German military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz observed that many of the important variables in war exist in ‘clouds of great uncertainty’ which create disconnects and confusion that persist even after the fighting has ended. The conflict between the Black Panther Party and the United States government is in ways illustrative of this phenomenon–or ‘the fog of war’ as it has come to be called–and helps explain why the Party is so well known yet misunderstood.
For many, the Black Panther Party exists in image fragments: bullet-pocked storefronts, raised fists, drawings of mutant-pig policemen, Huey P. Newton on a wicker throne. For others, it exists in biographies of its leaders: Revolutionary Suicide, Seize the Time, This Side of Glory, A Taste of Power, just to name a few. Historians and political theorists have weighed in as well exploring the excesses of COINTELPRO, the failures of party leaders, gender inequity, missed opportunities, failed alliances, and endless betrayals. Yet there is still much to learn. In Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (University of California Press, 2013), authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin do an excellent job of putting the movement in its historical and philosophical context as not merely a challenge to American racism, but to American empire.
Joshua was kind enough to speak to us about his book. I hope you enjoy.