Borowski’s Inferno

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Borowski’s Inferno

“And this is the dearest thing that we can share: survival!” — Tadeusz Borowski.

Poverty, privation and suffering are not ennobling. The Nazi concentration camps had extensive and elaborate social pyramids and cliques in every way comparable to those in normal life, and the imprisoned and condemned in those camps were not at all immune from striving to improve their individual lives by rising to higher levels in those pyramids, by stepping on others of their kind as necessary and by working to speed along the conveyance of other unknowingly (or disbelievingly) condemned people to their deaths, and by asset-stripping the remains and leavings of those gassed and incinerated others, to seek promotional approval from the camp superiors they kept supplied with labor and with the scavenged treasures from the diverted inheritances of those ushered to the gas and crematoria.

After experiencing Stalinist repression in the Soviet Union prior to World War II, then being an inmate at Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II, and then suffering under Stalinist repression in Poland after World War II, the Polish poet, writer and journalist, Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951), came to realize that all survivors are guilty because securing personal survival as a morally principled innocent is impossible — then and now.

“Yes, but I think there’ll be a ghetto on the Aryan side, too” she said, casting a sideways glance at Maria. “Only there will be no way out of it.” — Tadeusz Borowski.

Borowski came to see the world as nested rings of concentration camps, like a Dante’s Inferno, with the smaller rings (of electrified barbed wire) further in and to which you might be outside of, being more and more depraved as they were more tightly concentrated; and the outer larger rings, all of which you are within, being increasingly livable as they receded from the ring of barbed and arbitrary injustices confining you.

So, how do you work for your survival? Not by selfless altruism to be sure, you work to speed along the programs of the higher powers, and you weasel, scheme with or against, steal and barter for what you need and want and to satisfy your appetites on occasion, or you fall away in a totally dispirited, catatonic depression and perish surrendered to whatever death first comes. Even when you bob and weave with the circumstances and accede to your labor being extracted for the purposes of the camp masters, you are more than likely to also be funneled into the trains to oblivion sooner of later.

That realization purges all sense of pity because pity comes out of a superior sense of security with an excess store of personal resources from which a fraction could painlessly be charitably dispensed to those being pitied. With pity purged, one easily dispatches the other condemned, in your place, without a thought and with barely even a look, whether it be directly as in pulling a tuft of bread out the feeble hand of a dying person you are stronger than, or deviously as in sabotaging a colleague’s project aimed at seeking approval from higher-ups, so you can steal their job or promotion to a more “livable” situation. Just look at the politics of your workplace, it’s all there. Survival in a demanding world is the trudging over the bodies of others thinking of them as already corpses.

In our Dante’s Inferno Concentration Camp World, or Borowski’s Inferno, that self-focussed trudging seems less and less depraved and more and more civilized the further out it occurs among the concentric concentration camp rings. But anyone can suddenly be deported inward to a deeper desperation by drawing the disfavor of the higher authorities or having the simple bad luck of sinking out of sight because of personal failures or tragedies to which society is indifferent.

“Man has a narrow range of reactions to great emotions and violent passions. He expresses them with the same ordinary, tiny responses. He uses the same simple words.” — Tadeusz Borowski.

In that way we are all prisoners forever, never to escape outside “the wire” and get past the machine gun towers, because those barriers of confinement are all projections of our attitudes, and will stand as long as human minds remain captivated by the obsessions enforcing Concentration Camp World. No one alive is innocent beyond childhood.

Dante’s Inferno was conceived of as a structure designed by an Almighty God as an organized system of punishments to be administered to the varieties of offenders against the will of the Christian God. Borowski’s Inferno is a world structured as an organized system of nested privations and punishments administered on very flawed humans (as they have always been) driven to desperation or fatalistic acceptance, by competing hierarchies of power. Borowski’s Inferno is a world distorted so the wealthy few can be further enriched by the sufferings and impoverishment of the precarious many.

The opposite of Borowski’s Inferno is a world in which governments are designed entirely for the relief of human suffering, and the elimination of poverty and desperation. Such governments would also be a nested set of units of increasing scale, from the neighborhood to the national, and then integrated internationally. The function of such governments would be to administer an equitable socialism, both as to the benefits and services provided, and to the wide distribution and popular dilution of the maintenance costs for the entire system. This would be a world of convivial equity, and without either the garishly wealthy or the desperately poor. Let’s call it Illich’s World, or Pala, or simply “Home.”

Personal survival in this world would be assured by the very structure and purposes of government, and “making a living” would be engaging in work and art that gives one personal fulfillment and whose social impact makes a contribution to interpersonal mutual support locally, and to the overall cooperative continuation of the world society.

I was brought to these thoughts by reading a new collection of Borowski stories newly translated by Madeline G. Levine, and given a historical context in an extensive Forward written by Timothy Snyder. This new book (‘Here in Our Auschwitz, and Other Stories’) is published by Yale University Press.

Borowski’s tales are the most terrifying on concentration camp life because instead of just recounting the odd incidents of uplifting honor, rebellion and self-sacrifice, or of focusing dramatically on the horrible details of tortures and abuses, so as to elicit condemnation of perpetrators and sympathy for victims, he very casually and sardonically factually describes the typical attitudes and behaviors of the inmates, and the routine incidents of camp life.

Such incidents might include a work detail (a kommando) of prisoners putting on roofing tar over unfinished women’s barracks while other men on break played soccer on the field below, and some men prisoners and some outside masons and carpenters were in those barracks having hidden trysts bought from the women with gifts of smuggled (and stolen) blankets, coffee, cigarettes, eggs or honey, and none of all these people giving much of a look beyond the inner wire confining them, to the railroad stop just beyond with trains unloading thousands of people who were marched down a road from the railroad, and past a hill and forest over which a little while later smoke rose from unseen crematoria and pyres, and then back down that road came troops of sonderkommandos (kommandos manned exclusively by Jews, but the kommando supervisor was always an SS man), with their clothes coated in soot and dripping with fat, hauling carts of clothes and other treasures (the gold jewelry and teeth being the most desirable for stealing by the kommando workers, but also what the SS masters most wanted).

In describing the routines of “normal” camp life in a matter-of-fact, nonchalant, sardonic and even at times blasé way (like de Maupassant, perhaps), Borowski illustrated the depravity of the whole system as being in its entirety an expression of universal human nature when stripped of its veneer of civilization: moral restraints and all the supports — physical, psychological, emotional — to human experience for survival, normally provided by culture, custom and civil society.

Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951) a Polish poet and participant in Warsaw’s underground resistance to German occupation, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1942. He emerged after the war as a writer of short stories that portray the concentration camp social order and, later, stories about the postwar world he reentered through a Displaced Persons camp near Munich. Borowski’s Auschwitz stories, translated from Polish into many languages, have long been recognized as literary classics.

Madeline G. Levine is Professor Emerita of Slavic Literatures at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Timothy Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University.

Sophie Scholl, then and now:

In the summer of 1940, Sophie Scholl, a young German woman living in the throes of Hitler’s insanity, wrote:

“People should not be ambivalent themselves just because everything else is, yet one constantly meets the view that, because we’ve been born into a world of contradictions, we must defer to it. Oddly enough, this thoroughly un-Christian attitude is especially common among self-styled Christians. If it were so, how could one expect fate to make a just cause prevail when so few people unwaveringly sacrifice themselves for a just cause?” — Sophie Scholl.

Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans, were two of the three principles in the anti-nazi White Rose Movement, and were subsequently executed by guillotines in 1943, at ages 21 and 24, respectively.

When we are young and childless we can be so incandescently idealistic, committed and even self-sacrificing (like Japan’s teenage Kamikaze pilots). But once with family: wife/husband and children, you live with fear for their safety, and you are so much more easily manipulated by that fear. Deep down in our innate psychology this is so because it is DNA programmed behavior for the propagation of the species, and we human are first and foremost primate animals, and our base programming will easily overpower abstract learned ideas about ourselves, that is to say “morals”, stored in our frontal lobes of our cerebral cortexes.

Innate altruism does exist but it is felt for those we “instinctively” feel connected to, and family comes first there, then “monkey troop” or “tribal” members next. “Society” beyond those close networks is a pure abstraction, and abstraction is easily sacrificed when “blood” is threatened and needs defending.

That “we” can feel for unknown others in “society”, as so many people throughout history have done (and many famously so), does show the emotional power that our abstract thinking can accrue, but overall I think it remains weaker — in our species as a whole — against the emotional power of fear for “family” safety.

I see the need for a growth of the emotional power of extra-familiar altruism in our species as a whole, as being essential for ever coming to grips with Climate Change (a global problem inequitably caused) and “ending war”, both of which mean actually achieving world socialism. We can only get there consciously (via John Lennon’s “Imagine” mode) because time is short and Darwinian (DNA) evolution is too slow a process to transform “us” (the human primate species) with an adaptation giving us socially-integrated instincts for the long term survival of our species (and collaterally many others).

We “all” need to wake up and realize to “live for the cause” instead of hoping to be saved by a few selfless heroes “dying for the cause.” Until then most of us fearful family people will compromise with our learned abstract “principles” when threading the needle of life with our families in mind and heart. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Other Books on the 20th Century

Viktor Frankl (‘Man’s Search for Meaning’) and Primo Levi (’The Periodic Table’, and ’The Drowned and the Saved’) were concentration camp survivors who also wrote great books on their experiences, and thus about the realities of human nature and societal death.

For the chemical scientist, Levi, survival involved the chance workings of “the grey zone,” where individuals in evil positions might behave ambiguously at times, even bordering on sympathetically helpful, to a prisoner’s survival advantage.

For the psychiatrist, Frankl, the key personal force for survival was in having some great goal — a meaning (logos) — beyond oneself, perhaps a love for someone far off, or as in his case a deep desire to write out his psychological theory (logotherapy) and see it published and used to help psychiatric patients (which he did do after the war). But Frankl also noted that regardless, the chances against surviving the camps were over 90%.

Tony Judt’s book, ‘Postwar: a History of Europe Since 1945’ is the definitive history text with which to understand how that exhausted postwar Europe of 1945 evolved over the next 60 years: through the enormous and high fatality refugee flows of the late 1940s, the emergence of Democratic Socialism in Western Europe, the descent of the Iron Curtain confining Eastern Europe within the control of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Cold War and American “superpower” internationalism, the East German Uprising of 1952 (suppressed), the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (suppressed), the Prague Spring of 1968 (suppressed), the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of Soviet Communism by 1991, and the reunification of Germany and the subsequent realignments of the former East Bloc nations.

Tony Judt’s book, ‘Reappraisals, Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century’, is another classic on 20th century history. It is a series of essays on people and ideas of significance, in terms of society and of survival through 20th century fascism and Soviet-supervised communism. Among the people (intellectuals) discussed are: Arthur Koestler, Primo Levi, Manès Sperber, Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Eric Hobsbawm, Leszek Kołakowski, and Edward Said. The individual essays on these people are only eight of the twenty-four chapters in the book.

Tony Judt (1948-2010) was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University and director of NYU’s Erich Maria Remarque Institute. In September 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. From October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. With Timothy Snyder as both interviewer and transcriber, Tony Judt completed three more books before he died.

Among Judt’s many other books, which I have read, are: ‘The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century’ (1998), ‘Ill Fares the Land’ (2010), and ‘Thinking the Twentieth Century’ (2012, with co-author Timothy Snyder). All are excellent.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Alexander Pademelon Johnson and Jerry Steele for pointers.

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Freedom versus Slave Mind

Mejor morir a pie que vivir en rodillas

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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.

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Thirty-One Antiwar Movies

Below is a list of 31 antiwar movies that made deep impressions on me. These movies are built around the idea that war has no redeeming value whatsoever — except perhaps for instances of defending one’s own person from deadly assault, as in the incredible 1956 movie Kanal, about the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

Some of these movies are clearcut 100% antiwar, others are more about stories of perseverance through war’s injustices, and many are combinations of these two themes.

Because there is such variation in tone between them, some having much comedy while others being entirely dour, some attempting complete realism while others including poetic and surrealistic elements, I do not see any value in ranking them from “greatest” on down to “least great.” I think their value in transmitting the antiwar sentiment to a viewer and reinforcing it is by seeing them all as a group, and viewing each with thoughtful attention. Each is a facet of that diamond of realization I call antiwar consciousness.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
La Grande Illusion (1937)
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Kanal (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Paths of Glory (1957)
On the Beach (1959)
Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
King of Hearts (1966)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Vichy collaboration, 1969)
Catch-22 (1970)
M*A*S*H (1970)
Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
Winter Soldier (US Vietnam veterans testify, 1972)
Hearts and Minds (US Vietnam veterans testify, 1974)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Day After (1983)
Come and See (1985)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979/2001)
Fog of War (Robert McNamara testifies, 2003)
Sir! No Sir! (US Vietnam veterans testify, 2005)
The Railway Man (2013)
The Unknown Known (Donald Rumsfeld testifies, 2013)
They Shall Not Grow Old (WWI veterans testify, 2018)
Final Account (old Nazis testify, 2020)

A much larger list of 75 antiwar films is published by wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti-war_films). Some of the movies on that list are in my view primarily good justifications of defensive war, as with Kanal (1956) and The Battle of Algiers (1966), and yes I agree that such good justifications for desperate defensive wars can also awaken one to an overall antiwar realization. But, my list of 31 is more “concentrated,” based on my views of the antiwar genre, and I also realize that I could easily expand my list with equally worthy antiwar movies I did not include.

For me, antiwar movies are focused on showing the harm, the physical and psychological damage and stupidity of war, and are intent to deglorify war and turn the audience against blind patriotism and war-making as solutions to political and international conflicts.

Antiwar movies can have elements of adventure, heroism, “exciting’ violence, stories of personal endurance and self-sacrifice, and comedy, but they cannot be conventionally patriotic, and the center-of-gravity of these films must be fully and overtly the antiwar intent.

All war films use war in an effort to make commercially successful mass entertainment, but true antiwar films are intentionally using film-making art to motivate a mass audience to a deeply antiwar, anti-violence, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy attitude, and to divorce patriotism from unthinking jingoism, belligerence, violence and obedience to militarism.

One epic antiwar film that is missing and I wished existed would be about the Indian Wars in the American West, and in particular about the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877 that includes Custer’s Last Stand, entirely from the American Indian point of view.

There have been many, many Indian wars across North America instigated by European colonizers, immigrants and their descendants since 1492, and all those wars were lost by the Native Americans. In the American popular imagination Custer’s Last Stand in 1876 was the greatest of the temporary victories won by American Indians in their fight against the settler-colonialism warring against them.

Most American Western movies featuring conflicts with the American Indians were produced by descendants of the victors of the Indian Wars, and are thus celebrations of white supremacy colonialism, or at best sentimental regrets about the necessary inevitability of industrial civilization’s “progress.”

I was motivated to produce this antiwar movies list and commentary by the thought that it is always important to keep reminding today’s comfortable or prosperous or privileged or indolent or ignorant denizens of capitalist paradises (particularly in the United States, where 7 December 2021 will be commemorated as the 80th anniversary of the its entry into WWII) that sapping out the lifeblood of a national economy to feed a leeching and bloated military, and the technologically amplified bigotry called militarism, is chronically suicidal for the host society. Today we are all witnessing Planet Earth’s reaction — climate change — to our self-induced and suicidal civilizational affliction.

Poets and dreamers see the antiwar attitude as a first step in arriving at a species-wide sense of family for homo sapiens, and then such a grand consensus transforming all our lives for the better, on into future generations. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

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World War Infinity

Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said:

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Stan Goff writes:

“There won’t be a WW4.”

I say:

It’s a continuum of war, not a sequence of episodes of war. It’s a “streaming” of war, not a stasis of “peace” episodically punctuated by temporary eruptions of violence, called “wars.”

Numbering the “wars” simply means the intervals of “peace” are just well disguised wars by the clever perpetrators, and/or the antiwar and historian observers doing the numbering have failed to properly pay attention to what is actually happening during those “peaceful” intervals.

“Full spectrum dominance,” the military doctrine of the United States, means everything — from infant formula to nuclear bombs, and everything else in between — is “weaponized” all * the * time. It is all always WW∞.

The ‘end’ isn’t a point in the future, it is the streaming ‘now’ of thoughts passing through a cloud of amnesia to be transformed into bullets — both real and metaphorical, but all truly deadly — and which streaming presents itself, among other manifestations, as global warming climate change.

It is WW∞. We are WW∞. And Earth is fighting back, and will win.

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Remembering 4 Nuns Martyred in El Salvador

“Today marks the 41st Anniversary [of 2 December 1980] of the Martyrdom in El Salvador of Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Lay Missioner Jean Donovan. We also remember the 70,000 Salvadorans who lost their lives during the nation’s civil war.”
https://www.facebook.com/NetworkLobby/photos/a.166039868572/10159950595368573

Stan Goff, who was a Special Forces soldier for the U.S., alerted me [MG,Jr.] to this sad anniversary (weblink above), and reports:

I have a very creepy story from when I was in El Salvador (1985): we found their bloodied clothes bagged in our tool shed (the house was leased by the US Embassy). The US Embassy then was staffed mostly by people who heartily approved of their killing. God bless America.

The Embassy apparently didn’t know what to do with the clothes, so they just shunted them off to the TDY house, where someone stuffed the garbage bags in the shed. The shed sprung a leak and the stuff got damp and mildewy and began to stink. That’s how we found it. The groundskeeper telling us, “El cobertizo heule mal.”

I won’t even repeat the horrifyingly callous, hateful, and misogynistic remarks that I heard from the Embassy folk . . . about the women who were killed, and admiration for those who did it. But then we were in the Reagan era. I also saw Felix Rodriguez directing chopper traffic at Ilopango Airport while he chatted with the Ambassador (presumably about what they were shipping, weapons to Nicaragua and dope [cocaine] to the US).

The Zona Rosa massacre, the kidnapping of Inez Duarte . . . shit was kicking off then. Corr, the Ambassador, was drunk most of the time I saw him (also true of the Ambassador in Guatemala a couple of years earlier), and everyone just acted like the whole country was their own little macho playground. One of my political turns happened there . . . a little one but important later. I figured out that it was all about money.

Manuel García, Jr. responds:

The whole thing made me sick, sad and angry. By then (1980) I was ready for a full on communist revolution — and still am. But, I had a budding family to support, no power, no wealth, only a fresh Ph.D. diploma, so I took Reagan’s blood money and tested nuclear bombs for the paychecks. I wanted to help develop alternative energy: fusion, solar, “green”, conservation/energy efficiency, whatever, but there was no money in it and no public desire for it: then or even now, really. My retirement pension comes from that: nuclear bombs. I was very good at it.

I’m sorry you, Stan Goff, had to witness such cruelty, and very glad you survived to be the man you are.

This country peaked in 1977 (its year of greatest potential was 1968), and started plunging in 1978, abysmally so after November 1980. Nixon was the first Confederate president of the U.S.A. (1968-1974), and with Reagan on (1981->), the Confederacy took over all branches of the U.S.G.

Climate change will eventually defeat our Neoliberal Confederacy (white supremacy capitalism), but unfortunately, like Moby-Dick to the Pequod, climate change will see all hands (even Ishmael), regardless of their culpability or innocence, swallowed into oblivion to achieve a terminal justice.

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Louis N. Proyect (1945-2021), Light Saber of Truth

Michael D. Yates (27 August 2021):

It is with great sadness that I announce my good friend, Louis Proyect, has died. He had a serious illness for some time. He died peacefully in his sleep on August 25. I will miss him greatly, and I assume you will as well. Louis was a voracious reader, and almost every day, he posted links to articles from a wide variety of sources on multiple subjects, from politics and economics to music and philosophy to physics and ecology. I am sure we have all learned a great deal from his posts. He did much in his life, through his efforts in Nicaragua and South Africa, for example, and with his voluminous writing, to push radical transformation forward. He allied himself with leftists around the world. He seemed to know just about everybody. Those who knew him personally know that he was a good human being, always willing to help a friend, no matter where in the world that person happened to be. He and his wife Mine showed me and my partner many kindnesses over the years. Goodbye, Louis. You will live on in our hearts and in our efforts to change the world.

Manuel García, Jr. (in response):

I first became aware of Louis N. Proyect in 2003, when I began writing for Swans (Gilles d’Aymery’s internet magazine), where Louis was an established presence. Over the 18 years since then we have had many exchanges (all over the internet, sadly; and all good, happily), and I learned a great deal from him. I was even able to teach him some things, mainly about science. We were both native New Yorkers, and he was very much the archetypical kind of good-hearted prickly exterior quick witted wise ass Jew that I had grown up surrounded by (and especially with one cherished college professor who hailed from Brooklyn). He had that refreshing “what’s it to ya'” attitude that doesn’t seem to cut it so well west of the Hudson River; but which can be so essential to cut through the crap when you really need to solve a problem (and my secret weapon out here in Californicate). On 10 July 2021, I read the ‘comic book’ style biography of Louis that he had posted (in several parts) on his blog, and wrote to tell him how redolent it was of the times and scenes I had grown up through. By then I had reached a point in my life where I told people outright if I appreciated them, because I didn’t want to accumulate more regrets. And I told Louis that in our exchanges on July 10 and then again in our exchanges on July 17, my last personal e-mail contact/exchange with him. Louis appreciated my gesture and said so. After that I could see from his blog that he was trying to get as much done as he could, as the phenomenon we all knew as Louis Proyect. I’ve lost a brother, older, and often “pesado,” but dearly loved. What I liked most about Louis was that he never let ideology confine his moral sense — his heart; his primal motivation was his deep moral sense of solidarity with all human beings, and his fiery outrage at the injustice of the sufferings of the humble, the weak, the exploited, the “salt of the earth.” He was a mensch.

He was absolutely correct on Syria — and Libya — neither of which the comfy doctrinaire ‘left’ herd have been able to face up to yet. Louis was a Light Saber of Truth.

Louis N. Proyect was the only leftist to publicize my article on chemical warfare in Syria (a commissioned piece, rejected, that went against the grain of herd orthodoxy). We both hate dictators regardless of their stripes.
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/07/09/chemical-warfare-in-syria-and-its-corrosiveness-beyond/

Adam Weissman (27 August 2021):

“One of the all-too-few voices on the left who challenged the lies of campists and the brutal dictators they shill for. A fierce and passionate defender of the Syrian people. He will be sorely missed.”

Link to Louis Proyect autobiography
https://louisproyect.org/2021/07/06/the-unrepentant-marxist-comic-book-final-chapter/

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’Stateless’, an Australian Television Drama about Refugee Detention

’The Trojan Women,’ a play was Euripides, was first performed in Athens 2,436 years ago at the height of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter of its men and the enslavement of its women by the Athenians earlier that year, 415 BCE.

This play focuses on four women awaiting their fates after the fall of Troy (~1,200 BCE, in northwest Turkey near the Dardanelles): Hecuba (the wife of the slain king, Priam), Cassandra (the beautiful virginal daughter of Priam and Hecuba, who was blessed and then cursed by a lustful Apollo, with having a gift of prophesy none would listen to), Andromache (the wife of the great Trojan hero, Hector, who was slain by Achilles), and Helen (the Achaean queen and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who ran off with Paris to Troy, and which elopement was the purported cause for the Achaeans’s war against Troy).

The three Trojan women would all be made concubines and slaves by the Achaeans (mainland Greeks), and Helen returned to Menelaus. Because the Greeks wanted to ensure there would be no surviving male heir to the Trojan throne, they took Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and Andromache and the grandson of Priam and Hecuba, up to the high parapet of Troy and tossed him down to his death on the rocks below.

In 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens, the playwrights were known as poets and called teachers, and in ’The Trojan Woman’ Euripides was desperately and dramatically striving to teach the Athenians that the horrors of the Peloponnesian War were destroying the soul of their society, and that they should find ways of extricating their city-state from the war. His vehicle to convey that larger message to the Athenians was this dramatization of the final days in the death of the Trojan city-state eight centuries earlier (if in fact it was a single real historical event), as told in Greek myths recounted by legendary poets like Homer and his many forgotten colleagues.

’Stateless’, an Australian 6-part television series that was launched in 2020, is about a refugee and ‘illegal immigrant’ detention center, and strikes me as being similar to ‘The Trojan Woman’ as a societal teaching drama. It is both a searing depiction full of human and political insights about the current refugee crisis in Australia, as well as a close analogy for similar tragic realities along the US-Mexican border, in Libya and southern Italy, in Syria and the Greek Islands; and in other places where minorities and disfavored ‘others’ live precariously without stable statehood and are internally displaced or incarcerated, as in Syria, ‘Kurdistan’, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The writers of ’Stateless’, Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko have done a magnificent job. The directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse have made an absorbing and compelling visual work (https://www.netflix.com/title/81206211).

How many refugees are there around the world? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html) states that: “At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. At [this] time 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.”

We must add that the deleterious effects of climate change — crop failures and lack of drinking water from extended droughts, and the loss of land, housing and employment due to violent weather and flooding — has also spurred refugee streams.

Those refugee streams flow out of the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes: from Africa northward across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, up from Central America and Mexico and across the Caribbean Sea to North America, southward from Eastern Asia to Australia, and from the arid interior of the Middle East westward toward the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

Americans, Europeans and Australians see these refugee streams as incoming waves of impoverished humanity comprised of dark-skinned people with cultures, mind frames and languages vastly different from their own, and thus a threat to American, European and Australian prosperity, and their existing ethnic balances, if too large an influx. We must realize that these refugee streams course back up along the gradients of wealth leading from the Global South to the Global North (and Australia), propelled by the pent up pressure of economic disparity created by over half a millennium of conquest and imperialism with over three centuries of slavery, by the White people of the north: the Europeans and the descendants of their American and other colonists.

The Australian television series ’Stateless’ is composed of a weave of four sub-plots, each about a person caught up in and then piteously twisted to the breaking point by the day-to-day reality of escalating crisis in the asylum-seeker Braxton Detention Center. All these stories are based on actual case histories. Threatened men and women become refugees and are driven to acts of desperation, they are victimized, families are torn apart, some eventually find sanctuary while many others languish indefinitely or perish. Low-level workers in the host countries looking to hang onto paychecks are shoved by higher level bureaucrats and policy-makers to go in and do the dirty work of “keeping a lid on” and also “making it look good for the public.” And the sanctimonious of all stripes on the outside are more often than not “virtue signaling” for their own ego boosts, than having any useful empathy for all the individuals mired in the toxic tangle of “the system.”

One story in ‘Stateless’ is based on the real case of Cornelia Rau, an Australian woman citizen who was emotionally disturbed at the time and who was inadvertently — and unlawfully — incarcerated by the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and held for 10 months during 2004-2005 under the country’s mandatory detention policy for refugees, until Cornelia was traced to Braxton by a relative, and correctly identified and released to a hospital.

Another sub-plot focuses on an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban, being cheated and robbed by criminal human traffickers in Pakistan, being separated while attempting to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia in rickety boats, with the survivors eventually finding each other at Braxton. But the effort of the Afghani father to gain entry visas for his surviving family proves to be a very heartbreaking and essentially impossible effort. Despite some commendable humanitarian impulses by Australian workers tasked with maintaining the day-to-day operations of the center, and of some right-minded procedures embedded in the immigration policy, that policy is nevertheless largely fueled by a great deal of officially mandated bigotry and prejudice.

The conflict between offering a welcoming humanitarian response to the desperation of the trapped refugees terrified of being deported back to certain death, and the politically motivated mandates from the central government to maintain this bureaucratic structure for continuing exclusion, and without arousing public attention to it, is personified by the story of the woman appointed as the new director of the center. She is emotionally torn apart by the inherent cruelty of the job, and her political expendability to the remote higher-ups.

The last of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ centers on a local rural freelance mechanic who seeks to leave precarity behind and support his young family with a steady paycheck earned working as a ‘prison’ guard at the detention center — though he is instructed that it is a refugee center and not a prison since its residents, despite having no freedom of motion, have not been placed there for the commission of crimes. This individual is a good-hearted fellow who quickly comes under unrelenting strain because of his repulsion at the cruelty toward unruly refugees by a sadistic guard, and because of the numerous requirements for him to perform rough enforcement actions on people exhibiting outbursts of anger, fear and madness. Both the emotional and physical traumas sustained in doing his job while trying to thread the needle between the frayed edges of UNHCR compassionate supervision of a precarious population, and the barbed razor sharp edges of bureaucratically enforced nationalism, nearly deaden his heart and rip apart his family.

Each of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ is populated with many supporting characters who enrich the presentation, and the entire ensemble presents the full spectrum of human experiences that take place in the turbulent focal point of mixing-nonmixing between Australian society and Asian refugees at the Braxton Detention Center.

The ultimate solution to the world’s refugee crisis is so far out of view: ending all wars to establish a lasting world peace, and ensuring intelligent economic development up to decent standards everywhere so that people can remain in their countries with their families experiencing physical and economic security and good health down through the generations. Achieving these conditions would obviate the need for anyone to become a refugee and seek foreign asylum.

Yes, this is idealistic (naïvely so?, impossibly?), like wanting equitable worldwide cooperation to stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so as to tamp down the acceleration of global warming. But neither of these ideals is intrinsically impossible to actualize, and that is why the continuation of the refugee and climate crises are such tragedies: they are fundamentally unnecessary sorrows, open and festering wounds on the body of humanity.

What we have today is a compounded system of exploitation through tiered victimhood, a system commanded by über capitalists and nationalistic warlords living luxuriant lives, and served by hierarchical cascades of lower level petty boss bureaucrats, their functionaries, and in turn their laborers and armed enforcers. This system is so abhorrent that Nature itself has abandoned us, and is trying to burn us off the land and wash us away into the seas and oceans we have thoughtlessly poisoned with our wastes. An added cruelty to this accelerating rejection of humanity by Nature is that those who are suffering now, and first, and will suffer the most from the increasing hostility of Earth’s climatic conditions to human life are the people of the Global South (the Third World), the regions from which today’s refugee streams emerge, the poorest of Earth’s people, those who lead the most precarious lives, and those who contributed the least to the creation of the global climate crisis.

Coda: a Meditation on ’Stateless’

Must I have a stone heart to preserve a sane mind in a world of pure suffering I am luckily insulated from — for now? How does one combat compassion fatigue and empathy burnout? Does one sink into survivor’s guilt for blamelessly being born lucky?; for living in a bubble of comfort, freedom and justice that is much rarer than one had previously imagined?; and that seems to be diminishing by national policy out of view of its lucky inhabitants confident in their unawareness? But of those lucky people who do become aware, how do they survive and stay human without deadening their souls? We have become a race of monomaniacal blind cyclopses raging about our freedoms because we cannot conceive of anything beyond our own frustrated infantile selfishness. Becoming aware of the sufferings of others is the first step in the very long journey of personal redemption. That journey has many perils, and no one completes it unscathed.

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House Upon The Sand

This is my two-part rant of 30 June 2021.

Andrew Bacevich writes:
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/06/29/the-passing-of-the-present-and-the-decline-of-america/

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.

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Einsatzgruppen Were Militarized Police

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.

Einsatzgruppen: The Nazi Death Squads
https://www.netflix.com/title/80134093

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