Early review: Seth Rosenfeld's accusation against Richard Aoki

The following quick review appeared first on Scott's facebook page.  This was written on Tuesday based on excerpts of the book Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power -- the full book is now available.

Scott is Director of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at University of Michigan

by Scott Kurashige

Ok, through Amazon and Google previews (you need both cause they provide different pages) I just read almost the entire chapter of Seth Rosenfeld's book dealing with Aoki. Can't say anything conclusive yet but we do have much more to work with.

Normally I'd say we should all wait for the full publication to be released before criticizing a book--but this is a different case. When an author makes sensational claims in a short excerpt (just like Amy Chua did) we need to respond with what we have to work with right now.

First let's be clear--the whole chapter is not about Aoki and that's the only one out of 27 that deals with Aoki.  Almost the entire book is about the FBI messing with UC Berkeley student activism in the 60s. Here's the thesis (pp. 34-35 on ibooks): "Each of these men [Reagan, Berkeley president Clark Kerr, and Mario Savio] had a transforming vision of America and exerted extraordinary and lasting influence on the nation. By tracing the bureau's involvement with these iconic figures, this book reveals a secret history of America in the sixties. It shows how the FBI's dirty tricks at Berkeley helped fuel the student movement, damage the Democratic Party, launch Ronald Reagan's political career, and exacerbate the nation's continuing cultural wars." So we know that he chose to advance excerpt the Aoki narrative not because it's central to his book but because it was the most sensational sound bite he could use to draw attention to himself ahead of the book release (standard marketing practice of course).

The thesis stated is entirely consistent with the liberal narrative of the 60s that I discussed earlier.

Savio--the white free speech activist from the early 60s--is "brilliant"; Reagan--the right winger--makes a pact with the devil (Hoover) to advance politically; Kerr is the reasonable, underappreciated liberal who was trying to be a responsible steward but was a casualty of the new social polarization. Three white male protagonists represent the 60s and the transformation of America--think that will hold up in 2042?

Second, there is very little about Aoki's relationship to the BPP even in this one chapter and almost of all of this material is already reported in the CIR (long version--not the short version on sfgate) article by Rosenfeld and the accompanying video. The only new information is that Rosenfeld says the (November) 1967 report posted in the CIR article (and the only one that Rosenfeld provides to substantiate his claim that Aoki was an informer) also states that Aoki reported to the FBI in May 1967 that he had joined the BPP and was "minister of education." That may be very significant, but I also don't think you're going to get any more from Rosenfeld than that. There's nothing that says Aoki was ordered by the FBI to do any actions within the BPP.

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  • Guest - giovanni33

    This was a very well reasoned analysis. Just wanted to thank Scott for writing it, and Kasama for publishing it.