Once you learn to read you will be forever free - Frederick Douglass

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Lovers! Beware Government Suppression

Daniel Ellsberg
 If you're an Obsessive Reader, I hope you'll join me in supporting Daniel Ellsberg's call this week for a boycott against Amazon.com because of the way Amazon caved in to the demands of conservative members of Congress after the site allowed Wikileaks to use its server.  I know, I know, how convenient it is for you to use Amazon, but think about it.  It's bad enough when the government pressures online publishers, but when an outfit such as Amazon, still essentially a book seller, folds, Ellsberg is right to decry it, as he did on his website December 3, in An Open Letter to Amazon.com. 
I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating today its hosting of the Wikileaks website, in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers. I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of information and deterrence of whistle-blowing.
To refresh your memory, Ellsberg, a Marine Corps veteran, Harvard scholar, consultant to the Defense Department and Rand Corporation analyst, along with Rand co-worker Anthony Russo, released " the top secret McNamara study of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945 - 68" later known as the Pentagon Papers.  He and Russo managed to photocopy the 7,000 page study and deliver it surreptitiously to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the New York Times, Washington Post and 17 other newspapers.  Those papers published key elements of the study in 1971 and Ellsberg and Rousseau were tried on twelve felony counts, facing a possible 115 year federal prison sentence.  The trial was dismissed when government misconduct against Ellsberg was revealed, and became part of the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon.

Ellsberg and Tony Russo during Pentagon Papers trial
Actually, I don't use Amazon.com to buy books - never did - because I support independent booksellers as often as I can.  When I order a book online it's usually because it is out-of-print or extremely difficult to find.  And, in those cases, I use abebooks.com or alibris.com.  Ironically, Amazon bought abebooks.com about two years ago, but abebooks is still an association of independent booksellers, and your order will be directly placed with the bookseller whose volumes you choose to purchase.  While the independent book sellers gain from Amazon's wider distribution, unfortunately, purchases with them will help line the pockets of Amazon. Alibris.com is privately and independently owned. 

Now that, as Salon.com writer, Glenn Greenwald, put it, Amazon.com is allowing the U.S. government to dictate what you can read on the Internet, does that mean we have forgotten the lessons of the U.S. in Vietnam, or the USSR in Afghanistan - when the U.S. armed the Taliban against the Soviet military?  Who would have thought that as a culture we would be back again at the point where an act of whistle-blowing in the conduct of an erroneous war is deemed treason.  
Alexander Liakhovskii Archive, New York Times,  March 12, 2009
Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan after an attack on a camel caravan

The threats coming from the right-wing and government officials over the Wikileaks scandal resemble Newspeak in George Orwell's 1984 in which ''All words grouping themselves round the concepts of liberty and equality were contained in the single word crimethink."

By the way, last time I checked, Wikileaks could be found at

No comments: