Democracy is how human dignity is preserved institutionally. Socialism can only be brought about by individual commitment and effort, not by top-down political mandate. Capitalism is the economic face of fascism, and the sociological face of settler-colonialism and its imposition of slavery — and of genocide.
The most important struggle in the world today is that between Democracy and Fascism. This is more important than the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism because until the world is democratic it cannot achieve socialism, and without World Socialism no effective counteraction and adaptation to Climate Change can be implemented. A human civilization that would perish by Climate Change would necessarily have to be fascist, and a human civilization that would prevail against the existential threats of Climate Change would necessarily have to be democratic and socialist.
Fascism has many varieties but all are easy to recognize: wherever human dignity and democracy are suppressed, that is where fascism rules. While it is easy to see that potentates and the wealthy are fascist because that is the ideology that sustains their privileged positions and schemes of self-aggrandizing and exploitative inequality, it can seem paradoxical that working-class people would willingly choose to act as functionaries in the enforcement and bureaucratic mechanisms of fascism’s machinery, until you realize that human weakness and lack of moral character and a lack of a sense of honor are common.
Patriotism is a hoax, the only values worth fighting and dying for are: family and honor. And World Socialism means including all peoples and their communities within your allegiances to “family” and “honor” — just as those people would, in that ideal, include your family and your right to dignified living, within their allegiances to “family” and “honor.”
We humans are only as good as our willingness to take care of each other. It is very easy to see our deficiencies in this regard, but it is better to try overcoming them. That effort will be as eternal as the continuation of our species, and the mark of its success will not be the eventual achievement of some perfected societal advancement, but that at any moment a serious effort continues in that direction.
It is not possible to achieve that success for the world if the preservation of your uninterrupted comfort is paramount. There is no blame in being annoyed if such interruptions must happen, but there is no honor, and there is great shame, in seeking to avoid such annoying inconveniences by making excuses justifying the sacrifices of the lives and liberties, cultures and independence of other peoples, just to preserve your material comforts and ego.
So: am I an idealist and a romantic? Yes.
Have I judged people harshly based on their responses, or lack of them, to the Russian-Ukrainian War? Yes.
Do I worry this might reduce the number of my friendships, and perhaps significantly? No.
Most friendships are quite superficial, and I have learned not to expect too much from “friends,” because most people just want you to play a supporting role in their own dramas of receiving attention, and for that they often want you to compromise your ideas and principles so as to harmonize with theirs.
For everybody, the first step toward World Socialism is the development of a well-integrated and principled moral character. The chasm, between the sordid reality of “now” and the projected idealization of the desired “then,” is never a justification for surrendering to defeatism. We are only as good as we do.
I seek to be truthful, not popular. I aspire to be worthy, not acclaimed nor egotistical, even knowing how socially challenging and personally difficult achieving that can be. I cannot think of a better way to make an anonymous life significant, and fulfilling.
The Ukrainians are fighting for their lives, families, culture, personal honor and national independence, and we support them because their struggle is one of the sharpest points of conflict in the world today that is also for the defense of democracy, and of our own morally humane honor.
It is essential reading to understand what is going on today — everywhere but especially in Eastern Europe (and Ukraine in late February 2022). Also essential to help one overcome the tendency to become a robotic mindless “anti American imperialist” who is quite happy to “virtue signal” their ideological purity and supposedly higher moral standards (from the comfort and safety of our First World ‘homelands’) by acceding to the sacrifice of any victim population (Ukrainians, Syrians, Palestinians, Libyans, Uyghurs…) that any tin pot dictator, autocrat or “power pentagon,” who promotes himself/itself as “socialist” and a stalwart fighting against “American imperialism,” wants to conquer, crush, displace and enslave economically (and even worse).
Certainly being against imperialism — American or otherwise — is to the good, but we Western safely anti-imperialists must absolutely never accept the sacrifice of another people’s right to safe national independence, in order to signal our anti-imperialist “moral purity.” NATO has expanded into Eastern Europe precisely because Eastern Europeans vividly remember how much their nations suffered under the Russians (for about a century most recently), and they want insurance policies against such catastrophes in the future, even if the insurance company selling those policies — NATO — is itself far from perfect, or “socialist” or “enlightened.”
The essential and fundamental point is to honor and protect the right of all people to safe lives within independent states of THEIR OWN choosing.
“The lands of today’s Ukraine were the center of both Stalinist and Nazi killing policies throughout the era of mass killings. Some 3.5 million people fell victim to Stalinist killing policies between 1933 and 1938, and then another 3.5 million to German killing policies between 1941 and 1944. Perhaps three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat or as an indirect consequence of the war.” — [Timothy Snyder, ‘Bloodlands’, p404] — The 1939 population of the Ukraine was 32,425,000 [total morality over 11 years = 31%].
The biggest neo-nazi center in Eastern Europe today is actually Putin and his band of oligarchs, who want to recreate the Tsarist/Stalinist Russian Empire. Don’t let yourself become a useful idiot to them and others like them because you want to unintelligently and reflexively preen your “leftist” anti-capitalist, anti-imperialism-by-the-U.S., and anti-NATOism ideological purity for your own self-satisfaction. Camus said to identify with the victims, not the perpetrators, and that is the best guide to your allegiances with humanity.
27 February 2022
ON DELUSIONAL “LEFTISTS” (not the real ones like Louis Proyect):
“I really don’t understand ‘leftists’ who dance around the fact that Putin is a dangerous kleptocratic goon. Makes no sense to me. They act like what he’s doing isn’t equivalent to other imperialistic incursions.” — [my friend E.]
They are stuck in their self-regard as “anti-imperialists”, and feel “brave” because they oppose US war-making and imperialism (as am I: opposed not brave), and so reflexively “pro-Russian” (pro-Soviet) as a mental inertia from the glory days of the Russian Revolution (1917-1922, the euphoria of John Reed’s ‘Ten Days That Shook The World’ — a great book), and for the worst of them (the most pathetic) as a lingering unthinking indoctrination to Stalinism.
“To believe that great suffering must be associated with great progress is to accept a kind of hermetic masochism: the presence of pain is a sign of some immanent or emergent good. To advance this sort of reasoning oneself is hermetic sadism: if I caused pain, it was because there was a higher purpose, known to me. Because Stalin represented the politburo which represented the central committee which represented the party which represented the working class which represented history, he had a special claim to speak for what was historically necessary. Such a claim allowed him to absolve himself of all responsibility, and to place the blame for his failings upon others.” — [Snyder, ‘BLOODLANDS’, p401]
The “most pathetic” include the lunkheads who gained instantaneous engineering-physics PhD’s watching the flaming NYC Twin Towers collapse on TV (11 September 2001) and within milliseconds knew that G.W.Bush and Dick Cheney had tiptoed up and down staircases in the World Trade Center buildings the weekend before, planting cakes of C4 timed to go off (forget the planes) and let them go on to conquer the world. The “most pathetic” also include the equally turgid-minded pseudo leftists who, in the comfort of their own safe First World consumerist-internet lives, swell with righteous pride by thrilling to the rush of their inner Stalin, as above, in accepting the pain of remote anonymous “others” because there is a higher purpose known to them as vanguards of the working class, which represents history, so these cadres have a special claim (within their own minds) “to speak for what was historically necessary” and absolve themselves of all responsibility, placing the blame for the obvious failings of their delusions upon others.
In pointing all this out I am sincerely trying to be a good friend (like when calling a cab at 1 AM to prevent a buddy from driving home drunk from the bar you both favor). But, I am forthright about stating what I see as true, because otherwise I would not be a good friend. Since that independence is important to me, I accept becoming friendless, and being “unfriended.” Substance over superficiality, always.
Peter Byrne’s review of a new collection of newly translated stories by Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951) is presented below. The book reviewed is ‘Here in Our Auschwitz, and Other Stories’, translated from Polish to English by Madeline G. Levine, given a historical context in an extensive Forward written by Timothy Snyder, and is published by Yale University Press.
This Way to Death by PETER BYRNE
‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’ is a story by Tadeusz Borowski of 60 pages. It’s published followed by 80 pages that deal in long or short form with the same subject, life in concentration camps, but from a different angle. At the very last are several short pieces written from a post-war viewpoint. One of these is ‘The January Offensive’. Borowski thinks he is through with the camps and is working out what his position will be now. He and Polish friends discuss an anecdote of a tenacious Russian woman soldier who gives birth on the way to liberating Berlin.
“Then, after we had several glasses of Polish vodka to toast the Russian girl, we all agreed that the story was obviously made up”.
‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’, is also made up, but with more art. That’s why it’s so enlightening, giving us a new perspective on the concentration camps of WWII. We already have a library of testimony on the camps, some of it unforgettable. But Tadek, Borowski’s double in his story, isn’t a witness, he’s a participant. For him, the camps aren’t merely a prison. They are a whole functioning society of which he’s a hyper-active member. We see how things work in the only world Tadek has had a chance to know. Power rules, of course, as in what we think of as our world. The lines are more direct, with less clutter between life and death. Arbitrary demonstrations of power and riffs of sadism are taken for granted whereas we in our space close our eyes to them. To hold on to your own life at all costs is the goal even if, as in ‘The Supper’, it means eating the brains spilled on the pavement after an execution by bullets to the head.
That particular glimpse of horror, we feel, is made-up but, all the same, distilled from what Borowski has known. By making his experience a story, fiction, he sketches camp life’s mechanisms for us. People interact. They differ amongst themselves even though consumed by the same overriding drive for survival.
“It meant staying alive. In a concentration camp, true, but alive.”
They are never simply examples of King Lear’s “poor, bare, forked animal”. Tadek’s society is full of hierarchy and exceptions to hierarchy. Some people are cunning, some stupid, he himself, on one level, is, as it were, ‘a self-made man’ in the making.
The master storyteller, Borowski, knew better than to have Tadek wear his ideals on his sleeve. Indeed, at times we wonder where they have gone. We sense hints of them in a sarcastic aside or in his bruised silence in the face of brutality.
Tadek is asked, “And you, would you do good if you were able to?”
To his relief, it’s a rhetorical question. Balance is impossible. In the competition to survive how far can he go in helping others without spoiling his own chances? Given conditions, he can hardly take a step. The camps, among much else, are a machine to create remorse. Tadek, like a sparkling youth in a picaresque novel, skips and dances above camp life. Borowski’s poetry is instructive here. It wants to take wing, yearns for the far horizon and the measureless sky, talks of a love lived in the camps but ignoring them like insignificant flaws in the landscape. Borowski is straining all the time to keep Tadek up high, out of the blood and muck, fixed on his goal. And all the time, Tadek is adding to his unspoken remorse.
“I have kept my spirit […]”, writes Borowski to his lover while still at Auschwitz. But he was speaking for his character Tadek. No one should be surprised that Borowski, the creator of Tadek, killed himself in 1951, settling his survivor’s debt.
What did his mockery cost him in spirit to describe the camps as summer resorts? To tell us of Tadek’s game as goalkeeper when behind his back a file of arrivals trudged to the crematoria? Borowski’s story has moments of farce. Did he laugh or weep at the two bumpkins who couldn’t march in step? Someone had tied staves to their ankles to mark right from left. A dyspeptic S.S. guard sees them stumbling about. It offends his sense of decorum and he has them removed from his sight and from life. ‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman’ is a sacred text suitably downgraded from the spiritual heights to suit humanity as it has proven itself to be.
Borowski’s personal experiences in German-occupied Warsaw during 1939-1942, in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps in Poland during 1942-1945, and in an American-run Displaced Persons camp near Munich in 1945, inspired his haunting, terrifying and illuminating stories, but could only capture into human memory a small part of the massive regime of evil that existed in “the bloodlands” between Berlin and Moscow, where Hitler and Stalin between them saw to the intentional murder (by shooting, gas, starvation, and worked to death) of 14 million people — all civilians or war prisoners — during the years of 1933 to 1945 (combat fatalities are a different category, but also of large numbers). The scholarly grand perspective on that regime of evil is historian Timothy Snyder’s book: ‘Bloodlands, Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,’ (2010), published by Basic Books.
My own reflections on the Borowski book that Peter Byrne reviewed, above, are given as
Tadeusz Borowski was a student of literature and a dedicated poet who was driven to prose in order to process his concentration camp experiences, and express them as literature between 1946 and 1951. While in the camps he wrote love poems to his also incarcerated fiancee. A number of Borowski’s poems, translated to English, are posted at
“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.
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.
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.
’The Trojan Women,’ a play by 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.
For Americans, Stan Goff perfectly summarized the situation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem today, and in Palestine generally for the last 54 years:
“Establishment Democrats support ethnic cleansing… There is no Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict.’ It’s the decades-long military occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. I know I sound like a broken record, but my [social media] feed keeps filling up with this weasel worded bullshit that assigns some utterly bullshit equivalency between occupier and occupied. No reasonable and honest person who is even superficially familiar with this issue can describe Israel as anything but an Apartheid state. An Apartheid state that is sustained and protected in its racist aggressions by the United States government with your taxes. Democrats and Republicans. Heretofore I will unfollow anyone who posts this kind of sly ‘moral equivalency’ trash. And no, it is not fucking ‘complicated’; it’s ignorance or cowardice, and it is objectively lending support to this lawless fascist state. That is all.”
The American “political class” runs a white supremacy state; to them, a threat to white supremacy anywhere is a threat to white supremacy everywhere. Hence the knee-jerk fealty to ethnic cleansing in Palestine by Zionists.
This is as it has always been and remains regarding “others” in the territory of the United States and the Western Hemisphere, with: the Amerindians, Blacks (long held in slavery, and ever discriminated against), Mexicans (the American West north of the Rio Grande is Occupied Mexico), and many other designated apart-from-white people.
With the growth since the 19th century of the fossil-fueled industrial power of American white supremacy came the global reach of its campaign of conquest: the Caribbean (1898, and 1959+), Central and South America (from Smedley Butler to Kennedy-Johnson, and Reagan, et al.), Southeast Asia (Vietnam+), South Africa (Kissinger, Reagan, the 1980s for Angola, Namibia, the U.S. support for South African apartheid — I knew a “jackal”: a retired unacknowledged U.S. mercenary-assassin who worked for S.A. in those years).
The World is “the enemy” of American white supremacy, just as Palestine is “the enemy” of Zionism. And Zionists have paid their way into being “honorary white people” — an apt Goffism characterizing our apart-from-white-Christian domestic compradores serving our domestic white supremacy settler colonialism — who are part of that American white supremacy establishment; and have financially metastasized themselves into the careerism of that narcissistic and intrinsically racist political class.
“Indeed I tremble for my country when [I] reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!” — Thomas Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia).
But he still kept his slaves to the bitter end, banking on God’s justice continuing to sleep. And such is the attitude of the anguished self-absolved collectively guiltless perpetrators of today, and which drives their hypocritical equivocations and torturously convoluted hyperbole in defense of continuing with the slow-motion genocide in Palestine (as in Xinjiang, as in…) of the “others” to be dispossessed and discarded as fast as the marketplace of world public moral consciousness will bear.
For me it all begs the question: when do we reach the point where we deserve our own destruction?
The phrase “never again” should have been emblazoned on human memory many times in the past, for example searingly by Guernica in 1937, but tragically it never seems to fully catch hold as a guiding principle for human beings.
To my mind, one significant impetus to the eruption of World War II in Europe in 1939 was the failure of the Democracies including the United States to defend the Spanish Republic and stamp out fascism in Spain during 1936-1939. The retreat into nationalist comfort (as today with vaccine nationalism) and ‘the Democracies’ not-so-covert anti-socialist collaboration with the fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany during the 1930s, doomed them to be sucked into the genocidal maelström of 1939-1945. And we are yet not free of that poison. 
While “collective guilt” of the German people for the crimes of the Nazis was officially disavowed by the triumphant United Nations, after 8 May 1945, in the vital interests of pacifying, stabilizing and rebuilding Germany and the rest of devastated Europe without a resurgence of fascism — which itself was first sparked by the draconian punishment of Germany after World War I — it nevertheless was a moral truth. That the German people of the 1930s and 1940s (with the exception of an incredibly brave and noble minority) overwhelmingly supported the Nazi regime, is plain fact. 
But such collective guilt cannot be assigned to the children of those times, who have strived so vigorously to create a socially enlightened postwar Germany, a nation that is far more forthright in acting to compensate for the wrongs of its past than the United States has ever been about its Amerindian Genocide or its Black Slavery and Jim Crow (which latter was so instructive to the Nazis fashioning their race laws of 1933).
But such collective guilt can be assigned today to the self-styled Jeffersonians who are the adult perpetrators, enablers, and equivalents of 1930s “good Germans” in Israel and America (and China, etc.) acquiescing to the slo-mo genocides of the moment, like the vividly repulsive violent expropriations in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, and the aerial bombings in Gaza (84 years after the bombing of Guernica).
Can we be so sure that “God’s justice” will conveniently continue to sleep for us, as the Jeffersonian white supremacists hoped in the 18th and 19th centuries, and our American exceptionalists and Zionists hope today? Can we be so sure that our white supremacist equivocations today will escape retribution as was visited upon the European and American democracies, and on perfidious Russian Communism , after their failures to support the obvious moral imperatives of defending designated outcast “others” from persecution: European Jews (1933), Ethiopia (1935), Spain (1936), China (1937), Czechoslovakia (1938), and Poland (1939)?
In fact, “God’s justice” looms before us and without pity on even our children, in the forms of the climate crisis and the crisis of the destruction of Nature and habitability on Planet Earth. Today’s children have no share in the collective guilt of their parents and grandparents for creating and expanding that planetary crisis — by the decades-long fossil-fueled orgy of exclusionary industrialized capitalism in all its forms — yet those children are facing the brunt of these accelerating catastrophes. That bald fact is pointedly stated by Greta Thunberg, voicing the judgment by humanity’s robbed future on its greedy present that is also its future discredited past.
To extract ourselves from the climate crisis would require widespread cooperative altruistic action over the long term. None of those four qualities: “widespread,” “cooperative,” “altruistic,” “long-term,” have been exhibited simultaneously by human civilization in the past. The most accurate guesses about humanity’s future are likely to be arrived at by using the imagination without invoking any of those four qualities.
To salvage optimism in these times it is necessary to realize that there are no physical barriers nor prohibitive scientific “laws” preventing humanity from exhibiting “widespread cooperative altruistic action over the long term,” even starting tomorrow, to effectively and justly stop the slo-mo genocides underway now and the crisis of accelerating bio-inhospitality, and to compensate for the wrongs of the past. Such optimism, though logically limited by “realistic” thinking, is essential for heartening and motivating the people seeking to expand the scope of those collective altruistic actions. Greta and her generation deserve our best efforts — for life.
Even without possessing any political power or impressive wealth, we ‘ordinary, everyday adult people’ can individually add our mite to such good collective action by disavowing collaborationist lies (say it: the Israeli occupation of Palestine is apartheid, and ethnic cleansing), by speaking the truth plainly and without fear (“You say that you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future”) , by being honest witnesses (#SayHerName, Breonna Taylor and at least 103 others) , and by not allowing our words to be self-censored nor our attitudes to be submissively polite so as to cloak the repulsive moral nakedness of “our” political leaders, emperors and parasites.
[My thanks to Kathryn Morse, Stan Goff, and Louis Proyect.]
 “The Silence of Others” is an intense (especially for me) documentary about the efforts of the survivors of torture and persecution by Franco’s fascistic dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), to gain justice.
The Spanish state, with many Francoists still ensconced in positions of authority and power, and shielded by the Amnesty law of 1977, resist tooth and nail all judicial efforts to provide such justice for the victims of these crimes, via the internationally recognized (and very little adhered to) judicial principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and there being no statute of limitations for prosecuting them.
My father (a Spaniard born in Cuba) had an uncle, a violinist in a symphony, jailed by the Franco regime after the Civil War (he had regained his liberty by the late 1960s).
The Spanish Civil War continues to cast a long, long shadow on the character of Spaniards, and on the character of humanity. And there are too many new reflections of that cancerous fascism flickering on today around the world.
Intense. In the 1980s I read about the prisoner exchanges in 1939 of escaped German communists (antifascists) — and veterans of the Republican (socialist) side in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War — pulled out of asylum in Russia and given back to the Gestapo, and escaped Russian anticommunists (czarists and fascists) pulled out of asylum in Germany and given back to the NKVD. According to books by Michael Voslensky (Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class), Roy Medvedev (Let History Judge) and other similar authors whom I have now forgotten: the NKVD took the Communist Party membership cards away from their communist now-prisoners, and then with a Gestapo officer present verified the identity of each individual to check them off a Gestapo ‘shopping list,’ while similarly verifying the identity of an anticommunist prisoner being given to the NKVD in exchange. Then both the Gestapo and the NKVD led their repatriated prisoners away for executions in private.
The reason that Communist Party membership cards were removed by the NKVD, excommunicating those individuals from the CP, was so that the Gestapo would not be shooting “communists”: those in good standing with the Stalinist party of that time.
Very large gears turn in the machinery of power, indeed, and are lubricated with the blood of many lives whose identities have been erased from memory.
In the 2000s I met a woman who is a Spaniard born in Arkhangelsk (in West Arctic Russia), as her parents were Spanish communists who escaped Franco’s fascist Spain on the defeat of the Spanish Republicans in 1939. Her daughter and my youngest were friends in a girls chorus in San Francisco. She said that Stalin wanted the Spanish Communists as far from Europe (western, southern, central) as possible. She is a survivor (and very Russian), and obviously did not believe in any ideology. She made it real for me, without having to say very much.
All of this literature about the largely unnamed and long forgotten victims of betrayed better futures, is also about the historical achievements of the successful practitioners of the Arthashastra, The Prince, The Pentagon Papers, and the more recent derivatives of such manuals of “statecraft.”
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.
Yesterday, a friend wrote me: “I really don’t know how we are going to come out of this. For a while I was okay. Over the last week I have grown more desperate with each day as the news develops.” I am trying to answer him here.
Many of my social media friends have expressed their anger, outrage, sadness and disgust at the lynching of George Floyd by a white supremacist cop in Minneapolis on May 25th (8 days ago as I write this). That lynching was carried out by an arresting cop kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the right side of George Floyd’s neck while the handcuffed Floyd was lying face down on a city street. Floyd kept pleading for relief because he could not breathe, but the killer cop continued his kneeling choke-hold for 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become unresponsive. Three other cops participated in the lynching: one holding Floyd’s back, another holding his legs, and the third looking on and preventing intervention by a person who stood nearby, watching in horror. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_George_Floyd)
The country has blown up, large protests and riots now fill the streets of many cities and towns in America, and have for the last week. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the expressions of that truth in 1965 (Watts, Los Angeles CA) and 1967 (Newark NJ, Detroit MI, and 157 other places). That truth again erupted into view in over 100 cities in the United States after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, with “the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War,” before it finally flamed out on 27 May 1968. And that truth was again acted out during 6 days of riots (29 April to 4 May) in Los Angeles CA in 1992, after the four cops who had savagely beat Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of any crime.
“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Dr. Cornell West said on 29 May, as he preached on CNN television with crystal clarity on the massive and systemic failure of America — as a society, an economy and a tangle of governments — to protect and defend all of its people. Listen to Cornell West for yourself to unflinchingly face the reality of America (https://youtu.be/cs3jdyfx_fo), a reality that had been made plain by Malcolm X by 21 February 1965, when he was assassinated.
People are in the streets because the George Floyd murder was the last straw on their unbearably strained patience in waiting for justice in America. They blew up because they saw that justice in America will never arrive. Their many pent-up disappointments and frustrations came to a head on seeing the video of the George Floyd murder. Those disappointments and frustrations include experiences of victimization — many fatal — by racist policing, as well as economic victimization by a structurally racist and fundamentally rigged economy.
So, the victim populations of the race war against Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and others disfavored by white supremacists; and the class war by the rich and powerful against: wage slaves, the unemployed, youth without prospects, and the 99% of Americans who are outsiders from the con games and self-aggrandizing capers of the economic insiders, just went ape-shit on seeing the Floyd murder and its obvious acceptability to the Trump-led bipartisan power structure. That is why I call it a lynching.
All this is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed society with its obvious deadliness, and that in turn has collapsed any hope of financial security for so many people who were already in the bottom tiers of the fundamentally heartless American economic system.
Many of these people are faced with sudden devastating losses: of health and life to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and of being cast into bankrupting debt by the medical bills for having survived COVID-19; of confidence in remaining healthy while on jobs they need for economic survival; of income when their jobs disappear, and with it their health insurance if those jobs even provided it; of housing with the inability to pay rent; and even of ready access to food. The pandemic has also interfered with the most fundamental source of solace we all rely on in our times of despair: sharing the company of our families and true friends. So going out into the streets now to protest is natural for many who want relief from the unbearable suffocation of the choke-holds on them, and for some of those people who feel they have nothing left to lose, to even riot.
Unfortunately, there are rotten malevolent scumbag bigots who are taking advantage of the street protests to act violently and destructively in the hopes of provoking a much wider race war of oppression by white supremacy. And there are too many cops and government people (the cop employers) who are obsessed with control and domination instead of public and individual welfare, and they too create more hurt and provoke more reactive rioting by their heavy-handed cop-riot “law enforcement” actions.
So we get a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. The best way to break that cycle is to quickly legislate substantive social and economic improvements that clearly address the underlying distresses of the people protesting visibly, and the people despairing silently and invisibly. The blinded-by-bigotry Trump-type people don’t want to enact those long-needed reforms because it would mean cutting back on their money-making schemes and their biased administrative actions.
I am guessing the current cycle of unrest will wind down simply because of exhaustion on the part of most of the people in the streets, coupled with heavy suppression by militarized police and federal troops. That won’t end the problem, but just make it more “invisible” to the authorities and simply delay its resolution, which if not forthcoming will simply mean another outbreak is inevitable.
I think things will get back to “normal” in time (within weeks?), but the “normal” that we had before late May was toxic. It carries within it the makings of more, longer and worse future riots if we let it return and continue unchanged.
A Bernie Sanders presidency aided by a helpfully supportive Congress would have been a potentially mild reform of our toxic “now,” but that reform was forbidden by the corporate-owned bipartisan power structure through its Democratic Party wing, with the full concurrence of its Republican Party wing. So now we have the George Floyd riots because people don’t feel like compromising any more, or of waiting for the Godot of American justice, or of turning the other cheek of a failed Christianity.
I don’t know and can’t really guess what’s coming next, or of how things will play out for the rest of this year.
We need a lot of wise leadership — which is obviously entirely lacking from the Trump Administration, from the U.S. Congress, and from many governors and elected politicians — and we need a lot of steady confident calmness that holds off from violent actions, by governors, mayors and police forces, who would in turn all be supported in that type of compassionately wise response by those wished-for intelligent and unbiased Federal authorities, for this national crisis to be calmed down quickly and humanely; and to then be permanently resolved by essential social and economic reform legislation, which was assiduously enforced thereafter.