photos of human injustices were poured across social media, telling the world of the horrors that various groups were facing. Human rights groups, national and international entities responded in various ways, but the fact is they responded. The times of ‘reasonable doubt’ and ‘maybes’ came to an end with the dramatic rise of the camera phone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other 21st century technologies. The technological revolution brought about a social revolution with dramatic consequences around the world. Social media allows for the diffusion of data across a wide area in a short time, and in the case of human rights, knowledge and exposure is THE power to bring about change.

Social media has continued to be a key player in the global citizenship movement, with more and more people being exposed to and finding themselves involved and invigorated by various ‘shares’ and ‘retweets.’ I found myself engaged in a heated debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after someone posted an article on their wall. My colleagues, professors, and friends are constantly saying “did you see the article on BBC last night about ISIS in Iraq.” “OMG, how could you share something so blatantly biased.” “John, do you think the pictures from Yazidi will pull in the UN?” 10 or even 5 years ago, this sort of casual discussion of international affairs, human rights violations, and poverty reduction would have been impossible, but now is almost commonplace. Social media has disseminated information in a manner that allows us to become heavily engaged, if we choose to take advantage of it.


Am I ready to do marketing for Facebook or what? If you think I am overselling it, I’m not. Governments use social media every day to bolster support for various policies. Such as President Barack Obama’s use of social media in the 2012 elections, where he spent $47 million on digital ads, vs. his opponents $4.7 million, and well Obama won. He is often described as the “first social media president.” Conversely many governments are afraid of the power of social media. Turkey, earlier this year put a blanket ban on social media, after it was used to organize mass protests and bring up allegations against the sitting president. The ban was later overturned, but we can see that social media has real power. Countries, like China, proactively limit citizens’ use of social media in order to decrease the influence of dissidents within the political system. It is important to keep in mind that not all countries have the same abilities with social media, and for those of us who do have open access, we should use its full potential.

Through this, we can hold our government and other governments accountable for their actions. A clear indication of this possibility follows from the inspiration for this post, which comes from the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA. After the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen, protests broke out throughout the city. Police officers responded to the protests in riot gear and began firing tear gas on protesters and journalists alike. The police also arrested several reporters. These clear violations of norms and laws (uh, first amendment?) flew around the world on social media. As an interesting side note, reports of Palestinians tweeting at the citizens of Ferguson on how to protect themselves from tear gas arose, demonstrating the wide reach of social media. Eventually, the national outrage turned against the police of Ferguson and the government. Social media allowed for these turn of events, causing the governor of Missouri was forced to call in the State Troopers to return the city to peace, after days of violent clashes. Social media is more powerful than we give it credit for.

While social media is not protected by any covenant, I find it to be a quasi-human right to have open access to it, as social media possesses a great deal of potential to better our world. Now, I am not stating that social media is the ends of cosmopolitanism; rather it is a means to reach the ends. Social media can help you garner critical knowledge, find an organization to volunteer at, intern at, or donate to. One can start a campaign to petition congressmen over various political matters, human rights violations, or environmental concerns.  The available options are almost limitless. With this in mind, I challenge you. I challenge you that for every cat picture or comic strip you post, post something that makes you a better global citizen. For every trending hashtag on twitter about #NFLScrimmages, foster conversation on #Syria. Do something, become something, find yourself in the paradigm of a global citizen, and we may just have a world worth living in for ourselves and future generations.


Ferguson , MO – 8/13 Source: ABC News

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”