What I Intend to Investigate

I started my PhD at King’s College London in September 2014. My thesis deals with the phenomenon of forgetting within a discourse called memory studies, which entails cultural and collective memory. My empirical example is the 1967 Russell Tribunal, an anti-war protest that accused the United States of crimes against humanity in Vietnam, which convened in Stockholm, Sweden. Because it has been largely ignored by academia, I intend to conduct a transmedial study of this peripheral micro-process through not only archival sources, but also the cultural memories of a tradition of similarly forgotten acts of performative protest. Not only will I be able to utilize a variety of archival material in Swedish, beside what is available in English, I will also introduce an international readership to a neglected piece of 20th century history that took place in Sweden and Denmark.

Persons of temporary judicial rank, appointed by British philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell (his Bertrand Russell Peace Society organized the tribunal), in a joint venture, attempted to determine whether or not the United States of America and its allies, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea (as well as Japan as a minor accomplice), were guilty of crimes against humanity and crimes against the peace. The proposed crime scene was Southeast Asia, and the osmotic American war in Vietnam its focal point. The Russell Tribunal, as this independent authority later became known, sought to inform the general public about the atrocities being committed in Southeast Asia, laying forth a massive bulk of information indicating systematic violence towards civilians, summary executions of prisoners, experimental weapons such as anti-personnel, napalm and fragmentary bombs used in campaigns directed at civilian, medical, educational, infrastructural, and religious facilities. Between 2 and 10 of May 1967, the independent, and self-appointed(!), tribunal convened in Stockholm, Sweden; a second series of proceedings followed in Roskilde, Denmark between 20 November and 1 December of the same year. The tribunal's main objective was to spread information about the aforementioned war crimes, and to raise public awareness in the hope of bolstering opposition against the war.

Despite the immense efforts of organizing the two series of tribunal sessions, assembling a multitude of experts, witnesses, and tribunal members, the Russell Tribunal seems to have had little impact on world opinion in 1967, the presence of the world press notwithstanding, and has been largely ignored by History. This was the case despite the use made of a provocative strategy of pairing images of Nazi war aggression with a real-time conflict, the American war in Vietnam. And despite having two of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century at the helm – Bertrand Russell, the founder of the Bertrand Russell Peace Society, and Jean-Paul Sartre, serving as Executive President of Sessions. The list of intellectuals and activists that convened in Stockholm and Roskilde continues in much the same impressive manner. All in all, counting Russell – who was absent and communicated through letters due to poor health (he turned 94 in May of 1967) – the tribunal consisted of 25 people, including Polish writer and philosopher Gunther Anders, Italian lawyer Lelio Basso, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, American pacifist Dave Dellinger, and Polish historian Isaac Deutscher. Yugoslav historian Vladimir Dedijer served as Chairman and President of Sessions. Before this tribunal stood many experts and witnesses.

The tribunal was immediately met with opposition, which could explain the forgetting as a form of “disqualification.” At the same time, the cultural memories associated with it illustrate the remembering opportunities the Tribunal provided.

The invocation of Nazi aggression did not cease with imaginative comparison, in fact the Russell Tribunal used the post-war Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals as a sort of precedent. In so doing, the 1967 tribunal conjured up memories of not only military aggression, but also industrial mass murder perpetrated by a totalitarian regime; it attempted, if you will, to allow the dark memories of the Second World War to syncretize with the American war in Vietnam; to let the finality of the judicial, and therefore inherently ex post facto, verdicts cast on the Nazi war criminals, and their allies, to be juxtaposed with real-time events. The tribunal's charges concerned whether or not the United States and its allies had committed aggression according to international law, bombarded targets of a purely civilian character, and made use of, or experimented with, new and/or weapons prohibited by the Laws of War.

Scandinavia was, for a brief moment, the centre stage of the global ambiguity surrounding the American war in Vietnam, and the growing anti-war movement that opposed it, only to soon thereafter retreat into the shadows of history. In learning more about the Russell Tribunal from a forgetting perspective, questions regarding international law, accountability, definitions of war crimes, cultural memories of warfare, come to the surface. I intend to try to understand how this is possible, and learn more about forgetting practices in order to apply theoretical hypotheses to other similarly forgotten micro processes. Most similar ventures into the forgetting aspects of collective memory focuses on macro processes, and on trauma, genocide and war; the Russell Tribunal, on the other hand, is a micro process which certainly alludes to trauma, genocide and war, but in itself is a peaceful nonviolent act of protest which took place in Sweden and Denmark.