Sergio Romero is a young engineering student at an Ivy League university where he is trying to find a girlfriend, for love and sex, in the Spring of 1969 before he is drafted into the US Army to fight in the Vietnam War. Can he evade the military draft at the height of the war to pursue his career goals and to find a woman he can share love with, without missing out on both and having his young life cut short? This is a story of young people bursting into adulthood at a pivotal time of great uncertainty and creativity, filled with beauty, tragedy and promise, and it is a story of friendship.
Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was an American military officer and politician who served as the 18th president of the United States from 1869 to 1877. As president, Grant was an effective civil rights executive who created the Justice Department and worked with the Radical Republicans to protect African Americans during Reconstruction. As Commanding General, he led the Union Army to victory in the American Civil War in 1865 and thereafter briefly served as Secretary of War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_S._Grant
This is essential reading for understand the full scope of the Civil War. I consider Ulysses S. Grant to be one of the best U.S. Presidents (#2 or at least #3) because of his very intelligent and successful leadership of the Union armies in defeating the Confederacy, and his subsequent forceful leadership as 18th President (1869-1877) in advancing and upholding citizenship rights for Black Americans, and in breaking the Ku Klux Klan (with U.S. troops), establishing the Department of Justice, instituting the first Civil Service administration (for getting government jobs, instead of by patronage), prosecuting corrupt officials, and otherwise working to seek peaceful means of solving political disputes.
While the Great Sioux War, with the Plains Indians, occurred during his administration, and campaigns against them by Generals Sherman and Sheridan (and others) were prosecuted, he nevertheless had a less harsh attitude to the American Indians than was the overall consensus of the U.S. Government and the U.S. public (for example, he condemned George Armstrong Custer’s assault on the encamped assembled tribes under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Little Big Horn (river), resulting in the massacre of the 7th Cavalry column led by Custer); but he still had the view of bringing the American Indian way of life to an end and their integration into conventional American life as led by its White and Black citizens (and the exploitation of the “wild” Indian lands).
I realize it is unrealistic to expect a mid 19th century American general and politician to have had the more enlightened views of Native Americans that are largely (but not yet entirely!) the consensus today. So despite these anachronistic deficiencies, as seen from today, I think him a great President because he ensured that the Confederacy was defeated militarily, and then subsequently politically eliminated so far as possible (with passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments — in July 1868 and February 1870, respectively — and his other enforcement actions: “Reconstruction” — lasting from 1865 to 1877, and really still needed today!, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_era). As president, Grant ensured the reunification of the United States without slavery actualizing Abraham Lincoln’s vision for the nation, and achieving Lincoln’s purpose in prosecuting the Civil War.
It was through the efforts of Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) that Grant was prompted to write out his detailed memoirs of his military career, and get handsomely paid for them, lifting his family out of bankruptcy (or near so). Grant completed his work on his memoirs one week before he died of throat cancer, in 1885. Grant’s ‘Personal Memoirs’ covers the first 43 years of his life, up to the end of the Civil War, in the summer of 1865.
‘The Coming Crisis’ (1856-1860)
Chapter XVI of the ‘Personal Memoirs’ of Ulysses S. Grant is 1/7th of the way through that work, and it is magnificent. It describes the politics and sociology behind the secessionist movement by the Southern States during 1856-1860. I am struck with how Grant’s analysis of the United States during that period is so resonant to the situation today, specifically during 2016-2021, the Trump Administration and the first year of the Biden Administration, 160 years later. The book up to that point had recounted Grant’s early life, and his experiences fighting in the Mexican War (1845-1846), which war was the first impetus for the American Civil War (12 April 1861 — 9 May 1865): “But with the inauguration of the Mexican war, in fact with the annexation of Texas, ‘the inevitable conflict’ commenced.”
“While a citizen of Missouri, my first opportunity for casting a vote at a Presidential election occurred. I had been in the army from before attaining my majority and had thought but little about politics, although I was a Whig by education and a great admirer of Mr. Clay. But the Whig party had ceased to exist before I had an opportunity of exercising the privilege of casting a ballot; the Know-Nothing party had taken its place, but was on the wane; and the Republican party was in a chaotic state and had not yet received a name. It had no existence in the Slave States except at points on the borders next to Free States. In St. Louis City and County, what afterwards became the Republican party was known as the Free-Soil Democracy, led by the Honorable Frank P. Blair. Most of my neighbors had known me as an officer of the army with Whig proclivities. They had been on the same side, and, on the death of their party, many had become Know-Nothings, or members of the American party. There was a lodge near my new home, and I was invited to join it. I accepted the invitation; was initiated; attended a meeting just one week later, and never went to another afterwards.”
“I have no apologies to make for having been one week a member of the American party; for I still think native-born citizens of the United States should have as much protection, as many privileges in their native country, as those who voluntarily select it for a home. But all secret, oath-bound political parties are dangerous to any nation, no matter how pure or how patriotic the motives and principles which first bring them together. No political party can or ought to exist when one of its corner-stones is opposition to freedom of thought and to the right to worship God “according to the dictate of one’s own conscience,” or according to the creed of any religious denomination whatever. Nevertheless, if a sect sets up its laws as binding above the State laws, wherever the two come in conflict this claim must be resisted and suppressed at whatever cost.”
“Up to the Mexican war there were a few out and out abolitionists, men who carried their hostility to slavery into all elections, from those for a justice of the peace up to the Presidency of the United States. They were noisy but not numerous. But the great majority of people at the North, where slavery did not exist, were opposed to the institution, and looked upon its existence in any part of the country as unfortunate. They did not hold the States where slavery existed responsible for it; and believed that protection should be given to the right of property in slaves until some satisfactory way could be reached to be rid of the institution. Opposition to slavery was not a creed of either political party. In some sections more anti-slavery men belonged to the Democratic party, and in others to the Whigs. But with the inauguration of the Mexican war, in fact with the annexation of Texas, ‘the inevitable conflict’ commenced.”
“As the time for the Presidential election of 1856—the first at which I had the opportunity of voting—approached, party feeling began to run high. The Republican party was regarded in the South and the border States not only as opposed to the extension of slavery, but as favoring the compulsory abolition of the institution without compensation to the owners. The most horrible visions seemed to present themselves to the minds of people who, one would suppose, ought to have known better. Many educated and, otherwise, sensible persons appeared to believe that emancipation meant social equality. Treason to the Government was openly advocated and was not rebuked. It was evident to my mind that the election of a Republican President in 1856 meant the secession of all the Slave States, and rebellion. Under these circumstances I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunged into a war the end of which no man could foretell. With a Democrat elected by the unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years. I very much hoped that the passions of the people would subside in that time, and the catastrophe be averted altogether; if it was not, I believed the country would be better prepared to receive the shock and to resist it. I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President. Four years later the Republican party was successful in electing its candidate to the Presidency. The civilized world has learned the consequence. Four millions of human beings held as chattels have been liberated; the ballot has been given to them; the free schools of the country have been opened to their children. The nation still lives, and the people are just as free to avoid social intimacy with the blacks as ever they were, or as they are with white people.”
“Now, the right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable. But any people or part of a people who resort to this remedy, stake their lives, their property, and every claim for protection given by citizenship—on the issue. Victory, or the conditions imposed by the conqueror—must be the result.”
“The framers were wise in their generation and wanted to do the very best possible to secure their own liberty and independence, and that also of their descendants to the latest days. It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies… We could not and ought not to be rigidly bound by the rules laid down under circumstances so different for emergencies so utterly unanticipated. The fathers themselves would have been the first to declare that their prerogatives were not irrevocable. They would surely have resisted secession could they have lived to see the shape it assumed.” — [‘Personal Memoirs’, Ulysses S. Grant, Chapter XVI] — https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4367/4367-h/4367-h.htm#ch16
On reading this last paragraph, I immediately thought of the 2nd Amendment.
“There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefitted by its defeat than the North. The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The war was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all it cost.” — [‘Personal Memoirs’, Ulysses S. Grant, Chapter XLI] — https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4367/4367-h/4367-h.htm#ch41
“Unconditional Surrender” Grant
The Battle of Fort Henry was fought on February 6, 1862, in Donelson, Stewart County, Tennessee, during the American Civil War. It was the first important victory for the Union and Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Western Theater. The surrender of Fort Henry opened the Tennessee River to Union traffic south of the Alabama border. In the days following the fort’s surrender, from February 6 through February 12, Union raids used ironclad boats to destroy Confederate shipping and railroad bridges along the river. On February 12, Grant’s army proceeded overland 12 miles (19 km) to engage with Confederate troops in the Battle of Fort Donelson. — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fort_Henry
The Battle of Fort Donelson was fought from February 11–16, 1862, in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. The Union capture of the Confederate fort near the Tennessee–Kentucky border opened the Cumberland River, an important avenue for the invasion of the South. The Union’s success also elevated Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant from an obscure and largely unproven leader to the rank of major general, and earned him the nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fort_Donelson
Before daylight General Smith [U.S.A.] brought to me the following letter from General Buckner [C.S.A.]:
HEADQUARTERS, FORT DONELSON, February 16, 1862.
SIR:—In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station, I propose to the Commanding Officer of the Federal forces the appointment of Commissioners to agree upon terms of capitulation of the forces and fort under my command, and in that view suggest an armistice until 12 o’clock to-day.
I am, sir, very respectfully, Your ob’t se’v’t, S. B. BUCKNER, Brig. Gen. C. S. A.
To Brigadier-General U. S. Grant, Com’ding U. S. Forces, Near Fort Donelson.
To this I responded as follows:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY IN THE FIELD, Camp near Donelson, February 16, 1862.
General S. B. BUCKNER, Confederate Army.
SIR:—Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of Commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.
I am, sir, very respectfully, Your ob’t se’v’t, U. S. GRANT, Brig. Gen.
To this I received the following reply:
HEADQUARTERS, DOVER, TENNESSEE, February 16, 1862.
To Brig. Gen’I U. S. GRANT, U. S. Army.
SIR:—The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.
I am, sir, Your very ob’t se’v’t, S. B. BUCKNER, Brig. Gen. C. S. A.
Chapter LXVII, General U. S. Grant (commander of the National Army) describing General R. E. Lee (commander of the Confederate Army), meeting at McLean’s House at Appomattox Courthouse, VA, 9 April 1865, for the surrender of the Confederacy (p580):
“Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
“There has always been a great conflict of opinion as to the number of troops engaged in every battle, or all important battles, fought between the sections, the South magnifying the number of Union troops engaged and belittling their own. Northern writers have fallen, in many instances, into the same error. I have often heard gentlemen, who were thoroughly loyal to the Union, speak of what a splendid fight the South had made and successfully continued for four years before yielding, with their twelve million of people against our twenty, and of the twelve four being colored slaves, non-combatants. I will add to their argument. We had many regiments of brave and loyal men who volunteered under great difficulty from the twelve million belonging to the South.
“But the South had rebelled against the National government. It was not bound by any constitutional restrictions. The whole South was a military camp. The occupation of the colored people was to furnish supplies for the army. Conscription was resorted to early, and embraced every male from the age of eighteen to forty-five, excluding only those physically unfit to serve in the field, and the necessary number of civil officers of State and intended National government. The old and physically disabled furnished a good portion of these. The slaves, the non-combatants, one-third of the whole, were required to work in the field without regard to sex, and almost without regard to age. Children from the age of eight years could and did handle the hoe; they were not much older when they began to hold the plough. The four million of colored non-combatants were equal to more than three times their number in the North, age for age and sex for sex, in supplying food from the soil to support armies. Women did not work in the fields in the North, and children attended school.
“The arts of peace were carried on in the North. Towns and cities grew during the war. Inventions were made in all kinds of machinery to increase the products of a day’s labor in the shop, and in the field. In the South no opposition was allowed to the government which had been set up and which would have become real and respected if the rebellion had been successful. No rear had to be protected. All the troops in service could be brought to the front to contest every inch of ground threatened with invasion. The press of the South, like the people who remained at home, were loyal to the Southern cause.
“In the North, the country, the towns and the cities presented about the same appearance they do in time of peace. The furnace was in blast, the shops were filled with workmen, the fields were cultivated, not only to supply the population of the North and the troops invading the South, but to ship abroad to pay a part of the expense of the war. In the North the press was free up to the point of open treason. The citizen could entertain his views and express them. Troops were necessary in the Northern States to prevent prisoners from the Southern army being released by outside force, armed and set at large to destroy by fire our Northern cities. Plans were formed by Northern and Southern citizens to burn our cities, to poison the water supplying them, to spread infection by importing clothing from infected regions, to blow up our river and lake steamers—regardless of the destruction of innocent lives. The copperhead disreputable portion of the press magnified rebel successes, and belittled those of the Union army. It was, with a large following, an auxiliary to the Confederate army. The North would have been much stronger with a hundred thousand of these men in the Confederate ranks and the rest of their kind thoroughly subdued, as the Union sentiment was in the South, than we were as the battle was fought.
“As I have said, the whole South was a military camp. The colored people, four million in number, were submissive, and worked in the field and took care of the families while the able-bodied white men were at the front fighting for a cause destined to defeat. The cause was popular, and was enthusiastically supported by the young men. The conscription took all of them. Before the war was over, further conscriptions took those between fourteen and eighteen years of age as junior reserves, and those between forty-five and sixty as senior reserves. It would have been an offence, directly after the war, and perhaps it would be now, to ask any able-bodied man in the South, who was between the ages of fourteen and sixty at any time during the war, whether he had been in the Confederate army. He would assert that he had, or account for his absence from the ranks. Under such circumstances it is hard to conceive how the North showed such a superiority of force in every battle fought. I know they did not…
“This was characteristic of Mr. Stanton [Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, 1862-1867, 1868]. He was a man who never questioned his own authority, and who always did in war time what he wanted to do. He was an able constitutional lawyer and jurist; but the Constitution was not an impediment to him while the war lasted. In this latter particular I entirely agree with the view he evidently held. The Constitution was not framed with a view to any such rebellion as that of 1861-5. While it did not authorize rebellion it made no provision against it. Yet the right to resist or suppress rebellion is as inherent as the right of self-defence, and as natural as the right of an individual to preserve his life when in jeopardy. The Constitution was therefore in abeyance for the time being, so far as it in any way affected the progress and termination of the war.
“Those in rebellion against the government of the United States were not restricted by constitutional provisions, or any other, except the acts of their Congress, which was loyal and devoted to the cause for which the South was then fighting. It would be a hard case when one-third of a nation, united in rebellion against the national authority, is entirely untrammeled, that the other two-thirds, in their efforts to maintain the Union intact, should be restrained by a Constitution prepared by our ancestors for the express purpose of insuring the permanency of the confederation of the States…
“Mrs. Grant was with me in Washington at the time, and we were invited by President and Mrs. Lincoln to accompany them to the theatre on the evening of that day [14 April 1865]. I replied to the President’s verbal invitation to the effect, that if we were in the city we would take great pleasure in accompanying them; but that I was very anxious to get away and visit my children, and if I could get through my work during the day I should do so. I did get through and started by the evening train on the 14th, sending Mr. Lincoln word, of course, that I would not be at the theatre.
“At that time the railroad to New York entered Philadelphia on Broad Street; passengers were conveyed in ambulances to the Delaware River, and then ferried to Camden, at which point they took the cars again. When I reached the ferry, on the east side of the City of Philadelphia, I found people awaiting my arrival there; and also dispatches informing me of the assassination of the President and Mr. Seward, and of the probable assassination of the Vice President, Mr. Johnson, and requesting my immediate return.
“It would be impossible for me to describe the feeling that overcame me at the news of these assassinations, more especially the assassination of the President. I knew his goodness of heart, his generosity, his yielding disposition, his desire to have everybody happy, and above all his desire to see all the people of the United States enter again upon the full privileges of citizenship with equality among all. I knew also the feeling that Mr. Johnson had expressed in speeches and conversation against the Southern people, and I feared that his course towards them would be such as to repel, and make them unwilling citizens; and if they became such they would remain so for a long while. I felt that reconstruction had been set back, no telling how far…
“The joy that I had witnessed among the people in the street and in public places in Washington when I left there, had been turned to grief; the city was in reality a city of mourning. I have stated what I believed then the effect of this would be, and my judgment now is that I was right. I believe the South would have been saved from very much of the hardness of feeling that was engendered by Mr. Johnson’s course towards them during the first few months of his administration. Be this as it may, Mr. Lincoln’s assassination was particularly unfortunate for the entire nation.
“Mr. Johnson’s course towards the South did engender bitterness of feeling. His denunciations of treason and his ever-ready remark, ‘Treason is a crime and must be made odious,’ was repeated to all those men of the South who came to him to get some assurances of safety so that they might go to work at something with the feeling that what they obtained would be secure to them. He uttered his denunciations with great vehemence, and as they were accompanied with no assurances of safety, many Southerners were driven to a point almost beyond endurance.
“The President of the United States is, in a large degree, or ought to be, a representative of the feeling, wishes and judgment of those over whom he presides; and the Southerners who read the denunciations of themselves and their people must have come to the conclusion that he uttered the sentiments of the Northern people; whereas, as a matter of fact, but for the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, I believe the great majority of the Northern people, and the soldiers unanimously, would have been in favor of a speedy reconstruction on terms that would be the least humiliating to the people who had rebelled against their government. They believed, I have no doubt, as I did, that besides being the mildest, it was also the wisest, policy.
“The people who had been in rebellion must necessarily come back into the Union, and be incorporated as an integral part of the nation. Naturally the nearer they were placed to an equality with the people who had not rebelled, the more reconciled they would feel with their old antagonists, and the better citizens they would be from the beginning. They surely would not make good citizens if they felt that they had a yoke around their necks.
“I do not believe that the majority of the Northern people at that time were in favor of negro suffrage. They supposed that it would naturally follow the freedom of the negro, but that there would be a time of probation, in which the ex-slaves could prepare themselves for the privileges of citizenship before the full right would be conferred; but Mr. Johnson, after a complete revolution of sentiment, seemed to regard the South not only as an oppressed people, but as the people best entitled to consideration of any of our citizens. This was more than the people who had secured to us the perpetuation of the Union were prepared for, and they became more radical in their views. The Southerners had the most power in the executive branch, Mr. Johnson having gone to their side; and with a compact South, and such sympathy and support as they could get from the North, they felt that they would be able to control the nation at once, and already many of them acted as if they thought they were entitled to do so.
“Thus Mr. Johnson, fighting Congress on the one hand, and receiving the support of the South on the other, drove Congress, which was overwhelmingly republican, to the passing of first one measure and then another to restrict his power. There being a solid South on one side that was in accord with the political party in the North which had sympathized with the rebellion, it finally, in the judgment of Congress and of the majority of the legislatures of the States, became necessary to enfranchise the negro, in all his ignorance. In this work, I shall not discuss the question of how far the policy of Congress in this particular proved a wise one. It became an absolute necessity, however, because of the foolhardiness of the President and the blindness of the Southern people to their own interest. As to myself, while strongly favoring the course that would be the least humiliating to the people who had been in rebellion, I gradually worked up to the point where, with the majority of the people, I favored immediate enfranchisement.”
“The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United Status will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that ‘A state half slave and half free cannot exist.’ All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.
“Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed; and in a country like ours where the larger portion of it was free territory inhabited by an intelligent and well-to-do population, the people would naturally have but little sympathy with demands upon them for its protection. Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution. They were enabled to maintain this control long after the States where slavery existed had ceased to have the controlling power, through the assistance they received from odd men here and there throughout the Northern States. They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the prerogatives and independence of the Northern States by enacting such laws as the Fugitive Slave Law. By this law every Northern man was obliged, when properly summoned, to turn out and help apprehend the runaway slave of a Southern man. Northern marshals became slave-catchers, and Northern courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution. — [Sounds like ICE today. — MG,Jr.]
“This was a degradation which the North would not permit any longer than until they could get the power to expunge such laws from the statute books. Prior to the time of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had no particular quarrel with slavery, so long as they were not forced to have it themselves. But they were not willing to play the role of police for the South in the protection of this particular institution.
“In the early days of the country, before we had railroads, telegraphs and steamboats—in a word, rapid transit of any sort—the States were each almost a separate nationality. At that time the subject of slavery caused but little or no disturbance to the public mind. But the country grew, rapid transit was established, and trade and commerce between the States got to be so much greater than before, that the power of the National government became more felt and recognized and, therefore, had to be enlisted in the cause of this institution.
“It is probably well that we had the war when we did. We are better off now than we would have been without it, and have made more rapid progress than we otherwise should have made. The civilized nations of Europe have been stimulated into unusual activity, so that commerce, trade, travel, and thorough acquaintance among people of different nationalities, has become common; whereas, before, it was but the few who had ever had the privilege of going beyond the limits of their own country or who knew anything about other people. Then, too, our republican institutions were regarded as experiments up to the breaking out of the rebellion, and monarchical Europe generally believed that our republic was a rope of sand that would part the moment the slightest strain was brought upon it. Now it has shown itself capable of dealing with one of the greatest wars that was ever made, and our people have proven themselves to be the most formidable in war of any nationality.
“But this war was a fearful lesson, and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future.
“The conduct of some of the European states during our troubles shows the lack of conscience of communities where the responsibility does not come upon a single individual. Seeing a nation that extended from ocean to ocean, embracing the better part of a continent, growing as we were growing in population, wealth and intelligence, the European nations thought it would be well to give us a check. We might, possibly, after a while threaten their peace, or, at least, the perpetuity of their institutions. Hence, England was constantly finding fault with the administration at Washington because we were not able to keep up an effective blockade. She also joined, at first, with France and Spain in setting up an Austrian prince upon the throne in Mexico, totally disregarding any rights or claims that Mexico had of being treated as an independent power. It is true they trumped up grievances as a pretext, but they were only pretexts which can always be found when wanted.
“Mexico, in her various revolutions, had been unable to give that protection to the subjects of foreign nations which she would have liked to give, and some of her revolutionary leaders had forced loans from them. Under pretence of protecting their citizens, these nations seized upon Mexico as a foothold for establishing a European monarchy upon our continent, thus threatening our peace at home. I, myself, regarded this as a direct act of war against the United States by the powers engaged, and supposed as a matter of course that the United States would treat it as such when their hands were free to strike. I often spoke of the matter to Mr. Lincoln and the Secretary of War, but never heard any special views from them to enable me to judge what they thought or felt about it. I inferred that they felt a good deal as I did, but were unwilling to commit themselves while we had our own troubles upon our hands.
“All of the powers except France very soon withdrew from the armed intervention for the establishment of an Austrian prince upon the throne of Mexico; but the governing people of these countries continued to the close of the war to throw obstacles in our way. After the surrender of Lee, therefore, entertaining the opinion here expressed, I sent Sheridan with a corps to the Rio Grande to have him where he might aid Juarez in expelling the French from Mexico. These troops got off before they could be stopped; and went to the Rio Grande, where Sheridan distributed them up and down the river, much to the consternation of the troops in the quarter of Mexico bordering on that stream. This soon led to a request from France that we should withdraw our troops from the Rio Grande and to negotiations for the withdrawal of theirs. Finally Bazaine was withdrawn from Mexico by order of the French Government. From that day the empire began to totter. Mexico was then able to maintain her independence without aid from us.
“France is the traditional ally and friend of the United States. I did not blame France for her part in the scheme to erect a monarchy upon the ruins of the Mexican Republic. That was the scheme of one man, an imitator without genius or merit. He had succeeded in stealing the government of his country, and made a change in its form against the wishes and instincts of his people. He tried to play the part of the first Napoleon, without the ability to sustain that role. He sought by new conquests to add to his empire and his glory; but the signal failure of his scheme of conquest was the precursor of his own overthrow.
“Like our own war between the States, the Franco-Prussian war was an expensive one; but it was worth to France all it cost her people. It was the completion of the downfall of Napoleon III. The beginning was when he landed troops on this continent. Failing here, the prestige of his name—all the prestige he ever had—was gone. He must achieve a success or fall. He tried to strike down his neighbor, Prussia—and fell.
“I never admired the character of the first Napoleon; but I recognize his great genius. His work, too, has left its impress for good on the face of Europe. The third Napoleon could have no claim to having done a good or just act.
“To maintain peace in the future it is necessary to be prepared for war. There can scarcely be a possible chance of a conflict, such as the last one, occurring among our own people again; but, growing as we are, in population, wealth and military power, we may become the envy of nations which led us in all these particulars only a few years ago; and unless we are prepared for it we may be in danger of a combined movement being some day made to crush us out. Now, scarcely twenty years after the war, we seem to have forgotten the lessons it taught, and are going on as if in the greatest security, without the power to resist an invasion by the fleets of fourth-rate European powers for a time until we could prepare for them.
“We should have a good navy, and our sea-coast defences should be put in the finest possible condition. Neither of these cost much when it is considered where the money goes, and what we get in return. Money expended in a fine navy, not only adds to our security and tends to prevent war in the future, but is very material aid to our commerce with foreign nations in the meantime. Money spent upon sea-coast defences is spent among our own people, and all goes back again among the people. The work accomplished, too, like that of the navy, gives us a feeling of security.
“England’s course towards the United States during the rebellion exasperated the people of this country very much against the mother country. I regretted it. England and the United States are natural allies, and should be the best of friends. They speak one language, and are related by blood and other ties. We together, or even either separately, are better qualified than any other people to establish commerce between all the nationalities of the world.
“England governs her own colonies, and particularly those embracing the people of different races from her own, better than any other nation. She is just to the conquered, but rigid. She makes them self-supporting, but gives the benefit of labor to the laborer. She does not seem to look upon the colonies as outside possessions which she is at liberty to work for the support and aggrandizement of the home government. — [Here, Grant is far too kind to British Imperialism. — MG,Jr.]
“The hostility of England to the United States during our rebellion was not so much real as it was apparent. It was the hostility of the leaders of one political party. I am told that there was no time during the civil war when they were able to get up in England a demonstration in favor of secession, while these were constantly being gotten up in favor of the Union, or, as they called it, in favor of the North. Even in Manchester, which suffered so fearfully by having the cotton cut off from her mills, they had a monster demonstration in favor of the North at the very time when their workmen were almost famishing.
“It is possible that the question of a conflict between races may come up in the future, as did that between freedom and slavery before. The condition of the colored man within our borders may become a source of anxiety, to say the least. But he was brought to our shores by compulsion, and he now should be considered as having as good a right to remain here as any other class of our citizens. It was looking to a settlement of this question that led me to urge the annexation of Santo Domingo during the time I was President of the United States.
“Santo Domingo was freely offered to us, not only by the administration, but by all the people, almost without price. The island is upon our shores, is very fertile, and is capable of supporting fifteen millions of people. The products of the soil are so valuable that labor in her fields would be so compensated as to enable those who wished to go there to quickly repay the cost of their passage. I took it that the colored people would go there in great numbers, so as to have independent states governed by their own race. They would still be States of the Union, and under the protection of the General Government; but the citizens would be almost wholly colored. — [Even today most people prefer living in same ethnicity and same race and same class enclaves, even if they all enjoy equality under the law. The truly Bohemian are a small minority. — MG,Jr.]
“By the war with Mexico, we had acquired, as we have seen, territory almost equal in extent to that we already possessed. It was seen that the volunteers of the Mexican war largely composed the pioneers to settle up the Pacific coast country. Their numbers, however, were scarcely sufficient to be a nucleus for the population of the important points of the territory acquired by that war. After our rebellion, when so many young men were at liberty to return to their homes, they found they were not satisfied with the farm, the store, or the work-shop of the villages, but wanted larger fields. The mines of the mountains first attracted them; but afterwards they found that rich valleys and productive grazing and farming lands were there. This territory, the geography of which was not known to us at the close of the rebellion, is now as well mapped as any portion of our country. Railroads traverse it in every direction, north, south, east, and west. The mines are worked. The high lands are used for grazing purposes, and rich agricultural lands are found in many of the valleys. This is the work of the volunteer. It is probable that the Indians would have had control of these lands for a century yet but for the war. We must conclude, therefore, that wars are not always evils unmixed with some good. — [The multi-race, multi-ethnic “diverse” population of the reunified United States of the 19th century was not accepting of the American Indian — Native American — way of life. — MG,Jr.]
“Prior to the rebellion the great mass of the people were satisfied to remain near the scenes of their birth. In fact an immense majority of the whole people did not feel secure against coming to want should they move among entire strangers. So much was the country divided into small communities that localized idioms had grown up, so that you could almost tell what section a person was from by hearing him speak. Before, new territories were settled by a “class”; people who shunned contact with others; people who, when the country began to settle up around them, would push out farther from civilization. Their guns furnished meat, and the cultivation of a very limited amount of the soil, their bread and vegetables. All the streams abounded with fish. Trapping would furnish pelts to be brought into the States once a year, to pay for necessary articles which they could not raise—powder, lead, whiskey, tobacco and some store goods. Occasionally some little articles of luxury would enter into these purchases—a quarter of a pound of tea, two or three pounds of coffee, more of sugar, some playing cards, and if anything was left over of the proceeds of the sale, more whiskey.
“Little was known of the topography of the country beyond the settlements of these frontiersmen. This is all changed now. The war begot a spirit of independence and enterprise. The feeling now is, that a youth must cut loose from his old surroundings to enable him to get up in the world. There is now such a commingling of the people that particular idioms and pronunciation are no longer localized to any great extent; the country has filled up ‘from the centre all around to the sea’; railroads connect the two oceans and all parts of the interior; maps, nearly perfect, of every part of the country are now furnished the student of geography.
“The war has made us a nation of great power and intelligence. We have but little to do to preserve peace, happiness and prosperity at home, and the respect of other nations. Our experience ought to teach us the necessity of the first; our power secures the latter.
“I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to ‘Let us have peace.’
“The expression of these kindly feelings were not restricted to a section of the country, nor to a division of the people. They came from individual citizens of all nationalities; from all denominations—the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew; and from the various societies of the land—scientific, educational, religious or otherwise. Politics did not enter into the matter at all.
“I am not egotist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope the good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.”
After the Civil War
In his ‘Memoirs’, Grant only gives a few comments about his post Civil War political activities, and those have been included above. For details about his presidency, a good place to start is the Wikipedia article about him, noted at the top of this article. Beyond that, one has to read the books by historians on Grant’s biography and 19th century American history.
I now see the history of the United Stated of American as a contest between movements to strengthen White Supremacy, and movements to weaken and eliminate White Supremacy. My own view on how White Supremacy in the U.S. would have to be eliminated are as follows
Freedom versus Slave Mind
White Supremacy will end with human extinction. The angry rage of conservatives and fundamentalists, in the face of godless skepticism, is really an anguished cry of: “don’t make us question our bigotry!” For working class people who can’t think better, White Supremacy is a psychological compensation for an inferiority complex. That complex is learned from infected parents, and indoctrinated into one by a capitalist class society intent to exploit and enslave people by controlling their minds with a programming for obedience to higher authority, a sense of inadequacy and neediness, and with race- and ethnicity-based prejudice, to cause disunity among the great mass of the working class. Working class white supremacists are simply abused children passing on their abuse to younger generations and lower seniority workers and employees: ignorant slaves seeking to compensate for their hidden lack of self-respect by trying to depreciate and enslave others “below them”. The capitalist upper class propagates this mass psychology illness of low self-esteem, neediness and bigotry, because it is the method by which the union of the rich few control the disunion of the poor many. “Divide and conquer” was how the Roman Empire was ruled, and so with America today. Ending White Supremacy before human extinction occurs would require a Marxist Revolution to full Communism. A first step to that political goal is Labor Union organizing so the Labor Union Movement expands to the point of controlling the national economy. Then a Social Revolution can occur, which ends all interpersonal prejudices. Such a political-social progression is the only way militarism-imperialism can be overcome, and Climate Change finally seriously confronted. Such a Paradigm Shift is deemed “impossible” by capitalist indoctrination in the Slave Mind. And it may be unlikely in your lifetime, but that does not prevent you from working toward that Paradigm Shift — The Revolution — beginning with your own transformation out of Slave Mind, and then with the activism and organizing you may choose to do. The Revolution is not merely a desired socio-political event at some time in the future during the course of human history, it is a living process carried within the individual lives of people who have freed themselves from Slave Mind, and by their living examples push back against the oppressors’s imposition of Slave Mind and its White Supremacy illness, even onto the last day of human existence if that is to be our collective fate. Be joyful in your freedom. — [Freedom versus Slave Mind, 16 December 2021] https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/12/16/freedom-versus-slave-mind/
I see specific political and economic and social policies emerging from a root of White Supremacy as those of:
slavery (legally ended in 1865),
virulent anti-Black racism (Ku Klux Klan and similar groups and individuals, violence and lynchings),
Jim Crow laws (legally ended between 1954 and 1965),
racist police practices (today: ‘driving while Black’, and if so don’t have a busted taillight),
apartheid/segregation (overtly in the Confederate States into the mid-late 20th — supposedly ended with the 1954 legal desegregation of public schools, and 1964-1965 Voting Rights and Civil Rights Federal legislation — and much less so in the ‘North’, and covertly practiced as with real estate “red lining”),
Black and minority vote/voter suppression (mainly in the former Confederate States, but also now enthusiastically championed by the current Republican Party everywhere in this 21st century America!),
anti-socialist, anti-Communist, anti-union, anti-labor politics and McCarthyism style persecutions (socialist and labor union movements are inherently anti-racist, and now increasingly sympathetic to immigrants),
anti-immigrant (since many are not White or rich, immigrants often being political asylum seekers and refugees from wars, foreign economic collapses and environmental collapses — and usually the American Capitalists — Wall Street — are benefiting from those foreign disasters and injustices),
anti-economic equality/equity (the signal feature of racism such as White Supremacy is gaining as much economic advantage (wealth in comparison to) as the people of the disfavored (bigoted against) populations.
anti-expansion of popular national publicly funded benefits, such as Medicare-For-All, Social Security (Basic Universal Income for all); it is fundamentally a racist/classist/White Supremacy policy for the U.S. Government to favor corporate profits over equitable taxation (raise corporate taxes as in the late 1950s and tax Wall Street transactions, and do not publicly bail out Wall Street and Banking speculation of no material use to the public) over the expansion of maternity and paternity leave, and the significant raising of the legally set minimum wage,
pro-militarism, pro-imperialist (the obscene excess of military spending in the U.S. is a gross theft from the public good just to lard very wealthy special interests and their selected “industries.”)
The 46 US Presidents we have had so far could imperfectly be divided into three categories:
actively pro White Supremacy (seeking to expand and perpetuate that regime),
merely managing the existing national status quo (traditionally, some degree of White Supremacy),
anti-WS, actively seeking to diminish White Supremacy relative to its level at their time.
My initial estimations of pro White Supremacy US Presidents are (chronologically):
George Washington (#1, 1789-1797)
Thomas Jefferson (#3, 1801-1809)
James Monroe (#5, 1817-1825)
Andrew Jackson (#7, 1829-1837)
James K. Polk (#11, 1845-1849)
James Buchanan (#15, 1857-1861)
Andrew Johnson (#17, 1865-1869)
William McKinley (#25, 1897-1901)
Woodrow Wilson (#28, 1913-1921)
Richard Nixon (#37, 1969-1974)
Ronald Reagan (#40, 1981-1989)
George W. Bush (#43, 2001-2009)
Donald Trump (#45, 2017-2021).
My initial estimations of the anti White Supremacy US presidents are (chronologically):
John Adams (#2, 1797-1801)
John Quincy Adams (#6, 1825-1829)
Abraham Lincoln (#16, 1861-1865)
Ulysses S. Grant (#18, 1869-1877)
Theodore Roosevelt (#26, 1901-1909)
Franklin D. Roosevelt (#32, 1933-1945)
Harry S. Truman (#33, 1945-1953)
Lyndon B. Johnson (#36, 1963-1969)
Jimmy Carter (#39, 1977-1981)
I provisionally place the 24 presidents not named in the above, in category #2: mere managers of the status quo. Clearly, partisans of each of the presidents named and not named, as well as people impressed with their own qualifications as historians, could (and would if they chanced to read this) challenge my assignments to these three categories. Also, some presidents had some admixture of pro-WS and anti-WS actions and attitudes during their administrations. My assignments to the two categories above is based on my estimation of the predominant tendency of the individual, and the longevity of its effect.
Presidents after Jimmy Carter not named so far: George H. W. Bush (#41, 1989-1993), Bill Clinton (#42, 1993-2001), Barack Obama (#44, 2009-2017), Joe Biden (#46, 2021-), are so besotted with capitalism that they have been indifferent at best (and even often unhelpful) to any concerted anti-White Supremacy effort.
I have found it interesting to use Ulysses S. Grant’s anti-slavery and unionist attitudes, and his Presidential Administration, as a relative standard with which to gauge presidents before and since as regards moving the United States away from White Supremacy and toward a truly non-racist egalitarian and popularly diverse and most desired socialist society and political economy.
The decade of the 1920s was one of industrialization and economic growth, globally. This relatively peaceful and prosperous period ended with the onset of a quarter century of economic hardship and armed conflict.
In 1927, a civil war broke out in China that would finally end with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. In 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, and the Great Depression began. Two years later, a period of 23 years of continuous international warfare began.
The period of open warfare, which includes the 1939-1945 interval labeled “World War Two,” began in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and ended in 1953 with the armistice ending the shooting of the Korean War.
The United States of America emerged from the period of economic depression and world war as the supreme global power by 1945, and it would revitalize its non-communist European and Asian allies, and former enemies, during the period of postwar reconstruction from 1945 to 1953.
As the combatant nations of WWII recovered and reconstituted themselves in the immediate postwar years, they were each motivated by revulsion over the recent past, gratitude to the millions of soldiers and workers who brought about the collective liberation, and hope for a brighter future, to develop some form of social contract between the people and their governments, the labor force, and the industries. In the United States, this social contract was a bipartisan support for popular New Deal and progressive collectivities like Social Security, public education, unionized labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), as well as the postwar G.I. Bill (educational and housing benefits for veterans). In the non-communist European states it was a social democratic form of government, which managed many nationalized popular benefits. In the communist states, the socialized benefits were offered in exchange for unchallenged political control by Communist Party authority.
The next twenty years (1953-1973) were the golden age of capitalism and Soviet communism, a period of unexcelled economic expansion resulting from vigorous industrialization coupled with distributive social contracts.
Despite increasing population, productivity slackened in the 1970s, and given the unavoidable increase of social costs, the expansion of prosperity stagnated. By the end of the decade, plutocratic political pressure in the West had built up enough to increasingly detach government from stewardship of the social contract, and more closely focus it on corporate interests. In 1978, the People’s Republic of China abandoned central planning and began command capitalism.
Over thirty years of neoliberalism followed in the capitalist world, to the present day (from about 1979 to 2011). Non-communist neoliberalism is “free,” or market-driven (with varying interventions by governments), while a command form of neoliberalism is used in the People’s Republic of China, directed by its exclusive national party.
At the beginning of the 1990s (between 1989 and 1991) the economically and politically stagnant Soviet Union and its satellite empire in Eastern Europe disintegrated, and the many independent states formed out of that former political monolith were absorbed into the capitalist world.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the United States was de-industrializing (“outsourcing”) to increase corporate profits by decreasing its domestic labor costs. Many newly industrializing states (NIEs) in Asia and Latin America were taking advantage of this expatriation of American industrial capacity, by offering to host foreign-owned industrial facilities, and offering their people as a lower-cost substitute labor force.
Japan was a leader in outsourcing production throughout Asia, but it only did so after achieving full employment in Japan, and only to increase its total industrial output to feed its export (mainly U.S.) market. While the portion of Japan’s labor force in industry has dropped since before the 1990s, the affected workers have been shifted to service industry employment, so full employment has been maintained (about 4% unemployment during the 2000s).
As in the major industrialized states during the 1970s, productivity gains in the 2000s in the now more developed NIEs were not always capable of outpacing the growth of population and the increasing costs of social needs and unexpected losses. So, the returns from some outsourced investments were diminished from initial expectations. The perceived lethargy of industrial development anywhere to yield profits quickly enough increased investors’ fever to decouple profitability from productivity. The first decade of the 21st century was one of frenzied speculation in financialized paper (e.g., derivatives, hedge funds), and was facilitated by the deregulation of the US banking industry in 1999.
The financial system collapsed between 2007 (burst housing bubble, banks insolvent) and 2008 (stock market crash, public bail-out of banks), after thirty years of de-industrialization accompanied by a trend of growing income inequality. From a rate of 4.5% in early 2007, the official US unemployment rate shot up past 10% by January 2010, and remains above 9% today. One should double these numbers for a more realistic estimate of unemployment.
The combination of heavy personal debt and lack of jobs (for skilled labor and professionals) has spurred many people across the United States to congregate in public protests, to move themselves beyond fearfulness in isolation to a release of their anger, by channeling it into a joint sense of purpose for social change. These are the people of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in its many locations.
The sense of purpose for social change has two parts: a change of self image so one interacts in a new and more effective way with the rest of society, and the taking up of some form of political activism so as to help move the larger society to change in desired ways. How these two factors are proportioned within any particular individual is determined by their unique circumstances.
OWS is the human face of debilitating debt and unemployment, and it will disappear when popular debt relief (e.g., for underwater mortgages and student loans) and the widespread availability of skilled employment occur. How long it will take the U.S. to arrange for popular debt relief and the widespread availability of skilled employment is unknown. Equally unknown are how many political and thus economic changes will have to be made in the course of arriving at popular debt relief and a full employment economy, but ultimately that point will be reached because it is the most stable arrangement for US society. Resistance to achieving this stable social state will only delay the inevitable and increase the quantity of blood, sweat, tears, and money needed to achieve it.
Every desire for social change held by every person in the OWS movement can be reflected in one simple phrase: renew the social contract.
OWS is an awakening. People who had thought of themselves as law abiding, hard working, loyal Americans ready and willing to take their places in society as contributors are waking up to the fact that they have been pushed out of American prosperity, and they want in.
OWS is a protest about being personally saddled with debt, primarily for homes and education, sold under promises of a better future, and then government allowing the lending institutions to destroy the economy necessary to support those rosy futures, at a handsome profit, without penalty, and — most galling — without canceling the essentially fraudulently-created debt on the mortgage holders of financially inundated real estate or evaporated professional careers.
The young people of OWS are the cadets of the bourgeoisie who have been excessed by the time of their graduation. A soulless nation is eating its young: for decades by incarcerating rather than employing blacks, and now, because of a tightening of the money situation for plutocrats, even throwing over the white cadets who have been training to man the occupations that will continue America’s bourgeois economics during the next two decades. The graduates of 2006 to 2016 may be a lost generation, as this is an ageist society. When the economy recovers, maybe by 2016 (since neoliberalism is likely to persist), employers will look to fresh graduates to fill the available slots; once five years out of school, you are obsolete.
OWS has social and political impact primarily by being LARGE and PRESENT. It has to be the elephant in the middle of the nation’s view-screen in order to cause a course correction. The longer OWS endures, the more likely it is that the political class will agree to work toward debt-cancellation and job growth, since these will make OWS disappear.
Can enough new jobs be created soon? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (international business editor at The Telegraph) has the idea that a US economic turnaround (more jobs) will occur within the next few years, brought about by the exploitation of new domestic sources of petroleum (oil shale and tar sands) and a reversal of outsourcing (or, a return to domestic industrialization). This is just one indicator of rational expectations (devoid of environmental concerns) for a resumption of economic growth.
What about reform of the financial industry? Nicholas Kristof, a conservative pundit at The New York Times, is advocating reform of the financial industry because he understands that hubris by the plutocracy could lead to a disastrous popular backlash (the ultimate conservative nightmare is communism). Mainstream voices for financial reform know that wonderful profits can easily be made the old fashioned way, as was the case under Glass-Steagall banking regulations between 1933 and 1999.
And, what about debt relief? Wall Street certainly loves the idea when it applies to banks. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, recently stared down the European banks and made them accept a 50% writedown of their Greek debts. The stock market zoomed 300 points, because investors are far more concerned with the “stability” and continuity of the eurozone financial markets than they are with a few banks losing a few 10s or even 100s of billions (half made up with public bail-outs), so long as the game and the global banking casino are not shut down by a currency (euro) and credit market (banking industry) collapse.
Obviously, the concept of debt relief will be pushed and expanded further and further, because the debt burden everywhere is like a bone caught in the financial world’s throat. Once it is finally swallowed or coughed out, then the feasting can begin again. When debt is cancelled, people are free to borrow, spend, create, and expand productivity, that is to say generate earnings and profits. The next Steve Jobs may be milling about in an OWS throng, just waiting for student loan relief to set him capitalistically free. So, we can expect that when OWS people begin speaking the language of demands, one of the items included will be relief of students’ loans for education.
The young generation in OWS wants the freedom to advance their bourgeois, capitalist aspirations; they want to be the Steve Jobs and Barack Obama of the 2020s. They do not want to shrink their vision into re-entering a proletarian life, nor to occupy their minds and time with “organization” for proletarian-type unions like the UFW (United Farm Workers), nor consign their aspirations to distant hopes for an elusive millennialist “revolution.”
OWS is a leaderless coincident mass awakening, it is not a popular uprising in the style of the Mexican or Russian (February) Revolutions, and it is not organized in the sense of being hierarchical and regimented. The cadets manning OWS will never adopt Marxism, essentially none have flocked to the red banner.
The people in OWS are shackled by debt and economic fear, and they are gathered to celebrate the freeing of their minds from a number of illusions. Individually, they may go on to be active politically, each in their own way, but all are quite unlikely to relinquish their identification with the American bourgeoisie (“middle class”), or to relinquish their new and painfully-realized mental freedom by submitting themselves to the blinkered thinking of any political ideology that seeks to exploit their massed energy, or to direct their social purpose.
Renew the social contract.
Timeline: 1945 Social Contract to 2011 Occupy Wall Street
1945, Europe and Japan ruined by World War II
Civil War in China (1927-1949) interrupted by Japan’s occupation of Manchuria (1931-1945) and Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
Postwar rebuilding in Europe, 1945-1956:
1944, Bretton Woods system of currency relations to US dollar
1945-1948, $12B in U.S. postwar aid to Europe
1948-1952, $13B in Marshall Plan aid to Western Europe
(US GDP in 1948 was $258B)
1945-1954, Soviets extract 23% of East German GNP
1945-1954, slow release of German POWs, forced laborers
1949 Cold War split formalized, West and East Germany created
1949-1956 East and West evolve comprehensive social contracts
Western European states (Atlantic Alliance) 1949-1956:
renew politically as social democracies
much foreign aid in, rapid growth, more satisfied population
have extensive political freedom on account of prosperity
1954, West Germany gains full political and economic autonomy
Eastern European states (Warsaw Pact) 1949-1956:
reformed as Soviet communist satellite states
reparations or little aid, slow growth, less satisfied population
very limited political freedom in exchange for social contract
1953 East German and 1956 Hungarian revolts suppressed
Postwar rebuilding in Japan, 1945-1960:
1945-1952, US aid of $1.9B while Japan under occupation:
this equaled 15% of imports and 4% of GNP, in forms of:
59% food, 15% industrial materials, 12% transport equipment
1953, US military spending (Korean War) is 7% of Japan’s GNP
by 1960 US military spending in Japan less than 1% of Japan’s GNP
Economic growth 1953-1973:
“Golden Age” in Western Europe, Japan, and Soviet Union economies achieve “full employment” labor cooperation exchanged for social contract productivity and gains due to industrialization, and:
government (trade) policies
Economic stagnation 1971-1979:
1971 collapse of Bretton Woods currency relations to US dollar.
(The Vietnam War had accelerated inflation, and faith had been lost in the US’ ability to cut budget and trade deficits. “On August 15, 1971, the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the dollar to gold. As a result, ‘the Bretton Woods system officially ended and the dollar became fully fiat currency, backed by nothing but the promise of the federal government.’ This action, referred to as the Nixon shock, created the situation in which the United States dollar [not gold] became the sole backing of currencies and a reserve currency for the member states.”)
1973, first oil crisis (Arab boycott over US aid to Israel in 1973 Arab-Israeli War)
1973-1974, stock market crash (20+ years of steady growth ends)
1978, People’s Republic of China abandons central planning
a centrally planned economy is replaced by command capitalism
lower productivity after 1960s, higher population and social costs
government increasingly oriented to corporate interests
retreat from New Deal and post WWII social contracts
trend of increasing income inequality begins
30 Years of US Neoliberalism, 1981-2011:
Ronald Reagan Administration (R), 1981-1988:
breaks the air traffic controllers union in 1981
“supply side” and “trickle down” economics, and tax cuts
deep recession of 1982 with 10% unemployment
stock market crash of 1987
Savings and Loan crisis, a $125B public bail-out
deregulation and hostility to regulate
no change to the minimum wage
raised national debt from $997B to $2.85T
the share of US income received during 1980-1988 by the: — 5% highest-income households grew from 16.5% to 18.3% — 20% highest income households grew from 44.1% to 46.3% — 20% lowest income households fell from 4.2% to 3.8% — second poorest 20%, fell from 10.2% to 9.6%.
George H. W. Bush Administration (R), 1989-1992:
recession in 1992 with 7.8% unemployment
developed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
Bill Clinton Administration (D), 1993-2000:
1994, enacts North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
1996, ends Aid to Families with Dependent Children, — (fulfills promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it”)
1996, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 — (significant precursor of the Patriot Act of 2001)
1999, signs Gramm-Leach-Blyly Act, — (this repeals Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, bank deregulation) — (see ENDNOTES for more on Glass-Steagall)
This is the kind of commentary, and commentator that pisses me off. Yes, an honorable, intelligent, patriotic former career soldier, and highly respected military-political commentator comes to forthrightly state that the war-crazed dysfunction of the American state now seems fatally terminal, and one might have found glimmers of that realization as far back as 1969, such as in Kurt Vonnegut’s new book that year Slaughterhouse 5, though Bacevich finally acceded to it in mid-Trump Administration.
WOW! I fucking knew this in 1968 as an 18 year old! I read SH5 in 1969, and Catch-22 in ’68, and had read Helen Hunt Jackson somewhere between 1963-1967 (which was before Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” was published).
Okay, so now the old West-Pointer Bacevich has finally read SH5, and published his erudite books on the stupidity of American militarism, and been forthright about his previous white American exceptionalism careerist wrong illusions, and made sincere and public efforts to advocate for an inclusive, just, “progressive” America, and write as here about the complete toxicity of Trumpianism and the Republicans, and the pathetic flaccidity of the less than B-minus grade Bidenites — great, all welcome and good (and Stan Goff would tell me to be accepting of anyone’s personal redemption — okay), but DAMN! it took long enough!
The whole damn Vietnam War genocidal catastrophe wasn’t enough to wake you up by 1975? by Reagan-time? by Bush II time and the Iraq War? How come so many of us dumber unimportant people can figure this stuff out decades before you super-informed, super-plugged-in brainiacs and lever-pullers?
Well, okay, you’re good now Bacevich, and thanks for the accurate insights about today. I’m guessing that just as (some) serious people like Bacevich have woken up to the evils of American militarism 50 years after the Vietnam War, that equally in 50 years time we’ll see a heartening swelling in the ranks of today’s serious lever-pulling people who have woken up to the Planetary Crisis encompassing global warming climate change, collapsing biodiversity and its attendant social inequities. And then (forgetting about all the bodies buried since then) they’ll want to do something about it. By then palm trees might sprout in Greenland, and we may even have a smaller world population (involuntarily).
Okay, rant, part 1, is over. Now for part 2.
From Wikipedia: The Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic terrorist truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States, on Wednesday, April 19, 1995. Perpetrated by anti-government extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the bombing happened at 9:02 am and killed at least 168 people, injured more than 680 others, and destroyed more than one-third of the building, which had to be demolished.
From Wikipedia: On June 24, 2021, at approximately 1:30 a.m. EDT, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida, experienced a sudden partial collapse. At least 12 people died, and 11 others were injured.[as of 30 June 2021] About 35 people were rescued from the uncollapsed portion of the building, 2 people have been rescued from the rubble, and 149 people remain missing as rescue operations continue… As of June 28, 2021, 12 people are known to have died during the collapse, and 11 more have been injured. 11 of the 12 fatalities have been publicly identified, including two Venezuelan nationals and two Cubans. Up to 149 people remain unaccounted for.
So, it looks like the Champlain Towers South will have snuffed out 162 lives. “Missing” and “unaccounted for” are the terms used to describe people that have been killed but whose bodies have yet to be recovered, and for whom, illogically, their loved ones hope (and who can blame them!) that they will miraculously return alive.
So this building collapse — in all probability — nearly equals the death toll of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing of 1995, though it did not cause any noticeable number of other injured. But the Oklahoma tragedy was “terrorism” and required a swift and vigorous government response, both to care for the victims and to apprehend and punish the perpetrators. But the Surfside (Miami) building collapse tragedy is not “terrorism” by rising seawater intrusion climate change undermining heedless shoreline real estate development, so: hold your horses!, let’s not rush to judgment!, let’s not act hastily — meaning at all — about that uncertain “climate change” scare tactic. Yeah, sure Gomer.
The mainstream finger of blame is pointing to faulty building construction and maintenance — which is undeniable — but that mainstream public consent-directing ministry (“of Truth”) has a massively pregnant silence about (the unthinkable!, the unmentionable!, don’t “politicize” tragedies!) CLIMATE CHANGE! But, well, “the possible excessive ingress of salt water” MIGHT have also been involved.
The bottom fell out and has been falling out not only of the Champlain Towers South, but of the whole damn Idiocracy clinging to and dangling from their high hopes of exponential prosperity for the ‘serious’ and ‘worthy’ (a.k.a. “exceptionalist”) denizens of the United States of Amnesia. Victims R Us.
“And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” — Matthew 7:26, King James Bible.
In his book, “Republic,” Plato lays out his political philosophy for the establishment and maintenance of a stable, well-ordered and just society. In his time societies were city-states, like Athens in the time of Socrates, Plato and Diogenes. The essential element of Plato’s scheme is the “guidance” of the city — “governing” is too strongly “micro-management” of a word — by a class of “guardians” who were carefully selected and trained from youth for the task, and who were wholly devoted to it for their lifetimes: basically philosopher-guru-priests.
However, I note that the viability of Plato’s political formulation for the construction and operation of just societies rests primarily on the incorruptible moral character of its central and guiding personnel, the guardians, and secondarily on the reasonably stable decency of behavior of the citizens: that is to say, their morality.
Please note that by “moral” I do not at all mean “religious”; there is no functional correlation between the two (and in my view more likely an anti-correlation).
At least since the end of the Neolithic, the idea developed that a stable, well-ordered society (whether just or unjust, but always to the liking of its rulers) could be established solely by political means, such as in: monarchies, parliamentary democracies, socialist and communists states (most pointedly those sharply Marxist materialist), and dictatorships (whether purely materialistic or theocratic).
By political I mean social arrangements for societal management that are constructions external to the individual person. Note that such political structures can include elements of physical compulsion on individual behavior, and elements of thought-control by indoctrination and propaganda to capture, shape and distort individual thought, and that such political structures will still be external to the individual as a moral being.
So, I do not believe it is possible to ensure the stable continuation of any momentarily just society, whatever its political structure, solely on the basis of the forced maintenance of that political structure, nor solely on the basis of a change of political structure whether that change is reformist or revolutionary. Justice as societal stability requires a taproot into incorruptible moral character by a majority of the citizens. Justice is good politics and good political structure, and is a natural outgrowth of good and intelligent morality, which in turn is individually personified as character.
Given the above, I believe that any social movement aiming to “permanently” evolve, reform or revolutionize a society in need of anything from improvement to drastic change in order to make it universally just, has to base its efforts on developing the moral character of its movement adherents and the mass of citizens it wishes to convince, for lifetime incorruptibility. Here, we have faith that a society with a majority of its citizens being of incorruptible moral character will ensure the continuation of such in succeeding generations, by the operation of its educational systems.
Of course any serious movement for social change will act politically whenever it can to counter existing injustices and respond to humanitarian emergencies. But it must never lose sight of its chronic fundamental task regardless of the frequency and variety of crisis flare-ups it reacts to during the daily spectacle.
Yes, this prescription for engineering permanent social change for the better is an idealization that may seem impossible to implement, as witnessed by the history of human civilization, but I think it is nevertheless true and has been the most powerful force that has helped bring about whatever degree of decency any of our human societies possesses today.
For Americans, the 1950s began in 1947, as Gore Vidal bemoaningly told us, and collapsed in 1964 after June 21. The 1960s began on 1 January 1959, in Havana, and disappeared steadily from October 1973, vanishing completely by 1978. The 1970s erupted on 11 September 1973 and died on 4 November 1980, when the Collapse of American Civilization lurched downward into freefall, which it continues plunging to this day as our Neoliberal Dark Age. While it is still deeply submerged, scattered faint glimpses of the Next Age have broken through the pall of our Neoliberal Dark Age with increasing frequency since 17 September 2011. Whether that Post Fossil Capitalism Next Age is strangled in zeitgeist utero by neofascism, or withered in its infancy by global warming, or lives to emerge into the open and break free to flourish, is for the future to tell.
Climate Change is like an enormous steamroller that is inching slowly but implacably along the open road of our projected expectations, to roll over and flatten our comfortable situations.
Since we are all “cemented in place” in those personal comfort situations, that steamroller is bit by bit squashing us: first ‘here’ then ‘there’; some by sea level rise; some by hurricanes razing all; some by wildfire; some by deepening and eternal heat and drought; some by waves of disease pathogens sprung from out of formerly deep recesses in the wild; some by the increasing withdrawal of food availability; and some by the infighting all this sparks among us and that causes casualties from our war with ourselves.
First we lose our illusions, then we lose our money, and finally we lose our lives.
Those who refuse to face reality and relinquish their illusions will cause the most damage to their fellow human beings, by being rabidly competitive, as they slide down the cascade of suffering longer and ever obsessed to the death with their unrelieved anxieties of avoiding losses and pain. Those who jettison their illusions and face reality will a least gain the comfort of finding the company of similar people.
Even as the steamroller inches forward toward us, for everyone “the future is uncertain, and the end is always near.” One can pin oneself to an obsession with “the end,” and its avoidance; or one can open oneself to an appreciation for the processes of life, and to the sharing of such appreciation.
Climate Change is now our great teacher, and its lessons range from stark terror to transcendence. We have no choice but to live out those lessons, but we do have some choice in which of those coming experiences we can aim our personal selves to.
80 years ago today, on 22 June 1941, Operation Barbarossa — the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union — was launched. The warfare between the Nazis and the Russians, which lasted until the end of WWII on 8 May 1945, made up the overwhelming majority of the military action and produced the greatest number of war deaths and casualties of the entire European War of 1939-1945 (in my mind I think of this fraction as 80%).
Here in the United States we are well versed in the folklore and stories of the actions, tragedies and victories that emerged from the War In Western Europe during WWII, but we are much less aware of the magnitude of the Russian (Soviet Union) contribution made, and sacrifices suffered, to secure victory for the Allies (the “United Nations”) in May 1945. Without diminishing the dedicated, painful and heroic contributions of the U.S.A, and its Allies, it is nevertheless a fact that, by and large, Nazi Germany (and its fascist Eastern European allies and proxies) was defeated by Russian guns carried forward by an ocean of Russian blood, and the Russian state and the Red Army were fed large transfusions of American military supplies to supplement their own industrialized war machine.
Hitler had planned Operation Barbarossa not merely as a war of armed political conflict and territorial conquest, but as a war of annihilation: Jews, and Communists with any degree of political or administrative power, were to be killed. The Nazi’s estimated (in written reports) that the number of Jews they wished to eliminate from Europe totaled 11 million. Specialized militarized “death squad” troops were formed to execute Jews (primarily) as Nazi armies raced eastward through Poland (from 1 September 1939) and then during Operation Barbarossa into the Baltic States (which Stalin had recently annexed), Western Russia (nearly up to Moscow), the Ukraine, Crimea and Southern Russia (as far as Stalingrad = Volgograd). Those death squad troops were called the Einsatzgruppen.
From Wikipedia: Einsatzgruppen (“deployment groups”; also “task forces”) were Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II (1939–45) in German-occupied Europe. The Einsatzgruppen had an integral role in the implementation of the so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in territories conquered by Nazi Germany, and were involved in the murder of much of the intelligentsia and cultural elite of Poland, including members of the priesthood. Almost all of the people they killed were civilians, beginning with the intelligentsia and swiftly progressing to Soviet political commissars, Jews, and Romani people as well as actual or alleged partisans throughout Eastern Europe.
Since Hitler had promised to establish a ‘1000 year Reich,’ the Nazis saw no need to worry about negative consequences to their genocidal campaign because in a few short generations after establishing their regime across Europe (and the world?) there would be few to have such raw memories of the atrocities and losses to mount any opposition. As one person commented: who today remembers the Crusades with enough anger to mount opposition to and make war on the descendants of its perpetrators?
A riveting and harrowing history of the Einsatzgruppen is presented by a 2009 four-part documentary series hosted on Netlfix: Einsatzgruppen: The Nazi Death Squads. [weblink at bottom].
Nearly all the visuals of this series were supplied by the many photographs and movies taken by German Nazi officers, but also by members of the killing units manned by Romanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Lithuanians, which were both encouraged by the German Nazis (where underlying antisemitism and a thirst for pogroms, and hatred of Russians, communists and Stalin’s NKVD existed) or such other killing units were directly supervised by the German Nazis. In a few cases Jews and anti-nazi partisans were surreptitiously able to take photographs of killing actions that were kept hidden until after the war and used as evidence in war crimes trials.
Most of the rank and file of the Einsatzgruppen had been policemen, and were men of limited education; repetitive actions of brute force motivated by simple bigotry, sanctioned by their obedience to superiors, and spiced up for too many of them by committing torturous atrocities as entertainment. The officers, on the other hand, were quite well educated and intellectual, they directed and guided this genocide machine as true believers in the inhuman vision behind it.
As I watched this tragic history unroll, I recalled that Telford Taylor had publicly stated that by the standards set by the Nuremberg Trials that American officials should be liable for war crimes prosecution over their perpetration of the Vietnam War. From Wikipedia: Telford Taylor was an American lawyer best known for his role as Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of U.S. actions during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.
And I thought of the My Lai massacre of March 1968, which was an infamous American cluster of war crimes that was not at all an isolated event as the US military claimed but actually just a typical action in an entire campaign made up of such actions conducted by US military forces in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, which was trained and lavishly supported by the U.S., were routine savage perpetrators of atrocities to Communist Vietnamese prisoners and also regular peasants caught up by the military operations. The parallels here between America’s South Vietnamese Army ally, to the non-German proxies during Operation Barbarossa, are quite close.
I also recalled that the murders of civil rights workers and voting rights activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner (the Freedom Summer murders) in Neshoba County, Mississippi, occurred on 21 June 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement. That was 57 years ago yesterday. Members of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office, and the (local city of) Philadelphia Police Department were involved in the incident. None of the police departments or government agencies and officers of the State of Mississippi took any action to investigate the disappearance of the three civil rights workers after 21 June 1964, and they were certainly not interested in seeking to uncover any crime and prosecute its perpetrators as related to this incident. The remains of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were discovered by federal investigators on 4 August 1964, and federal prosecutions followed. The federal government acted because of intense national public outcry against first the disappearance of the civil rights trio and then their murders, and that outrage had erupted out of the new largely national awakening that had been sparked by the Civil Rights Movement.
There is a parallel between Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner facing the the guns of their killers — pogrom-thirsting bigots and policemen who were backed by the political powers of local and state public officials — on the night of 21 June 1964, and the millions of Jews who faced the guns of their killers in Eastern Europe during 1939-1944 — also pogrom-thirsting bigots and policemen who were also often enough their own countrymen.
And then one thinks of today, of George Floyd, of Black Lives Matter, and of the logic of “defund the police.” That logic becomes very clear to anyone who comes to experience police activity as even remotely similar in any way to Einsatzgruppen activity. For them it is better to disband the police than allow for a continuation of civilian murders (especially and disproportionately of minorities, particularly Black Americans) by armed operatives employed and legally immunized by the governing political authorities, under the justification of “keeping the peace” and guarding “public safety.”
I realize all this sad and painful history is not pleasant to think about, but I think it is helpful for Americans to know about it accurately, and not filtered by fantasies and preferred biases, so that our society in the present day and into our collective future can be significantly bettered, to really ensure everybody’s public safety, and to keep the peace in a just and compassionate manner.
“Coded Bias” is an exceptional film about how Artificial Intelligence (a.k.a. A.I.), or “algorithms,” has become powerful technology used without accountability, and despite its high level of harmful failure, all for extending the Big Brother type authoritarian control of the public by the state (which is being done overtly in China, and covertly in the U.S., England, and who knows?); and also about the unaccountable manipulation of the public for the financial gains of the small group of very rich people (overwhelmingly white males) who own and control that technology. The title “Coded Bias” comes from the fact that the racial biases (against darker-skinned and ethnic minority people, and ‘different’ sexual-identification people, and physically challenged people) and class biases (against poor people, the more poor the more discriminated against) of those controlling self-aggrandizing white men, and the Big Brother authoritarians, are literally coded into the mathematics that constitutes the mechanisms of the algorithms used to surveil you, to alert police if you are a criminal (very, very many false positives with this), to determine what job opportunities you will be allowed, what prices you will pay for online goods, what financial services you will be granted, and in many ways what punitive actions will be taken against you — and for none of that will you be given any warning nor told how such determinations were made. Complete violation of your 14th Amendment rights (to due process, and which can be logically explained and independently verified; i.e., not a Black Box with a red eye called HAL9000). This important film is available on Netflix now (see website), and also has its own website (see comment). An especially uplifting part of this film is seeing the amazingly talented technically trained and technically savvy women — which include incredible Black Women — who are on the forefront of the citizens’s effort to correct, regulate and ban, as needed, this technology. This is a film about POWER and its use of AI technology to remove freedom from the mass of the public, and to implement its biases through the Internet (for example as regards economic disparities based on race, and the swinging of elections to undermine democracy). I urge you to watch this film (I was pointed to it by a woman, Gretchen, who knows how to pick them). Coded Bias https://www.netflix.com/title/81328723
“Satan and Adam” is a lovely documentary about “an aging blues guitarist and a grad student form an unlikely duo while busking on the street corners of 1980s Harlem.” Their music is REAL, authentic; and their story: together, apart, together, old age, is both a reflection of the racial attitudes and politics of the U.S. over the last 35 years, and also a reflection of their own distinctive and idiosyncratic personalities. It is also a very touching story of the power of music to heal individual human spirits, and collective human communities. And also, these guys kick ass when they play! https://www.netflix.com/title/81077539
“Lorena” is a short 2019 documentary film about a 25 year old Tarahumara woman (Lorena Ramírez, Native American, living in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico,) who runs and wins ultra-marathons wearing sandals and her native dress (skirt!). Her whole family lives a pastoral life deep in hilly country, and they are all runners. Lorena Ramírez has won some of the hardest races in Mexico, like the Guachochi Ultramarathon in 2017, where she ran 100 kilometers wearing her sandals and traditional dress. Because of her prowess as a long distance runner she has been invited to other countries to compete. In 2018, Lorena traveled to Spain to run the Tenerife Bluetrail and came in third place after running 102 kilometers, also running with her sandals, with which she has run more than 500 kilometers in total, including Mexico City’s Marathon in the same year. Unlike her brothers, Lorena doesn’t speak Spanish because she didn’t have the opportunity to attend school and learn the language. She speaks Tarahumara in a soft voice, with words that sound so sweet and musical that you just want to listen to her telling her story. [Some of these lines came from the culturacolectiva website.] https://www.netflix.com/title/80244683
“Birders” is a short 2019 documentary about the crucial natural habitat for migratory birds, spanning both sides of the Rio Grande and along the Gulf Coast on either side of its confluence with the sea. This area has the highest concentration of birds in the U.S. because it lies along the flyways for many species of birds that migrate between North and South America. So, it attracts bird watchers, both professional (who do banding) and amateur, from all over the world. And this natural environment is threatened, and in parts has already been destroyed, by the clearing of land to build Trump’s Wall. There are Americans and Mexicans, each working on their side of the border to monitor, protect and preserve this natural habitat, and to count birds to help quantify the waxing or waning of the health of their many species; and they also teach and enthuse people (children and adults) about the loveliness of avian life and the value of seriously appreciating and effectively preserving Nature. https://www.netflix.com/title/80244682
“Magical Andes” is a beautiful series; it is about the love of mountains, the pristine expansive wild, and lives closely entwined with that environment far from human congestion. Season 1 has six ~24 minute episodes and spans the entire 8,500km length of that mountain chain from south to north; Season 2 has four ~24 minute episodes and touches on different points of the same regions, from north to south. Brief and elegant narration is in English, interspersed with many reflections, in Spanish, by Andean residents from Patagonia to Venezuela; in Season 2 the English subtitles to the Spanish speakers is dropped. Photography is breathtaking throughout, clearly camera-carrying drones were used to great advantage. The music accompaniment is very tasteful, and guitar music for the most part. Throughout the series one can catch a few glimpses of people whose way of living reflects what I imagine a post de-growth lifestyle might be like for more of “us.” If you love Nature, and have a poetic sensibility, you would enjoy this series. https://www.netflix.com/title/81154549
CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2019) [1:42] is an excellent, very informative, and provocative (TRUTHFUL!) documentary. I recommend it as the single best “economics class” (under 2 hours) you can take today. The presentation is clear and easy to understand, without being “dumbed down.” It explains exactly why your economic situation today is the way it is, whatever your economic class and generation happens to be. The system is rigged (duh) and this documentary show how, why and for whom; and it clearly shows what needs to change if we (all of us) are to avoid a cataclysmic social breakdown, another WWI/WWII type catastrophe on a worldwide scale. I especially recommend it to my kids and their generation: to help them know why we need a revolution, and where and how that revolution should be aimed. https://www.netflix.com/title/81239470
DAVID FOSTER, OFF THE RECORD; CLIVE DAVIS, THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES; QUINCY.
These 3 documentaries are about famous music producers and industry/finding-talent executives. These 3 guys are famous, and have splashy documentaries made about them because they promoted many singers from obscurity to superstardom, and made them rich, while making their music corporations very, very much richer. So, naturally, the biz and Hollywood are very awed by and interested in them.
They each have certain personality and character traits that I do not care for, but of course people are all different, and it is always a bit hazardous to judge (and yet of course I do).
What I think is most valuable in these documentaries is that there is a great deal of discussion of and presentation on the nitty-gritty work in the studio: music and song composing, arranging, recording, working (and/or fighting) with the singers and instrumentalists. I found those parts quite interesting.
These 3 guys are “legendary” because they were behind many of the mega-hits from 1968 to today, and in a wide variety of popular music genres.
The documentary I think stars-in-their-eyes people are most likely to find interesting is about David Foster, an incredibly talented and capable musician who is regarded as the “best” music producer alive (along with Quincy Jones).
Quincy Jones was a formidable jazz musician in the 1950s, then did jazzy film scores for 1960s movies, and went on to become a “legendary” music producer.
While these three producers/executives were focused on making mega-hits for corporate mega-bucks, what these documentaries can show that also applies to independent music production (recorded music) in less-mainstream more artistic and smaller-audience fields of music is the technicalities of working out the final recorded tracks, which combine the talents of a variety of people.
FIVE CAME BACK
FIVE CAME BACK (2017) is very interesting as American film history, BUT the real value here is the reminder by series’ end that previous generations — some of whose survivors still live among us — included many many people who sacrificed a great deal in order to allow our society to continue, and which despite its many dire failings still provided very good lives to most who are reading this. It is important to keep gratitude for those who preceded us and strived and suffered to do their best to pass on chances for decent lives for the young of their time, and those yet unborn. And the only useful way to express that gratitude is to emulate the best efforts of our parents’ and grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, for the benefit of our children, which is to say all of today’s children, and those yet unborn. And we cannot expect they will notice, or realize, or acknowledge or honor us. We can’t have such selfish expectations: why should today’s kids be any different from us when it comes to being grateful for the good things they get? They have to learn just as the more thoughtful of us have had to learn: in part by becoming more aware of the realities of the past, and in part by the struggles and frustrations of our own experiences. It all comes out of self-respect. Let me reassure you, I am not preaching here. I am reflecting for myself about my own always-expanding awareness and understanding of “life,” and how I should conduct myself if I can summon enough courage to do so. I think gratitude and self-respect should be the sources of individual human actions, that those actions should be decent and for authentic good, and that any nation improves as more of its people take on that sense of personal responsibility, because it preserves and strengthens the commonwealth: the interconnectedness of us. https://www.netflix.com/title/80049928
GREATEST EVENTS OF WWII IN COLOR; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD
I just finished seeing the Netflix documentary series, “Greatest Events of WWII In Color” (2019), and can recommend it. What the film restoration and colorization does is to bring the frightening intensity and reality of the events much closer to the viewer. This is the kind of startling effect, from old grainy originally black and white war documentary films, pioneered by Peter Jackson with his visual restoration, sound reconstruction, and colorization of World War I films, for the riveting compilation released in 2018 as “They Shall Not Grow Old.”
The 10th and final episode of the WWII series is on the atomic bombings in 1945 and the closing out of the war against Japan. All this excruciating history continues to have many essential lessons too few of which have been heeded even in the present day. The total sweep of that history, really from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to early August of 1945, is a massively horrible build-up of savagery, and vastly widespread dehumanization of national populations, because of their prosecution of and/or victimization by the industrialized crescendo of the 20th century’s chained sequence of world wars.
That savagery was at its peak, and the ability to see “the enemy” as human beings was at its dehumanized nadir, in 1945 especially in the Pacific War. That poisoned psychology combined with extreme and widespread war weariness, and the press of many antagonistic forces and ambitions embroiled in the overall war effort inexorably led to the atomic bombings despite them being logically unnecessary, a position openly, persistently and yet unsuccessfully championed by Admiral Leahy.
Looking back one can see how the consensus-mind of the American leadership and the public was so hardened by their years of war, and so frightened of that war continuing with even greater ferocity with an invasion of Japan, and so desirous for it all to ‘end now, with victory,’ that it was overwhelmingly in favor of the atomic bombings regardless of any logical considerations contradicting that emotion and in favor of better alternatives. Tragic.
That was then; but now eight decades later the great majority of the American people and other fairly secure people in the industrialized world do not have that soul-sucking war-dread as a constant daily experience, as did the traumatized participants in WWII, and so we all should have the ability to rationally analyze the utility of nuclear weapons today both for our own nation’s use, as well as by others. Logically, they are obsolete and counterproductive.
I see the “great lesson” available to us from Episode 10 of the WWII documentary series mentioned here, as being that we non-traumatized by direct war experience populations CAN and SHOULD apply a psychologically mature and humanized logic to the construction of “national defense” methodology that removes the barbaric and ultimately self-destructive cruelty of nuclear weapons from our military and political thinking, and from our national infrastructure.
By its final episode, the vividness of the colorized documentary of WWII gives one an emotional tug that can act as a visceral push behind such logical efforts to really “ban the bomb.”
If you are a motorhead, see this movie!! It’s Norwegian, and ends up at Nürburgring. It’s a total motorhead’s dream. We saw it on Netflix (dubbed). It seems there were two earlier ones (movies) in a series in Norway. You’ll love it!! (Global Warming can wait). https://youtu.be/ViUFEs5cyhY
HE EVEN HAS YOUR EYES
This is a fabulous movie, both thought provoking and funny. A wonderful take-down of racism in all its colors. This lovely French movie, centered by African-Franco actors, and without any guns, explosions, special effects, CGI or gratuitous violence, manages to say more about racism as habit and fear (two forms of “tradition”) being a great hinderance to having a modern society everyone can enjoy, based on simple human love and honest human connection. This movie is a “comedy” in the sense that it is never a lugubrious heavy drama, neither gratingly hysterical nor deadeningly slow; it is like a fine Burgundy wine: light bodied with a depth of flavor. See it. https://youtu.be/7mNuKbk01ZA
The only foreign military invasion mounted by the post WWII Republic of Italy was against “Rose Island” in 1968. Rose Island was a metal-platform island micro-nation constructed by Giorgio Rosa, an engineer, 500 meters outside Italian territorial waters off the coast of Rimini (6km). The Italian government became incensed by this act of pure independence outside its control, and decided to destroy the island. This prompted Giorgio Rosa to take his case to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, which latter agency was designed to hear disputes between nations, and so decided to hear the case since Rosa was a head of state! During the summer months, Rose Island was essentially a boating party location and discotheque in the Adriatic, but Rosa and his friends created a government, post office, issued passports and received hundreds of application for citizenship. Italian marine forces invaded, forcibly removed the people from Rosa Island and blew it up. Subsequently the European nations changed their laws to extend their territorial waters (and claims of judicial control) out to 12km. The movie is a breezy comedy that relates the whole story. What is clear is that power, especially the imbalance of power, is what actually governs government behavior, not the rule of or the respect for law. https://www.netflix.com/title/81116948
“Adult Wednesday” is a series of short very humorous videos made by Melissa Hunter, based on the idea of Wednesday Addams, of the famous Addams Family cartoons, now on her own. Her various interactions with “normal” society are hilarious. Sadly, the series was ended because the copyright owners of “The Addams Family” objected. The web-link will take you to a starting point for the sequence of the Adult Wednesday videos (if still up). All are good. The one of catcalls to girls is delicious (girl wins). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXmpC0wpuso&list=PL0XAjui-xK6XE4PRT64WAthU6j1NmrOqU&index=14
THE SPACE BETWEEN US
I saw “The Space Between Us” (2016) on Netflix. It is a bloated techno-gargantuan cross between a faint echo of “Brave New World” and the trim 1980 movie “Starman” (which was good). The premise is that a kid born as a surprise on a Mars colony is too weak to live in Earth’s gravity, and so must remain “classified.” He is brought back to Earth as a 16 year old in hopes he can be strengthened to survive there; he escapes confinement to look for his mystery father; has a roadtrip romance with a quirky wise-ass runaway foster-kid girl, and everyone has a happy ending to this story. It could have been more tightly constructed for a good 90 minute movie, but it rolls out amiably enough over 2 hours with nice visuals and up-to-the-minute spacey sets and effects to distract you from the numerous logical fallacies and improbabilities linking the elements of the story (easily done if you don’t take a critical attitude). I enjoyed it as simple harmless entertainment; it is not art, it is not deep: it’s meant for a mass audience. Asa Butterfield plays the Mars Boy with the same cute naïveté other-worldliness he displayed in the movie “The House Of The Future” (with Ellen Burstyn, peripherally about Buckminster Fuller’s legacy). Gary Oldham plays the big honcho Space Business (for the Mars Colony) “visionary.” The mama surrogate is played by a Ms. Guglio, who also had a big role in a recent movie where Patrick Stewart (“Jean-Luc Picard”) plays an old ballet master and choreographer (which movie is a 3 person play of sex talk). This movie is a way to spend some COVID lockdown time, after you’ve washed the dinner dishes and you’re tired of reading an actual book for the day. https://youtu.be/x73-573aWfs
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
“The Other Side Of The Wind” is Orson Welles’s last movie and is a satire on movies, movie-making and celebrity culture. It is also a visually stunning 1970s cinematic parody of 1970s art movie pretensions; a comedy about the vacuity of the whole movie and celebrity business, and literally a confection about nothingness. Wind is the flow of air through a volume, it is not an isolated bounded solid object. It has no side since it is the swirl, rippling and eddying of the ocean of atmosphere we live within, and thus can have no ‘other side.’ To those not scientifically minded wind is the sensation of anything between the blushing to the gales of nothingness. To seek deep insights from Welles’s movie is to look for an answer blowing in the wind. Welles gets some delicious payback on movie critics through this film (and it was all actually photographed on film between 1970 and 1976), as well as skewering Antonioni type films like “Zabriskie Point.” Welles does one better on Antonioni’s finger to the American movie moguls by putting his “Zabriskie Point” parody, “The Other Side Of The Wind,” as a film within a film, being an incomplete movie run out of budget and the last hope for a comeback by a Hemingway type directorial titan of Old Hollywood at the end of his rope and trying to connect with youth and the New Hollywood. The actual cinematic technique used is a kaleidoscope of modernity employing black and white, color, quick cuts, enigmatic scenes, mockumentary structure, and zig-zagging progression. Welles had a lot of help from a lot of friends to shoot this movie and then to finally have it assembled as he would have wanted. Welles died in 1985, and the movie finally appeared in 2018. I was fascinated by it, and then tickled to realize that Welles had done a magic trick on me to make me think seriously about nothingness: the cultural vacuity of the flickering lights so many are so obsessed about. https://youtu.be/nMWHBUTHmf0
A LIFE AHEAD
“A Life Ahead,” an excellent brand new (2020) film with the legendary Sophia Loren (86!!); very modern, very heartstring-pulling, amazing performance by the young actor playing Momo (all the performers were good) – this is his story. The setting is the seamier side of 2020 Italy (but there are still beautiful souls living there). https://youtu.be/a0ejncDxgCc
“IO” is an imaginative realistic speculative fiction about a post end-of-the-world time of environmental poisoning, and its last two survivors. By “realistic” I mean that it is not one of the bombastic live-action special effects fantasy plus horror cartoons that is the popular standard today for science fiction movies. The story is reminiscent of the seminal 1949 novel “Earth Abides.” So, most movie fan comments about IO are quite negative, indicative of an intelligent screenplay thoughtfully filmed. The movie is a largely French production, filmed near Nice, Bulgaria and California. The visuals, acting and pacing are all good as befitting the somber and very lonely situation being portrayed. The types of scientific, literary and artistic references made in the dialogs make for a too cerebral movie for many simple-minded movie fans, but lend this film much of its merit. This film seeks to make you think, not shock and excite you with gimmicks like frenetic pacing and jump cuts. In a rather elliptical way, the ending reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” https://youtu.be/y3GLhAumiec
DOWN TO EARTH
“Down To Earth” is a recent (2020) TV series showing varieties of healthy sustainable ways to live, from selected countries in Central and South America, and Western Europe. It’s has a breezy tone but does show quite a variety of interesting an important aspects of “food” and “living” and the damaging effects of human wastefulness and lack of connection to Nature, and thus “climate change.” The episode on Puerto Rico is especially recommended because it shows how people dealt with the catastrophe of back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria, and continue to deal with the catastrophe-by-Trump-malice-and US-government-neglect, of loss of homes, electricity and environments. Showcased are examples of how individuals came together to respond to problems left unattended by the failures of government. The “star” of the series is its executive producer Zac Efron, no David Attenborough, but still deserves credit for producing a series with much good in it for the cause of advancing public awareness in favor of revamping American (industrialized, consumer-oriented) society for ecologically enlightened sustainability, and healthier eating habits. It is mainly aimed at typical, and by world standards well off, American viewers – it is no rabble rousing radical revolutionary documentary, but it does make many good points despite the many visits to Michelin multi-star restaurants. https://www.netflix.com/title/80230601
This is a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of my thoughts and memories and learning of Cuba, without any additional research, or “fact checking,” because I am sure whatever details I may have “wrong” are inconsequential to the truth of my testimony. And besides, I’m in my “don’t give a fuck what you think of me” senior years. Let the picayune, pedantic and nit-pickers do their own fact-checking (it’s easy enough today). But, to those with poetic and musical and socialist souls: welcome!
My family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution (from 1959): family business, property, grandparents’ health (early death); 1961-1967 were hell for us that way. Because of the rabid U.S. assaults on the Cuban Revolution, Fidel followed Raul’s lead and looked to the Communist Party — i.e., Russia — for help (I saw a Russian freighter in Havana harbor in 1960), and in reaction to those assaults, Castro banned rock music and the Beatles (in ~1965-1967; yet Juan Formell, famously, penned the seminal Cuban Rock-and-Roll classic, “Llegué, Llegué / Guararey de Pastorita,” and founded Los Van Van in 1969, https://youtu.be/75VYMyYVPhA).
BUT, my father forever refused to ever play golf (the signal Republican/Conservative/Imperialist/Reactionary/Fascist “sport”; I had offered to buy him golf clubs as a retirement present), and refused to ever visit Miami, where his old Upper West Side NYC buddies from the 1940s-1950s had gone in their senior years, because he did not want to go where “the pain in the neck” Cubans were.
My father had sent money sub-rosa (for bribes) to help his two childhood friends and their families to get out of Cuba in the later 1960s, and he cried when thinking back on it all, saying the U.S. had “destroyed my country.” Che Guevara was executed on my father’s 43rd birthday.
So, I know that Castro made many mistakes, and had dictatorial tendencies, but he was exponentially better for Cuba than the U.S. ever was or ever will be (Cuba si! Yanqui no!, I saw that grafitto painted on Cuban walls in 1959-1960). And the Cuban government always has the U.S. and its embargo and its CIA, as an easy excuse for and distraction from its own mistakes and heavy-handedness in managing Cuba; but there is an abundance of truth in that excuse nevertheless.
Despite its evident poverty, Cuba is what Puerto Rico (I am 50% Puertorriqueño) should be: independent; “the Cubans will never bend the knee,” as the last East German premier has said. Despite killing 2 to 3 million Vietnamese (between 1965 and 1975), and toxifying much of their land with Agent Orange and Cluster Bombs, the U.S. has “forgiven” officially ‘Communist’ Vietnam because it has let itself become a sweatshop for capitalism; Cuba remains unforgiven because it has not. And THAT is a dagger pointed at the heart of American imperialists’ greatest fear.
By the way: rock and roll is, deeply, a Cuban invention. The “French Quarter” of New Orleans is considered by US Americans as the birthplace of rock-and-roll through the African-American roots of Delta Blues, R&B, and Gospel music (rhythmic and charismatic African call-and-response choral music – originally without drums, which were forbidden to American Black slaves).
The French Quarter was actually built by the Spanish governor of New Orleans during the ~25(?) years of Spain’s ownership of that port, by treaty with the French (who had established and owned it previously, and then owned it afterwards – eventually selling it to the Americans in 1803 – all by treaties between France and Spain, because of European wars in the 18th & 19th centuries).
The rhythm-based African music was imported to Cuba with the slave trade (Cuban slaves were allowed the freedom to drum at night, which was forbidden in the U.S. over fear of “signalling” a slave revolt). There was a huge trade from Havana (of Cuban sugar) to New Orleans (and back with furs bound for Europe), and with it rode in Afro-Cuban musicians to New Orleans, who by then had already incorporated colonial Spanish instruments (guitar, flute, violin, brass, piano) into their bands. Those musicians brought in the roots music of what would eventually flower as Blues, Jazz and Rock. Chuck Berry’s “Louis, Louis” is a pure cha-cha-cha.
Today, Cuban popular music incorporates hip-hop (reggeton, via Puerto Rico, and via the many back-channels Cubans have used to gain access to foreign recorded pop music: Cubans are the most talented and accomplished “pop” musicians of the world, and the tap root of it all is Africa). All pop music worldwide is basically African-based, which is why, (pop) musically, Cuba is the “ombligo del mundo” and Africa is its placenta.
“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”
Eric, Here is how I remember it.
I lived through the Nixon Administration:
– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);
– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);
– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);
– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;
– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;
– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);
– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.
Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.
Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).
From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.
Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).
The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).
While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).
The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.
The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.
The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.
Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.
So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?
What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.
What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).
So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.
What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.
The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.
Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.
So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).
I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).
The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.
So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?
From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.
From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).
So in the grossest possible characterization:
– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;
– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.
In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.
What is war? Let me propose the following undoubtedly imperfect definitions.
War is dehumanization by the violent crimes of mass murder and the efforts to destroy civil societies. Offensive war is the crime of making war to dominate another civil society. Defensive war is the tragedy of resisting aggression from offensive war. Making war is the sacrifice of a mass of domestic workers, by their regimentation and military use with likely injury or death, to inflict harm on a designated victim-enemy population whose combatants are responding in kind. The demarcation between offensive and defensive war can be ambiguous, dynamic, fluid and fragmentary. The structure of war is hierarchical: the higher an individual’s rank in the warring society the higher the probability of their being privileged and guilty of being a perpetrator; the lower an individual’s rank the higher the probability of their being victimized by the war.
The ideas embedded in these definitions and statements include:
– war is a crime, war is dehumanizing, war is violent;
– the directing perpetrators of war are the most shielded from its hazards;
– the people at greatest hazard from warfare are those least responsible for initiating and directing it;
– the troops sent into combat are themselves victims, having been robotized by coercive militarized training to perpetrate individual and mass murder as ordered (and to sometimes spontaneously murder, rape, pillage and torture on their own individual initiative), and in turn to absorb the mass murdering counteractions by the enemy.
I was prompted to these thoughts by reading the newly published (2020) book by Marc Levy, The Best of Medic In The Green Time, Writings from the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath.
I believe this is a book everyone in the United States should read and take to heart, because then the American Public might put up more resistance to ‘their’ government’s making of war, and the exorbitant funding of war technology and subsidized corporate profiteering from it. Also, the deep immersion of noncombatant readers’ consciousness into the personal testimonies of Marc Levy and the many veterans Marc presents in this anthology might induce a greater commitment by members of the public to antiwar political activity and voting choices, and a greater commitment to more conscientious ethical behavior and to the wellbeing of all of humanity.
The Best of Medic In The Green Time is divided into four sections. The first is an informative, significant and thoughtful Introduction by Janet McIntosh, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University.
The three sections of Marc Levy’s text are labeled: War, Poetry, and Postwar.
The section War comprises of 24 accounts occupying a total of 151 pages. The section Poetry comprises of 15 poems occupying a total of 36 pages. The section Postwar comprises of 34 accounts occupying a total of 366 pages.
All of the prose is written in a completely direct and unadorned style; and all of the poetry is transparently clear. None of the authors is allowing egotism to encumber their writing with attention-seeking convolutions and ornamentation. This is a group of writers who are just not interested in bullshit. Their words are vehicles for transmitting their truths as clearly as possible, because their purpose is to inspire the public to end America’s proclivity for making war.
While the entire agony, criminality, futility, injustice, sorrow and long-lasting pain of war generally, but in particular of the Vietnam War — since it nearly absorbed me into it during 1968-1969 (I was eventually passed over for induction because I drew a high number in the draft lottery of December 1969) — all make me angry and sad, what especially infuriated me in the accounts in Levy’s book were the descriptions of incompetents whose stupidity caused needless injury and death in the field, as well as the cop-mentality stupidity and rule-bound insensitivity of the bureaucratic assholes far behind the front and in the stateside draft boards, who added to the mental traumas of wounded warriors.
Jeff Motyka, a permanently disabled soldier, recounts how after many months of painful hospitalizations and physical rehabilitation after being blown up and deeply pitted with shrapnel in combat, he was hounded by his draft board witch (who had erroneously classified him as 1A years earlier, just as my draft board witch had done to me in 1968), seeking to have him returned to active duty because she believed that all documentation and physical evidence — like leg braces! — that anyone presented as evidence of an incapacity for military service were “usually phony.”
The section on War is a series of war stories, the types of scenes that inspire war movies, but which are entirely real here and thus authentically gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. This section prepares you to begin understanding why the authors and their compatriots can be so focused on and mentally confined by their experiences in Vietnam, and which they try to process over the remainder of their lives through poetry and postwar memoirs as in this volume, and also with psychotherapy, drugs and their own postwar veteran camaraderie; to try warding off the demons of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, guilt over crimes and killing, and alienation from the uncomprehending and disinterested civilian society they returned to.
One particularly thorny essay (actually, they are all thorny) is called “Five Simple Words”: Thank you for your service. Veterans who may carry 1000 years of aging and war sorrow imprinted on the minds and shot into their bodies during a one year tour of combat duty are now having to sustain postwar assaults with that platitude gushed out at them by clueless people in their self-satisfied certitude that they have demonstrated their higher moral sensitivity. Some veterans might take weeks to regain their fragile psychological equilibrium after the mental turmoil stirred up by being inflicted with those five words. If you ever feel compelled to comment to a veteran on his or her war experience, just offer them that most basic form of human love and solidarity: “Welcome home,” or “I’m glad you’re safe.”
Beyond that, neither you nor I as non-combatants can ever really know at a visceral level what any combat veteran’s experiences, both in the field and in postwar life, are like. At best we can become much better informed about war’s personal costs by reading books such as Levy’s, and we can become better citizens by conscientiously exerting the prerogatives of our citizenship with a sharp focus to counter the people and political groups that perpetrate and profit from war-making and war industry. In that way we can ‘thank veterans for their service’ by helping to prevent more war, and prevent more workers from being victimized by being pressed into manning wars, and becoming casualties who would sustain the murderous violence of America’s wars of choice (by ‘important’ people who don’t fight in them).
An important part of Levy’s book (actually, all the parts are important) is his descriptions of the humanity of Communist Vietnamese soldiers — like Bao Ninh (a man), and Dang Thuy Tram (a woman) — who fought against the American invaders and for the independence of their country. The recognition after the war by many formerly antagonistic American and Vietnamese veterans, of their shared humanity, has led to many touching reconciliations since 1975.
That same recognition can be applied to resolve international political differences to prevent them from degenerating into dehumanizing wars. And books such as this one by Levy can help spark that realization in more minds, and stiffen the resolve of political actors to actually work for the peace and wellbeing of humanity beyond the narrow confines of factionalism and mere nationalism.
There are touches of humor and jokes in Levy’s book, sort of along the lines of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, but all layered on a horrendous substratum of warped reality and thus painfully ‘funny’ and painfully real. There are also sweet moments in the book, as when some caring giving soul, man or woman, shares a kindness with a soldier in need of relief.
The Vietnam War is not over, and neither are the Korean War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and many other unnamed and invisible American mini-wars and micro-wars that all produced war dead and permanently war-wounded, both American and foreign. Some of those voices from other wars are included in Levy’s book.
These veterans and their survivors carry the heavy loads of psychological sorrows and physical pains of their wars every day of their postwar lives, and those wars can never be said to have ended until all such visceral memories have been extinguished by the passing of the people who were personally seared by them.
What Marc Levy has been doing with his writing about the Vietnam War is to seek to manage his own trauma from his wartime experiences, and also to continue caring for his men — as he did as a medic during his time in combat — in their postwar lives by offering them avenues for release; and then by presenting all this literary work to the public to prod it into transforming America away from its self-harming behavior of war-making and militarism.
Marc Levy’s Medic In The Green Time is not some dry academic exercise of top-down analysis of historical trends and national policy decisions, it is a bottom-up first hand account from the heart of individuals sustaining the brunt of war and struggling to maintain or recover their humanity as, unlike many of their fellow soldiers, they managed to survive the fighting and are now locked in postwar struggles against demons that could easily kill them through submerged terror and unrelieved regret.
Finally, for completeness I mention my criticisms of the book, which are all very minor but which I note in the hope that they will be addressed to improve subsequent editions:
While the proofreading of the entire volume was stellar, there still are two typographical errors: on page 466, “forhonorably” should probably be “for honorably”; on page 506, “it’s his not job” should probably be “it’s not his job.”
While footnotes and parenthetical notes are frequently used to define acronyms, jargon and slang, it would be very nice to have a glossary as an appendix to the book for easy reading generally, and the convenient rereading of excerpts. It would also be nice to have an index.
A thoughtful interview of Marc Levy, and discussion of Medic In The Green Time, has just appeared, see
For me, Medic In The Green Time is the channeling of the pain, loss and isolation of combat survivors, into a work seeking to humanize us all into recognizing our fundamental and compassionate connections to people everywhere.