On Steven B. Oates Historian and Intellectual Engage’

 

Stephen B. Oates

Reflections on the Man and his Freedom Quartet

Given the realities of the America into which we were born and came of age, a land torn and divided by racist rage, it is highly unlikely that Steve and I would have ever met as equal human beings, let alone become dear friends. Yet despite the divisions of race, rigorously enforced by law and social etiquette in the regions of the country where we grew up and were socialized – he in the small of Pampa Texas, me in the tiny picturesque old Spanish settlement of Saint Augustine Florida – we had some things in common. We were both failed trumpeters; We wore mustaches, we were both veterans of the Civil Rights Movement – he an acolyte of Dr. King, me a passionate partisan of Malcolm X – we both had a visceral antipathy for injustice; and we believed the accurate writing and teaching of history could play a vital role in solving the nation’s racial crisis. A crisis which, at the time we met over half a century ago, threatened to tear the nation asunder. Indeed, the question posed by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 seemed just as relevant a century later in 1969: Can a house divided against itself continue to stand?  It is a question whose relevance no sane and sober observer viewing America objectively in 2022 can deny.

One wonders what Steve would have made of our present mess. With the untutored MAGA mob hurling incendiary lies about Democrats that eerily echo the hysterical baseless slanders pro-slavery southern Democrats heaped upon Northern Republicans in the 1850’s;  incited to armed insurrection by a deranged former President who refuses to concede he lost the election two years after the fact, a verbal arsonist who recently exhorted a howling white mob “to die in the streets” to prevent Critical Race Theory from being taught in their public schools. Since there is no chance that this sophisticated legal theory will ever be taught to public school children, the growing hysteria around the issue is but a thinly veiled attempt to arrest the development of a pedagogy that seeks to tell the unvarnished truth about race relations in American Civilization. They prefer their children be lied to just as they were, passing the protracted racial conflict on to future generations.

Indeed, Devious Donald Dimwit, whose incoherent rantings are a burlesque on serious argument, wants our schools to teach something called “Patriotic History,” which bears a disturbing resemblance to Hitler’s “Race History,” whose objective was the indoctrination of German youths with Nazi master race theories – much of which was lifted from the 1917 racist tome “The Passing of the Great Race,”  celebrating the superiority of blond haired blue eyed Teutons, penned by the Columbia University graduate and leader in the American Eugenics Movement, Madison Grant.  We know this because Hitler says so in a letter archived in Grant’s papers. Just Google “Madison Grant and Adolph Hitler.”  Ironically, the new state laws being hastily passed prescribing guidelines for the teaching of patriotic American history,  may yet result in Professor Oates’s books being banned  in his native Texas!

As was the case in the turbulent 1850’s, the two major political parties get their view of events from a divided media with diametrically opposed visions of reality.  And as I write The Economist, has released a poll showing that a majority of Americans believe the country will be in another Civil war within the next decade.  In a nation with 200 million guns in the hands of civilians, 20 million of which are military assault rifles, this is no picayune matter. Especially when many of these people fervently believe  the Second Amendment was created to arm the citizenry against a tyrannical federal government.  Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Never has historical perspective been more critical to understanding the dangerous complexities of current events.  That’s why President Biden has summoned historians to the white House twice in the past few months, and they say the issues that concern him most, are the rise of Fascism in Weimar Germany and the American Civil War. We can deduce what he learned from his  prime-time speech in front of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia, where the President sounded the alarm warning that our democracy cannot endure when one party decides that there are only two possible outcomes of an election: Either we win or the election was stolen.

`           I suspect even a casual perusal of his oeuvre would provide a pretty good idea where Professor Oates would stand on the major issues at hand. Especially the four works that I call the Freedom Quartet, the magisterial biographies: To Purge This Land with Blood; The Fires of Jubilee; With Malice Toward None; Let the Trumpet Sound. I think of them as the academic equivalent of a  Quartet in four movements, composed with the lyrical elegance, emotional gravitas, and dazzling erudition of a Mozart masterwork. The four men who are the subjects of these biographies come from radically different backgrounds but are bound together in their fight against the evils wrought by the system of white supremacy in America. A persistent theme in our history that continues to linger on like the melody of a bad song.

In discussing his works Professor Oates often employs the term “leitmotif,” which can be defined as “a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.”  Hence if we think of the four books in the Freedom Quartet as movements in a single composition, the leitmotif that gives them continuity is the contradiction between the professed ideals of American civilization – all men are created equal and endowed by God with the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and the persistent practice  of white supremacy.  A practice which resulted in policies of dispossession and genocide among the indigenes, whom the enlightened Canadians call “The First Nations” of the Americas, and the enslavement of kidnapped Africans, whose status in law for most of the history of the English settler colonialists that built the United States of America was equivalent to that of livestock.  Chattel, with no more rights than the beast of the fields.  And the august Supreme Court proclaimed it in the 1857 Dread Scott Decision, when they ruled 7-2  that ”Black men have no rights white men are bound to respect!”  A ruling that applied to all African Americans Slave or Free.  It is a sentiment some white Americans still hold dear, including armed policemen.

The second great theme that persists through the Freedom Quartet, is the story of heroic struggles waged by those who opposed the evils of white supremacy, slavery and segregation, which they regarded as a betrayal of the Universal Humanism proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and a blasphemous transgression against the commandments of the God they professed to serve, who bequeathed the rights to all men that are enumerated and celebrated in our foundational document .  Since the books span a period from the founding of our federal republic in the late 18th century, to the last third of the 20th century, we are provided a view of how the issue of race has been a central factor in the growth and character of the United States.  Despite all the hysterical denials that racism and racial oppression is fundamental to the American experience, the voices in Professor Oates’ Freedom Quartet boldly proclaim this truth.  And their voices are unimpeachable.

It is readily apparent to the careful observer that these biographies are not the product of academic busywork coerced by the imperative to publish or perish. Nor the seductions of the fame and fortune that accompanies authorial success. Their raison d’etre was inspired by a passion for justice and a deeply held belief that an accurate understanding of the nation’s history could assist in the building of a more just society, “the more perfect union” envisioned in the preamble to the Constitution. And insure the “domestic tranquility” it calls for.

Hence it was not by happenstance that Steve chose as the subjects of his Freedom Quartet two black Americans and two white Americans whose stories share a common theme: They all gave their lives in the struggle to make America a freer and more just society, to live up to the exalted ideals proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.  In an essay in the anthology “Biography as High Adventure,” Steve  defined his project as an effort to  “ humanize the monstrous moral paradox of slavery and racial oppression in a land based on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.”  And he felt the thread that held his subjects together is the fact that:

All four were driven, visionary men, all were caught up in the issues of slavery and race, and all devised their own solutions to those inflammable problems. And all perished, too, in the conflicts and hostilities that surrounded the quest for equality in their country.”

Two were hung, and two were felled by assassin’s bullets.

There was something else of critical importance that held these men together: They all met the measure of the Prophet based upon the criteria set forth by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a distinguished theologian and world-renowned authority on the ancient Hebrew Prophets, who fled Nazi Germany and later became an activist in the US Civil Rights Movement.  In declaring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Prophet, he said: “Moralist of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The Distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression,” and their willingness to die for this truth.  Notwithstanding the value of his other works, which consists of 12 more volumes, for me his exquisitely composed Freedom Quartet shall remain Professor Oates’ magnum Opus.

Without diminishing their monumental importance one jot or tittle, I confess that I might be biased toward these works because Steve discussed three of them with me while he was writing them, from conception to completion, and thus I feel a special relationship to them.  I still remember the look of excitement on his face when he was writing The Fires of Jubilee and visited me at my home in Harlem, after he had just retraced the footsteps that the brilliant mystic slave rebel Nat Turner took during his bloody rebellion in Southampton County Virginia in 1831. It was as if he had transported himself back to that time and place and witnessed the event.  I was especially moved by his narration because Nat and I are kindred spirits.

I shared his wonder as he reveals how Abraham Lincoln metamorphosed from a cautious Free Soiler, perfectly willing to let the southerners keep their black bondsman if it would preserve the Union, ambivalent about the equality of black folk and whether they could function as free citizens in American society, with a railroad lawyers respect for the property rights of southern slaveholders, a concern he never really abandoned, to a committed abolitionist willing to wage the bloodiest most destructive war the world had yet seen and abolish slavery – despite military setbacks, the advice of some cabinet members, and widespread virulent opposition from racist white northerners – because he became convinced it was God’s punishment of America for the sin of slavery. And “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,”  Lincoln proclaimed in his second Inaugural Address.

As Steve has pointed out repeatedly in response to those who dismiss John Brown – the subject of the first volume of his Freedom Quartet, “To Purge This Land With Blood”  – as a crazed religious fanatic because he believed that God had chosen him for the mission of liberating the slaves and purge America of its evils with the blood of slaveholders: There was no difference in Brown’s religious passions and convictions and those of Abe Lincoln’s…or those of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  They all fervently believed that an almighty God was orchestrating their fate.  Yet nobody ever characterized Lincoln and Lee as “religious fanatics.”

I was fascinated by the way Steve reconstructed Martin Luther King’s dangerous Civil Rights campaign in St. Augustine Florida, not the least of which because of the things he revealed to me about my hometown.  I left during the summer of 1960, just after the Black southern Student Sit-In Movement began, which I had participated in as a Freshman at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, but it had not yet reached St. Augustine, although those of us who had gone off to college had all been active in that nascent struggle, and my boyhood friend Hank Thomas would become an iconic figure in the southern struggle, when his image appeared on the front pages of Newspapers around the world walking out of a flaming bus into the crazed white mob that had firebombed  the “Freedom Riders” in Anniston Alabama.

By the time Dr. King came to St. Augustine I had been gone for several years and a lot had changed.  For one thing, race relations had become more violent.  Hence when I read Steve’s meticulous reconstructions of the night marches down to the old slave market, led by Dr. King, rendered with a novelistic eye for detail, I sat breathlessly on the edge of my chair.  I knew the route well, and there were abundant darkened nooks and crannies from which a crazed murder minded gunman from the racist Ancient City Gun Club might fire on the procession.  I was astonished at the heroism of my neighbors, ordinary people doing extraordinary things in pursuit of their freedom. And Steve’s narrative captured the dramatic ambience of the moment so well, as they resolutely walked in the shadow of death, inspired by the soul stirring preachments of Dr. King, that when I meet them on trips to the Ancient City, America’s oldest, I feel like genuflecting before their feet.

Professor Stephen Oates sought to give voice to the grievances of the voiceless in American civilization, and he chose to achieve his objective by putting their most impassioned and able advocates on center stage and focusing the limelight on them. If, as the Bard of Avon declared: “All the world is a stage and we are but players upon it,” the dramatis personae in the epic tales Steve chose to tell were John Brown, Nat Turner, Abe Lincoln and Martin Luther King.  With the skill of a Saville Row tailor, he stitched together the various details of their lives, vices and virtues, yielded by his prodigious research, into a seamless narrative that allows us to see the world as they saw it in real time.  And even feel what they felt.

The power of his narratives is such that, even one whose saved senior daughter has labeled an “unchurched heathen,” who has been an avowed atheist since I was 13, convinced by the racist caste system under which I grew up in Florida, that no just God could possibly be presiding over such an unjust world, can yet feel the fire in the spirit of their religious convictions. It is an Amazing Grace that makes my spirit dance! A feat that no dispassionate, value free,  research technician could achieve. These moving texts are the conjurations of an emotionally engaged intellectual with a poet in his soul. Without lapsing into “special pleading” nor descending into propaganda, meticulously interrogating the voluminous records available to the professional historian, the Freedom Quartet transcends conventional scholarship and rises to the level of some rarified intellectual alchemy. They are a priceless benefaction to this nation. Let his trumpet sound loudly! For if widely enough heard, it might awaken the better angels of our nature that Abraham Lincoln believed could save the soul of our republic.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September,  2022

 

Is Donald Trump a Uniquely American Fascist?

Trump On The Stump

Inciting the Passions of the untutored reactionary mob

On Fascism American Style

“It all depends on me”

Adolph Hitler, Nazi Rally

“We are going to do things that nobody else can do…who can fix things better than me”

Donald Trump, Vermont rally

 

            At first glance the rise of multi-billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump as a hero of the white working class seems paradoxical; since his interests and that of his class and cronies are diametrically opposed to the concerns and interests of workers.  Alas Trump’s appeal to that class of voters reflects the age-old tendency for desperate people to turn to the “strong man” for salvation; they invest this savior figure with nearly omnipotent powers and come to believe that their fate depends upon him.  These are ideal conditions for the rise of demagogues and dictators.  More often than not such men are megalomaniacs who come to believe that they alone can lead the nation.

That’s Donald Trump’s view of his role in American politics…the man who will “Make America great again,” and he reminds me of another charismatic megalomaniacal demagogue: Adolph Hitler, who pledged to restore Germany to her former glory and create a regime that would rule the world for a thousand years – his “1000-year Reich.”  Furthermore, even as I write many people who attend Trump’s rallies conjure images of German Brown Shirts at Hitler’s Rallies, snatching signs from protestors, verbally abusing them and even physically assaulting them.  And they conduct these odious anti-democratic activities with the urging of Donald Trump, who told his security people to throw a protestor out and “confiscate his coat” although they were in Vermont and there was freezing weather outside! Things have gotten so bad that his recent rally at the University of Chicago degenerated into a full-scale brawl and Trump’s appearance had to be cancelled.  Trump’s hometown newspaper – The Daily News – who know him best summed up Trump’s campaign in bold headlines on its cover page: “BLOOD ON DON’S HANDS.”

Verbally assaulting dissenters in the audience was also a tactic employed by George Wallace – a home grown white Fascist – and can be seen on films of his mass meetings.   As I write Tom Turnipseed, the Executive Director of George Wallace’s presidential campaign in 1968, when he was the candidate of the American Independent Party, which was based on the same racial ideology as the German Nazi’s, who borrowed it from the USA – Google “Hitler and Madison Grant” – and Turnipseed says that Trump is running a campaign very much like that of George Wallace!   The reason that Tom has come forth is because he and Wallace would later repent for their racist deeds and denounce racism.  Hence his comments about the Trump campaign are enlightening and offer rare insights that cannot be found elsewhere.

“They both understood the use of fear” says Turnipseed.  With Wallace it was “the blacks are taking over, with Trump its Mexicans and Chinese. They are a lot alike.” Peggy Wallace Kennedy, George’s daughter, who has denounced her father’s racist past, says Trump is nastier than her father. Mrs. Turnipseed, Tom’s wife, pointed out yet another way that the Wallace and Trump political styles are alike.  “They attract large crowds and get people all fired up and angry by describing the problems they face, but they don’t offer any solutions.”

Hence the American Independent Party, which was organized by George Wallace as a white Christian Nationalist party, mostly composed of working-class Protestants that openly advocated white supremacy, enforced by the legal and extra-legal use of organized violence, had much in common with the German National Socialist. All of these factors are characteristic of a fascist movement and can be clearly observed in Trump’s campaign.  Alas, one need only compare the podium styles of Hitler and Trump in photographs and film – – i.e., body language and hyperbolic belligerent rhetoric – to recognize the similarity of their modus operandi.  Furthermore, if one conducts a comparative analysis of Hitler’s speech which preceded his declaration of war on the US, with Trump’s speech in Vermont on January 8, you will find that both speeches are based on a series of blatant lies!   Yet in both cases their adoring audiences clung to their every word as if it was the gospels, and their response bordered on the kind of mass hysteria one observes among religious fundamentalists…true believers.  (See the video links below)

Adolph On The Stump

 

Notice the hysterical expressions on both faces

Ever since I became aware of the history of European political movements in the twentieth century, a little over fifty years ago, I have heard speculations about the possibility of those radical European political movements succeeding in the USA: especially Communism and Fascism.  I was first introduced to this discourse by old activists on the left; many of them had been radical unionists who believed that the advent of socialism was inevitable because the increasing inequality of income and wealth under capitalism would result in a revolt of the masses against the plutocrats led by the organized working class.  As Marx put it, the inherent contradictions in the capitalist system “will produce its grave diggers.”

Hence choosing a plutocrat as their leader makes as much sense as poor whites in the antebellum south, whose poverty was the result of the fact that they were competing with the slave laborers of the planter class, going off to war to fight and die to preserve that system, and their descendants continue to celebrate this shameful historical embarrassment! White workers then, and now, are caught up in a tragic paradox.  And the poor southern whites who reject Barack Obama, the best friend they have ever had in the Oval Office, or is likely to have in that Office, in favor of a cynical, coldblooded plutocrat and vain braggart like Donald Trump – a soulless demagogue who is simply exploiting them with empty rhetoric and couldn’t care less about their concerns is a compelling case in point. “The Donald” wouldn’t piss on one of these poor whites if he saw them on fire during a stroll in Central Park, yet they view him as their savior.

Of course, the view of the western proletariat as the historically appointed leader of the world revolution that would end the exploitation of the working class by capitalists was conceived in the 19th century, by the brilliant political economist/materialist philosopher Karl Marx.  However as the Chinese American philosopher Grace Lee Boggs pointed out in a conversation with this writer, “Marx could not have even imagined the world we live in.  In Marx’s time smokestacks in large cities were viewed as a sign of human progress; today we know that they could spell our doom.”  I have also talked to many skeptics who believe that the white American working class is more likely to support fascism than socialism.

Alas, judging from the swelling crowds of white workers that greet Donald Trump’s every public appearance; they may prove to be right!  Everywhere Trump goes he is greeted with tumultuous applause reminiscent of the kind of crowds that turned out for Sarah Palin – the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate whose principal contribution to American politics was to make ignorance fashionable, and the rejection of reportage from reliable journalistic sources. Making objective truth indistinguishable from blatant lies. Through her persistent use of the term “Lame Street Media,” the Alaskan Barbarian has convinced the “Dumb Doras” and “Joe Six Packs” to be suspicious of serious news organizations that strive for objectivity, in favor of the politicized propaganda of unreliable sources like FOX Network news or empty talking radio heads like Rush Limbaugh and Sea Hannity.

These people, who number in the millions, are so confused about the political forces at play, and which of these players are committed to addressing their pressing economic and cultural concerns – i.e. returning prayer in schools; outlawing abortion; banning gay marriage; et al – that they have fallen under the spell of a verbose megalomaniacal ignoramus who may understand business but very little about history, sociology, science, foreign relations and military matters.  All of which are essential tools for good governance in the complex political and natural environment of the 21st century.  Trump’s speech in Vermont on 1/8/2016 is a model of the phenomenon that I am describing.  All the factors are there.  In many ways he reminds me of Hitler, but in a wholly American way.

If Adolph Hitler had not been a militaristic Austrian Corporal drunk on German romanticism and myths of Nordic superiority, but a pragmatic fast talking New York real estate huckster with a salesman’s gift of gab; a television reality show host who has mastered the medium;  gifted with a comedian’s timing and a friendly fascist smile, he would be Donald Trump.  In his book “Friendly Fascism,” written 35 years ago,  Bertram Gross makes the following observation about the character of American Fascism: “ The unifying element in this unfolding logic is the capital-accumulation imperative of the world’s leading capitalist forces, creatively adjusted to meet the challenges of the many crises I have outlined. This is quite different from the catch-up imperatives of the Italian, German, and Japanese leaders after World War I. Nor would its working out necessarily require a charismatic dictator, one-party rule, glorification of the State, dissolution of legislatures, termination of multiparty elections, ultranationalism, or attacks on rationality.”

The essential truth of this observation is verified in the rise of Donald Trump.  However I would point out that in Trump we do not have a “charismatic dictator” only because the American system of checks and balances will not allow it.  But Trump is a “charismatic revivalist,” who plays the same role of all-knowing “strong man” who express the anxieties and grievances of his followers with dynamic oratory that convinces them that he alone possesses  the will and the way to solving the nation’s pressing problems.  Furthermore they are also “Ultranationalists” and regularly assault logic – even the indisputable truths revealed by the scientist of climate change.  Hence in Trump and his followers we can clearly observe several prominent features of classic fascism in the “Friendly Fascist” that Gross outlined.

The audience Trump was speaking to were bummed out white workers and people struggling to remain in the lower middle class. It was obvious from their responses to the mindless drivel flowing from Trump’s pie hole, masquerading as serious political oratory, that these people are the proto-type of “Low Information Voters.”  Poorly educated, disillusioned, frustrated, struggling white workers; many of whom are lost souls that witnessed their world of white privilege disappear like ice sickles in the blazing sun.  They are the same demographic that brought Hitler and Mussolini to power in Germany and Italy during the 1930’s.

One has only to listen to the daily broadcast of Rush Limbaugh to see why he has been branded an American clone of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Reich, by Arthur Fromer; who was part of a US Army intelligence team dispatched to Germany right after the fall of the Third Reich to investigate the critical role of radio in the rise of Nazism.  Since I have already written about this issue, I will not belabor it here (see: Is Rush an American Goebbels”)   Hence Fromer knows whereof he speaks and is as close to an unimpeachable source as one is likely to find.  It is enough to witness Sarah Palin firing up the crowd with racist anti-Obama rhetoric at an outdoor rally in Strongsville Ohio and compare it to film footage of Hitler and Mussolini – see clips at bottom of essay – to recognize that they are the same class of phenomenon.   Except that Trump has infinitely greater means to communicate mass propaganda, since neither television nor the internet existed during the rise of the Nazi’s.  And this augmented power to beam controlled messages in sound image and text into the blank brains of millions of Americans means that Trump can create the hysteria the Nazi’s produced in the German people in far less time.

Although several of Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans have openly called him a “Fascist,” none have defined what they mean by it.  Originally this term was designed to describe several far rightwing movements that developed in Italy, Germany and Japan in the first half of the twentieth century, spawning dictatorial regimes that promised the people economic prosperity and a return to national greatness.  This was the mantra of the Fascist Party in Italy, National Socialist in Germany, and the Empire of the Rising Sun in Japan.  Each of these regimes had their individual characteristics, which is determined by national character and cultural styles. Trump is promising the same kinds of things as the 20th century Fascist leaders, but with a made in America style that resembles a television game show host – a uniquely American invention.

Hence Hitler’s militarism has deep roots in German history and culture.  A highly intellectual culture, thoughtful Germans had long debated the relative merits of the soldier and statesman vs the philosopher and poet to society.  Which was the higher calling?  Yet at times, the ever-present militarist tradition of Prussia ruled the nation’s sensibilities, and it is that tradition that Hitler tapped into. The Japanese before World War II considered the emperor a divine figure and the military was the emperor’s sword. With a long and brilliant military history based in the Samurai tradition, they confronted the rising tide of white world domination expressed by the European invasion of the colored nations, colonizing them, stealing their lands and resources while reducing them to slaves in their own countries, yet the white nations of the world refused to even consider Japanese demands that racism be made a crime under international law at the 1919 Versailles Conference to shape the new world order in the aftermath of World War I.  Hence the Japanese militarized their society and declared the right of Japan to build an empire across Asia by armed force in the name of their divine emperor.  They called it “The Empire of the Rising Sun,” and adopted the slogan “Asia for the Asians.”  For an insightful and broadly learned analysis of this development see “Race War” by the distinguished historian Dr. Gerald Horne.

In America the most admired and celebrated figure is the millionaire and billionaire businessman/woman.  More people aspire to this status than any other.  Even our greatest athletes, and artists, along with powerful politicians genuflect to these plutocrats like ancient Israelites bowed down before the golden calf, who oftentimes own them body and soul.  When Trump combines his exalted status as billionaire with the deep-seated traditions of paranoia and populism in American politics it is no mystery why a politically ignorant businessman and Big Apple bunko artist like Donald Trump is attracting such crowds among the disillusioned and untutored white working class mob as he brazenly flaunts his wealth.  They see him as their Deliverer alas.  He is everything they aspire to be.

As I listened to the hope the white workers at the Vermont rally place in him, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were talking about Jesus Christ.  It is a naïve hope invested in a charlatan who cannot possibly fulfill his promises.  Hence they shall become even more combustible when they feel betrayed yet again; the way they feel about the Republican establishment now; which is what created this opening for Trump.  The Poet Laureate of Harlem Langston Hughes speaks to the consequences of this kind of mass disillusionment in his powerful poem, What Happens to a Dream Deferred?   “Does it sag like a heavy load….or does it explode!”

Like desperate people throughout history, going back to ancient times – demagogue is an ancient Greek word that describes a person who deceives the masses into believing that he cares about their troubles while using them to pursue his own interests – poor whites that support Trump are turning to a “strong man” who has lured them into his camp by telling the “big lie” that the cause of their economic problems is a “stupid” black president – who actually saved them from complete economic ruin after the Republicans wrecked the economy – unpopular minorities who should be driven from the country or put in their place if they stay; just like Hitler scapegoated German Jews. And Trump is proving Dr. Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, correct: “If you tell a big lie to enough people often enough, they will believe it.”  Trump is also proving the truth of Thomas Jefferson’s warning “An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power.”

Based on the observable evidence it is safe to conclude that Trump is a charlatan with fascistic tendencies – albeit American style with a fake salesman smile and informal demeanor that reminds me of the comedian Joan Rivers’ shtick “Can we talk?” – who is poised to seize the Republican nomination.  Once he gets the nomination of the Grand Obstructionist Party, he will have a chance of becoming president, which would be a catastrophe for America and the world. All progressives must now quit the squabbling among themselves and join the struggle to stop this dangerous megalomaniac with a messiah complex; our marching orders must be: “No enemies on the left!”  Do you hear that Corny West?

 

Hitler’s Speech Declaring War on USA (English Subtitles)

https://youtu.be/QJf4yEOkMXY

Like Donald Trump’s Speech in Vermont both are streams of lies!

See: Tom Brokaw’s Commentary on Trump and the sordid murderous history of racism, political paranoia and fascism in the 20th century. (Contains great historical newsclips.

http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/tom-brokaw-reflects-on-trump-s–dangerous-proposal–to-ban-muslims-582434371851

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Circa 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Maynard Keynes: A Prophet for Our Times

He Predicted the Tragedy of World War II

His Warnings about Versailles are Valid Today

As I witness the American President Joe Biden strutting about like the Alpha male of the Western herd, with NATO and the EU subject to his command, as he gloats and brags about how the economic sanctions he is imposing will bring Great Russia – a nuclear super-power – to her knees, my mind harkens back to the Versailles Treaty and Dr. Keynes’ prophetic treatise: “The Economic Consequences of The Peace.” In this brilliant deeply insightful work, Dr. Keynes warned that the economic sanctions imposed on Germany at the Versailles Conference of 1919, held in the aftermath of World War I to establish the new world order, would set forces in motion within German society that would lead to another even more devastating war. And history has verified the accuracy of his prediction.

Although historians are wary of the analogy, and rightly so, because the devil is always in the details and what seems like history repeating itself often proves untrue upon close inspection. Yet there is merit in Mark Twains observation that “History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”  And the oft repeated axiom of the late Harvard Philosopher George Santayana is altogether fitting for Bumbling Biden and his vassals in the EU and NATO to heed at this moment:” Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”

Alas, even after considering the particularities of the situation that prevailed in western civilization in 1919, and the crisis we are facing a hundred years later, if we think of the problems as a general class of political phenomenon some vital lessons can be drawn that, if properly understood, could guide our statesmen from leading the world into a worse disaster than World War II.  Indeed, western civilization has reached a stage of technological development where wrong decisions can lead to the destruction of civilization and even the extinction of all life on this planet.

Hence the compelling question is: What can we learn from the scribblings of a British economist a century removed. Well, the most important lesson is Keynes’ warning that imposing crippling economic sanctions on Germany would lead to a resurgence of nationalistic anger and resentment that would spark another war that would be more destructive than the “Great War” that had just devastated Europe, physically and psychologically. With uncanny prescience he wrote, the victors:

“run the risk of completing the ruin, which Germany began, by a Peace which, if it is carried into effect, must impair yet further, when it might have restored, the delicate, complicated organization, already shaken and broken by war. And invite their own destruction also, being so deeply and inextricably intertwined with their victims by hidden psychic and economic bonds.”

Angry and disillusioned after witnessing their civilization – which many Europeans believed was the apex of human achievement – descend into barbarism, the victors were in no mood for reconciliation, they wanted to punish the vanquished Germans, whom they blamed for starting the war. And the sanctions they imposed were designed to accomplish just that. Keynes, who was a senior economic advisor to the British delegation at Versailles, argued for a different approach, one that would allow Germany to rebuild their economy in a post war European system that would promote peace and prosperity for all.

When his proposals were ignored, and dismissed as naïve wishful thinking by many, he resigned his post at the British Treasury, retreated to a house in the countryside with his fellow artistic and intellectual luminaries in the Bloomsbury Circle, and wrote his scathing critique of the folly that passed for diplomacy at the Conference, and the Treaty they produced, considering it both inhumane and a barrier to constructing a peaceful world order.  Keynes published his views as “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” in which he predicted the Second World War.

He denounced the Treaty of Versailles a “Carthaginian Peace” – a reference to the destruction of the ancient North African nation of Carthage by Rome – and warned that it would lead to chaos and yet another war.

“If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long that final civil war between the forces of reaction and the despairing convulsions of revolution, before which the horrors of the late German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is the victor, the civilization and the progress of our generation.”

Written in exquisite prose, with characterizations of major players who crafted the Versailles Treaty that won the admiration of his literary cohorts in the Bloomsbury Group such as the novelist Virginia Wolfe, and the writer/critic Lytton Strachey. In fact, conventional wisdom has it that Keynes’s irreverent portrayals of British Prime Minister  Lloyd George, US President Woodrow Wilson – whom he called “slow witted” -and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, was influenced by Strachey’s satirical  portrait of the British elite in his book “The Eminent Victorians.”

The Economic Consequences of the Peace would become the first best seller penned by an academic economist. And just as Dr. Keynes predicted war again descended upon Europe within a generation. It was generated by German resentment over the dire economic conditions imposed upon Germany by the Treaty, and fueled a ultranationalist movement that put a deranged autocrat in power.  And as the historical record testifies it sparked a world war that resulted in the slaughter of 50 million souls!  Twenty- seven million in Russia alone.

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It is important to understand that one of the major sources of German resentment was that they did not feel they were the sole cause of World War I, nor did they start it. Hence, they were convinced that the ruinous economic sanction imposed on them at the Versailles Conference, were unjust and those responsible for it should be made to pay. Hence, “Death to the October Criminals!” referring to the German officials who signed the Versailles Treaty, became the most effective slogan around which Adolph Hitler mobilized the masses into a movement that eventually transformed Weimar Germany from the most enlightened, tolerant, democratic society in the world  – where Afro-American Jazz was the background sound animating the cultural milieu; more books were published and read than anywhere in the world; homosexuality, interracial dating, and cocaine use was common fare, and Jewish life flourished at the highest levels of society – to Nazi Germany, where racism and anti-homosexuality became official government policy. Jazz was deemed the nefarious work of degenerate Untermensch like Blacks and Jews, books were banned and burned, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and gassed.

Although Jazz was officially banned by the Nazis as decadent, and a danger to the moral health of German society, it remained popular with many Germans, who listened surreptitiously at great risks to their safety. Just as many people in the Communist Soviet bloc countries would do after the Communist Party deemed Jazz the cultural product of a decadent capitalist society. However, both Jazz and cocaine continued to flourish among the Nazi elite as Rutgers Professor, John A. Williams, brilliantly portrays in his illuminating novel “Clifford’s Blues,” set in the Weimar Republic that preceded the Third Reich.

Setting the stage for the modern tragedy of Nazism, in which Germans murdered six million of their Jewish countrymen who had contributed mightily to German society, was the horrendous economic conditions that impoverished the German masses due to the impositions of Versailles. Which resulted in the twin evils of hyperinflation and depression that rendered the German Mark almost valueless.

Obviously, when we look at the draconian ruinous economic sanctions the Biden Administration is presently imposing on Russia, and with ostentatious glee, it is all too obvious that the lessons of Versailles have yet to be learned by our President and his enablers in this dangerous folly. To begin with, the Russians consider the sanctions imposed on them by the US to be “the moral equivalent of war,” as President Jimmy Carter put it when he warned the oil producing nations of OPEC not to  engage in a proposed oil boycott. And furthermore, even before their invasion of Ukraine, Putin had publicly stated that he believed the US was trying to provoke Russia into taking actions that could then be used as the raison d’etre for imposing crippling sanctions against Russia to stifle their economic development. Which is exactly what has happened from their perspective, and thus cause for deep resentments and impassioned hatred for the US, EU, and NATO. The great Russian /American Journalist, Vladimir Posner, says even at the height of the cold war Russian hatred of Americans never reached this fevered pitch! Not to mention their animosity for Ukrainian collaborators with the US. All of this makes for a combustible situation, especially when we consider the nature and extent of the sanctions.

In a recent announcement from the US Treasury Department, we are told:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today imposed expansive economic measures, in partnership with allies and partners, that target the core infrastructure of the Russian financial system — including all of Russia’s largest financial institutions and the ability of state-owned and private entities to raise capital — and further bars Russia from the global financial system. The actions also target nearly 80 percent of all banking assets in Russia and will have a deep and long-lasting effect on the Russian economy and financial system.

Building off of President Biden’s initial sanctions announcement this week, today Treasury is taking action against Russia’s top financial institutions, including sanctioning by far Russia’s two largest banks and almost 90 financial institution subsidiaries around the world. Treasury is also sanctioning additional Russian elites and their family members and imposing additional new prohibitions related to new debt and equity of major Russian state-owned enterprises and large privately owned financial institutions. This will fundamentally imperil Russia’s ability to raise capital key to its acts of aggression. These actions are specifically designed to impose immediate costs and disrupt and degrade future economic activity, isolate Russia from international finance and commerce, and degrade the Kremlin’s future ability to project power.”

The Russians consider these measures acts of war, as would the US government if such measures were-imposed upon them. So here we go again, off to war without a declaration from Congress, as the constitution clearly  mandates by assigning the war making powers to the representatives of all the people. Alas, it is abundantly clear that our Statesmen are dancing in the dark, and nobody knows what morning light will reveal.

One thing is clear to Putin, however, should a Russian missile or bomb intended to interdict arms shipments to the Ukrainians at the border, misfire and lands on the territory of a NATO country, he will be facing attack from a thirty-nation military alliance that includes the United States.  In which case, Russia’s national existence will be at stake because he could not hope to defeat the NATO alliance in a conventional war, since Article 5 of the treaty commits all members to war should any member enter a state of war.  Recognizing the situation his nation is in, Putin has been increasingly candid about his willing to deploy nuclear weapons if Russia is attacked by NATO, either in the Russian Federation or Ukraine!

First the Russian leader warned that if any country attempted to intervene on behalf of Ukraine, there would be unimaginable consequences, then he announced that his “Strategic Nuclear Weapons” had been placed on “high alert.”  And as the war drags on, and he warns the EU and NATO to stop arming the Ukrainian forces with the latest killing machines to deploy against Russians, the world moves closer to Doomsday. Just two days ago Putin flexed his nuclear muscles at the West in a televised statement announcing the successful testing of a new inter-continental missile capable of carrying MIRVED – Multiple Independent, Reentry Vehicles – nuclear warheads with the explosive power of two million tons of TNT.

Lest we forget, the two atomic bombs that created the unspeakable horrors in the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the details of which are easy to access on-line* – equaled only 20, 000 tons of TNT each. Hence the new Russian Rocket, with its amazing stealth features, is aptly named Satan II.  In a statement rife with swagger and braggadocio the supreme Russian leaders said:

“The new complex has the highest tactical and technical characteristics and is capable of overcoming all modern means of anti-missile defense. It has no analogs in the world and won’t have for a long time to come.  This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.”

Although Putin’s message is abundantly clear, there remain some Mighty Whitey, American Exceptionalist, rah rah USA types, who think we should call his bluff like Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” But this is madness! The idea that anyone thinks the right for Ukraine to join NATO or the EU is worth playing Russian Roulette with the fate of the earth is unimaginable. But if it is to some people, then nuclear war with Russia is also imaginable. And attempting to strangle the Russian economy over a proxy war that the Russians believe the US has instigated in Ukraine, could well produce the results that Dr. Keynes forecasted for Europe when they wrecked the German economy with the Treaty of Versailles.

Keynes predicted the next World War would be far worse than the last, and the NAZI horrors certainly were. One need not possess the power of prophecy to accurately predict that a nuclear war between NATO  and Russia will make World War II – the last big military conflict to break out in Europe –  look like a playground brawl. I can envision only one way out of this murderous mess. First there must be an immediate cease fire. The NATO countries must stop arming Ukrainians. The neutrality of Ukraine successfully negotiated and all sanctions against Russia rescinded. The alternative is a protracted war, and one miscalculation could lead to Doomsday! Hence the prophecy of John Maynard Keynes in the second decade of the 20th Century, remains frighteningly  relevant as we approach the third decade of the 21st century.

 

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Playthell Benjamin

The Village of Harlem

April 30, 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Statesman Bungle and The Media Babbles

Fleeing the Apocalypse?

Doomsday Looms Closer

Ever since I sat in that briefing room on the Strategic Air command base at Glasgow Montana, watching the horrifying secret SAC films on the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 100 thousand defenseless civilians in a flash, then witnessing the Colonel who was our tutor strut about with a smirky smile proudly announcing:” Oh these bombs were like fire crackers compared to the ordinance we have on this base, “ I got a dreadful feeling that I was witnessing the means by which the fires predicted in the Book of Revelations, that will engulf and incinerate the earth, shall be delivered.

It is a feeling I feel as I write, fully aware that the magnificent city I am looking out upon from my perch on Harlem’s Sugar Hill, could become a pile of radio-active Rubble, along with the other five boroughs, in ten minutes! It only takes one mirved missile fired from a Russian Nuclear submarine sitting out in the Atlantic Ocean.  And the US, with all our marvelous technology, is powerless to stop it.  But that is just the beginning of my nightmare.  Then will come the poisonous black rains that will persists for weeks, the radiation polluted air, the onset of the nuclear winter that will soon follow, no food, no water, and no medical care.  It is no wonder that people who have studied the aftermath of nuclear war have concluded: ”The living will envy the dead!”

The thing that surprised, indeed shocked me most, when I returned from life in the Barnum and Baily world of the DEW line – Distance Early Warning – a position in the Great Plains of Montana bordering on the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, where the first nuclear strike on Russia would be launched – was the fact that nobody I talked to had any idea that they could be incinerated in a nuclear fire at a moment’s notice.  Since I had a Top-Secret security clearance, and was therefore privy to US nuclear war strategy, I was acutely aware of the holocaust hovering over their heads…but having sworn myself to secrecy under penalty of imprisonment, I could not speak on it. But then two things happened that allowed and compelled me to talk about the real possibility of nuclear annihilation without divulging classified information: The Cuban Missile Crisis and the movie “Dr. Strangelove, which was released shortly thereafter.

Knowing how close the mad men that controlled the nuclear arsenals, and the automatons they command, came to blowing up the world, I have been ever aware that the apocalypse is one human error or mechanical failure away.   Anyone who doubts that the decision to incinerate the earth with nuclear weapons hinged on a single decision by one individual – Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev – should carefully watch Robert F. McNamara’s frightening account  in his confessional film “The Fog of War.”   As McNamara was the US Secretary of Defense tasked with giving the nuclear attack order, he is an unimpeachable source.

Yet, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the world is in greater danger just now.  Since I Regard the Bulletin as the most informed source of public information on the probability and consequences of nuclear war, I pay close attention to what they have to say.  Founded in 1949, a few years after the atomic bombing of Japan – one of the greatest crimes against humanity on record – by Dr. Albert Einstein and other scientists who had played a role in the creation of the bomb, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist introduced the “Doomsday Clock.”

Since then, the hands have been positioned on the clock as a warning of how close we are approaching Doomsday, with the witching hour of midnight signaling the point at which mankind self-destructs.  It is enough to know that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the hands on the Doomsday clock were set at 7 minutes to midnight…now they are set at 100 seconds to midnight!

 

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The paramount questions that beg accurate answers now are:  How did we get ensnared in this planetary dance of death…and how do we get out of it while avoiding a nuclear catastrophe?  Viewed from the flawless vision of hindsight one could credibly argue that the roots of the present crisis lay in how the US and its lackeys in NATO and the EU responded to the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991.

At the time Secretary of State, Jim Baker, had pledged that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not move “one inch to the East – i.e., toward Russia’s borders, in return for Russia’s agreement to not oppose the reunification of Germany.  This was a momentous decision for Russia,  because a unified Germany had invaded  and slaughtered 27 million Russians just 46 years earlier – a number equal to the entire population of Afro-Americans!

Yet the Russians consented to German Unification only to be repaid by NATO expanding right up their borders, even incorporating former members of the Warsaw Pact, the Russian led military alliance formed on May 14, 1955, as a deterrent to NATO, which was founded six years earlier.  When NATO began its dramatic eastward expansion in 1998 under President Bill Clinton – a Rhodes Scholar who was reputed to be savvy about foreign affairs – Dr. George Kennan, the Nation’s most influential Russian scholar, a policy wonk whose ideas had formed the basis of the “Truman Policy” in 1947, the aftermath of World War II, that guided US policy toward Russia until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, said the following:

‘’I think it is the beginning of a new cold war, ’I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.’’

The prescience of Dr. Kennan’s analysis has been verified by the motion of history, so where do we go from here?  How do we avoid nuclear catastrophe?  That is the Question of this moment!

 

The answer certainly does not lie in the boastful blather of clueless cadaverous old white guys like Biden, bragging about what he is doing to bring Putin to his knees, forgetting the lessons John Maynard Keynes taught us about the disaster unleashed on the world from the crippling sanctions imposed on Germany in the 1919 Versailles Treaty, which  he brilliant predicted in his book “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” or Lindsay Graham calling for the assassination of Putin and establishing a NATO enforced no-fly zone for Russian planes over Ukraine. Both of which are fast tracks to Armageddon.

The framework all interested parties must now follow seems obvious:

I-Negotiate and immediate cease fire.

II- Draft a treaty between the Ukraine, Russia, NATO, and the EU, that Ukraine will remain a neutral state, unincorporated into the EU, NATO, or the Russian Federation.

III – End the sanctions against Russia.

IV- Disband NATO

V- Empower the United Nations with the legitimacy in international law to settle disputes between nations and provide the military muscle to carry out UN decisions.

VI-The US should lead an effort to assemble a Conference of nuclear armed states with total disarmament as its objective.  Poison Gasses and  Biological Weapons are already banned by international treaty, but they are child’s play compared to the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons.

VII -The Citizens of nuclear armed nations should organize to lobby their governments to support the banning of all nuclear weapons on this planet and outer space.  It will be task of this movement to convince fellow citizens to support the struggle for total nuclear disarmament because the fate of our planet depends upon depends on its success.

As Mao Tse Tung – who organized the greatest mass transformative movement in history and guided too victory – said: “Either man will destroy the bomb…or the bomb will destroy man!”  Viewed from the perspective of the raging war in Ukraine, Mao’s prediction has the ring of prophecy, especially in light of Dr. Albert Einstein’s pessimistic observation after the first successful atomic explosion: “Mankind now has the ability to destroy the world…but human nature has not changed.”

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Playthell G, Benjamin

Live Commentary

“What’s going On,” Produced and Hosted by Jim Dingman

WBAI FM, New York City, WBAI.org on the Web

** This show can be heard online in the WBAI Archives

 

 

On Pompous Piffle and Ahistorical Bullshit!

A Hapless Victim of NATO/Zelensky’s Folly

Denying NATO Expansion as Root Cause of Ukraine War is Folly

As one who spent some years writing for major newspapers and commenting on current events in broadcast media in the US and Britain, as well as having held a professorship in Journalism, I have never been so disappointed at my colleagues in the press for their superficial biased reportage on the Russian/Ukrainian war.  The old axiom:” The first casualty of war is truth,” has never been truer!  Alas, the reportage and commentary is mostly sappy sophistry and ahistorical bullshit, as defined by Princeton philosopher Dr. Harry G, Frankfurt in his pathbreaking treatise “On Bullshit.”

The Princeton philosopher describes the bulk of media coverage in the mainstream media with uncanny accuracy:” It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”  Since most of the chattering wags commenting on the Ukraine/Russian conflict on local and national media are innocent of any in-depth knowledge of the facts, they are given to spouting bullshit.

As envisioned by the crafters of the First Amendment, the role of the press is to accurately inform the citizens about the critical facts regarding issues that will affect the quality of their lives, so that they can make good decisions.  Since in a popular democracy, where ultimate power resides in the people, an informed electorate is essential.  In fact, Thomas Jefferson, a leader of the American Enlightenment, and arguable the wisest of the Founding Fathers, declared: “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate.” And he prescribed a free and compulsory education for the citizenry sufficient to live as a responsible citizen a in a free society, buttressed by a free press, which Jefferson thought so important to a viable democracy that he once remarked that if given a choice “between a free press and no government, and a government and no free press,  I’ll take the free press and no government.”

Clearly, both institutions Jefferson thought so vital to American democracy have failed miserably in the role he assigned to them.  And in the present instance, that failure, coupled with our political leadership refusing the heed George Washington’s warning in his Farewell Address to the nation that Americans should “avoid foreign entanglements,” has placed us on the path to “Doomsday.”  Which, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, the world’s foremost authorities on the probability and consequences of Nuclear War, we are only 100 seconds away.

Instead of thoughtful, fact driven, even handed analysis aided by the added dimension of historical perspective, the public is force fed pompous pious prattle, duplicitous drivel that confuses rather than enlightens.  Which is fairly easy to accomplish when the mind of the masses is a tabla rasa – empty slate – upon which any jingoistic jive can be inscribed.  And like the “cheerful robots” poignantly described by Dr. C. Wright Mill’s in “The Sociological Imagination,”  they march on as directed by mass media without question or protest.  This work followed Mill’s forgotten 1956 classic, “The Power Elite,” a book Americans could profit immensely from just now in order to better comprehend the forces that shape the message we are getting from mass media.

Dr. Wright pointed out that since the leaders of the major power sectors – political, corporate and military – hail from similar backgrounds, receive similar training and share objectives, they can arrive at similar conclusions about policy without engaging in a conspiracy of collusion. Hence the pervasive disinformation about the Ukraine War need not be the result of the editors and producers in major corporate news organizations  getting together in covert meetings and deciding to convey the same message, which is perhaps best described as an exercise in obfuscation and mass distraction. It is quite enough to recognize that the mass media is owned by large corporations, whose owners and director’s concerns are in sync with the fundamental interests of the political and military elites.  All of which are committed to furthering the objectives of the EU and NATO – European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Hence the master media driven narrative about the causes of the war proffers spurious ideas that have quickly become conventional wisdom in the absence of convincing evidence.  On the contrary, much of this narrative fall in the categories of what professional  historians call “special pleading” at best, and blatant propaganda at worse.  For instance, the dominant media narrative is that the best explanation for Russian actions in the Ukraine is to be found in the personality and character defects of Vladimir Putin, the strong man ruler of Russian government.  Defects which compel him to act out fantasies about restoring the Russian Empire.

For some of these wags the Russian invasion of Ukraine is inexplicable, it is presented as unrelated to anything the Ukrainian leadership and NATO has done.  And while the ignorance and self-censorship of media shills can be accounted for if not excused, the repetition of this silly sophistry by jingoistic pontificators among the Professorate ensconced behind the pristine Ivy Walls of Academe is shameful…and dangerous!   The danger lies in building up so much hatred for Russians that the US populace may push politicians into taking reckless actions abroad to satisfy a blood lust among the American public that they created with inflammatory rhetoric and ahistorical bullshit!

There is no mystery what is going on here: It is a clear case of Realpolitique!  The imperative of nation states to pursue policies that serve its national interests.  In this case, it is the national survival of Russia.  And the constant expansion of NATO, an anti-Russian military alliance of 30 countries whose raison d’etre was the containment of Russian style  Communism – thirty years after the Communist system has been eliminated in Russia –  threatens their existence.  That is certainly the way it looks from Moscow.  And by no objective standard can this concern be simply dismissed as a paranoid delusion on Putin’s Part the way the ignorant irresponsible talking heads in the media are doing.

Indeed, some of our most knowledgeable observers of Russian affairs have admitted that Putin’s security concerns are justified, and that no American President would tolerate the situation that a US led NATO and the EU has placed Putin in!  After all, the US still operates under the Monroe Doctrine, a 192 year old policy that was crafted in the third decade of the 19th century during the Presidency of James Monroe, which forbids a hostile foreign power from forming an military alliance with any nation in the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Chile!

And our history is filled with examples of how the US enforces this doctrine from the Spanish- American War in the late 19th century, to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the middle of the 20th Century – and numerous covert actions conducted by the CIA that has assassinated leaders of movements and overthrown governments the US deemed hostile to their interests.  And these kinds of actions – covert and overt – have also been carried out all over the world, as the US has deemed itself the global policemen, responsible to no one.  Korea, Vietnam, the Congo, Ghana, Chile, Iran, Iraq, Grenada, Panama, Guatemala, Venezuela, et al are poignant examples.  To discuss the present Russian military action against Ukraine in the absence of this historical perspective, is the essence of dangerous ahistorical bullshit!

Among those who concede that NATO poses an existential threat to Russia are Professors John Mearsheimer and the late great Russian specialists Dr. Stephan F. Cohen. Dr. George F. Kennan: a distinguished scholar, diplomat and policy wonk who was America’s most influential thinker on Russian affairs for most of the 20th century.  Ambassador Jack Matlock was the staff person in the US embassy that translated the communiques between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, during the harrowing days when the world hung on the razor’s edge of nuclear destruction.  Matlock was also the Ambassador to Russia when Gorbachev led the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

Among these outstanding analyst Dr. George Kennan deserves special mention.  He was one of the earliest Russian specialists in the US State Department, being stationed in the US Legation at Latvia during 1931, before it became part of the Soviet Union.  Equipped with a fluency in the Russian language, Kennan monitored Russian economic policy. He would later serve in diplomatic post in several Easter European countries that would become part of the Warsaw Pact, and was assigned to an important post as a Russian specialist in the Moscow embassy in 1944. In 1952  he served a brief stint as Ambassador to Russia before he was declared “persona non grata” by the Soviet government – due to an article he wrote –  and recalled.

After leaving the diplomatic service he would go on to get his doctorate and become a long time Professor of Russian history and politics in the Institute For Advanced Studies at Princeton.  An elite multi-disciplinary academic haven that had once employed Dr. Albert Einstein.  There he would become arguable the nation’s most able scholar on Russian affairs, authoring many important articles and books, twice winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize, and a prestigious National Book Award.

But most consequential analytical treatise he ever penned, to his later chagrin, was the famous “Long Telegram/Memo” from Moscow in 1946.  The 8000-word policy paper was published in the influential journal Foreign Affairs, under the by-line X.   Since the journal is widely viewed as the voice of the US Foreign Policy establishment, and Kennan was stationed in the Moscow Embassy upon publication, he thought it best to conceal his identity.   The policy recommendations laid out in this memo – capsulized in the term “Containment Strategy,” prescribed a policy of active American opposition to the expansion of Russian Communist influence on all fronts: Economic, Diplomatic and Militarily.   The ideas put forth in this memo became the basis of the Truman Doctrine on Russian Communism in 1947, and guided American policy toward Russia until the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, nearly half of the 20th century.

Hence, when the US decided to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance into Eastern Europe, incorporating countries that had once been members of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Past, Tom Friedman – the three times Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, to solicit the views of Professor Kennan on the move. In a May 2, 1998 column titled, “And Now A Word From X, “ Freedman tells us Professor Kennan viewed the decision of President Bill Clinton – a Rhodes Scholar who was often lauded for his foreign policy acumen – to expand NATO thusly:

”I think it is the beginning of a new cold war, I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. NATO expansion was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was”

The analyst cited here comprise the deepest and most objective thinkers on the causes of the Russian/Ukraine war.  From carefully listening to their analysis several indisputable facts become clear:

A- Actions by the US, EU and NATO are the to blame for the present military conflict.

B-The troubles began when the US failed to honor US Secretary of State Jim Baker’s pledge that NATO would not move “one inch” to the East toward the Russian Sphere of Influence.

C-From 1991, when the Soviet Union was voluntarily dismantled and the Russian Communist Party was removed from power, until 2008 when Russia invaded the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, to prevent their incorporation into NATO, there was  no armed conflict between Russia and their neighbors.

 

D- The 2014 coup that drove the democratically elected pro-Russian Ukrainian President Victor Yevtushenko out of office was orchestrated by Victoria Nuland, the Under-Secretary of State for European Affairs.

E-The refusal to take Russian security concerns seriously, as demonstrated in their refusal to agree that Ukraine should not become a part NATO or the EU. And NATO’s refusal to honor the Russian demand to back up their forces from the Russian border.

Statements by all of the analyst mentioned here are linked at the bottom of this essay, which makes this a multi-media presentation, a marvel of the cyber age.  However, as with all technology, Cyber-Science can be used for good or evil.  It all depends upon the objectives of those employing it. Emil Sayegh, a leading authority on Cyber-Security, has warned us of the destructive capacity of this technology.  In an article published by Forbes 8/16/2021, “When Cyber War Becomes Real War” he tells us: “Threats against the country and infrastructure are on a exponential rise and the nation now considers a tangible military response to a cyber attack as a potential and appropriate course of action.”

Considering the increasing sense of desperation and feelings of rage at the US led Sanctions against his country, which Putin has already called “an act of war,” we should all be afraid for the future…very afraid. Dr. Roderick Wilson, a leading Computer Scientist/Engineer, in response to a question about the demonstrated destructive power of hostile cyber-hacker attacks upon American banks, corporations, and critical infrastructure- such as the Colonial Pipeline that nearly paralyzed the East Coast of the USA for a week – told this writer in a recent interview:

“The thing that will be different this time is that when you are dealing with someone who feels he has nothing to else to lose then it becomes a suicide mission.  In the cyber world this hasn’t been experienced because cyber criminals were always looking for monetary gain or to influence an outcome of a situation.  It was never just outright destruction of a country’s infrastructure, as in a time of war, where nothing is off the table to make your adversary suffer.”

There is one voice that should be heard above all others at this dangerous moment in world history, and that is the voice of Robert McNamara.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the world came within a single decision by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev of being incinerated by nuclear bombs, Mr. McNamara was the US Secretary of Defense charged with giving the order to launch a nuclear attack on Russia.  He was fully prepared to issue the order and the experience haunted him the rest of his life.

He later became so depressed from prosecuting the War in Vietnam, that President Lyndon Johnson became concerned that he might commit suicide, like a former Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal had done in 1949.  It should be noted that Forrestal was Secretary of the Navy when the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, a hideous crime against humanity!  Although Johnson took McNamara out of the war business and appointed him head of the world bank, where he spent the rest of his professional career helping developing nations to achieve their economic goals, he never got over the fact that he had once come very close to making a decision that would have destroyed the earth.

Hence, decades after the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara was still haunted by the realization that “intelligent, college educated, sane men” had nearly destroyed the world.  And he set out to contact his counterparts and interview them to finally discover if they were also ready to launch their nuclear weapons…because he surely was.  The result of this fascinating quest was the Academy Award winning documentary film: “The Fog of War.” The most important lesson that McNamara learned from his investigation was that a lot of killing could have been avoided if we could learn to view conflict situations through the eyes of our adversaries.

One of the shocking things that McNamara reveals in his discussion with his North Vietnamese counterpart is the near total ignorance of the US government of what the Vietnamese resistance were fighting about, what the war meant to them. And the fact that this misunderstanding led to three and a half million Vietnamese being slaughtered by Americans. Which would be equivalent to 27 million Americans based on population differentials!

That is the same number of Russians killed by the Nazi invasion during World War II.  Yet the Nazi slaughter is regarded as a great crime against humanity, while little is remembered of the atrocities committed in far more recent US invasion of Vietnam.  Some of which – like the cancers and deformed babies born long after the war due to the saturation of Vietnamese soil with the chemical Agent Orange – they are still suffering from.  There can be but little doubt that one reason for this collective amnesia is that Russians are white, and Vietnamese are brown. This is especially true in America, and to a great degree in Europe, where most issues are viewed through the lens of color.

This also explains the different reactions to the unprovoked invasion of Iraq by the US, with the clearly stated goal of “regime change” in that small far away country that posed no threat to the US, and the US/EU response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country on Russia’s border where they have critical issues of national security.

A Critical Caveat

In critiquing the character and quality of US press coverage of this conflict – which, if a diplomatic solution is not soon found, could degenerate into an accidental nuclear war – my intention is neither to endorse nor justify the Russian invasion, but to add the kind of historical perspective and objective analysis that will enable Americans to better understand it.  And a big part of understanding it is to recognize that Putin has done nothing that any American president placed in similar circumstance would not have done.  And several have done worse without nearly the provocations that the EU and NATO has presented Russia with.  Demonizing Putin as a deranged monster will only make matters worse, and the world deserves better.

I also recognize that the Russians are  even worse in terms of objective reportage and commentary by their mass media.  But then, the Russian government is far more repressive in their actions toward journalist.  Fortunately, American Journalists are protected from government coercion by virtue of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press from government censorship.

However, the censorship imposed by the capitalist corporations is no less effective because they can kill your stories or fire you.  And they can effectively silence Russian media presenting the Russian view like RT –Russia Today.  Which was easily accessible before the outbreak of this war but has now been forced out of the US media market – a practice that is roundly denounced when the Russian government blacks out western media.  But it is deemed acceptable that corporate America has the last word about what we shall hear or say in US mass media.  That’s why when the great Frederick Douglass – an escaped Afro-American slave who became one of the most able and courageous Publisher/Editor/Journalists of the 19th century – was asked while on a European tour, if there is “really a free press in America?” Douglass answered: ”Yes, if you happen to own one.”

This is a fact that is barely understood by the average American as I write.  But it is a dirty little secret among journalists, the most thoughtful among whom routinely practice “self-censorship.”  Which means that they understand that there are several hot-wire stories they are not to interrogate in their reportage, and opinions they must not express in their editorial commentary. Anyone who denies this is either a charlatan or a clueless fool.  And there is the wreckage of careers to prove the veracity of my narrative: From Chris Hedges, to Dan Rather, to my own.  Hence, I know firsthand of which I speak.

Any journalist worthy of the title ought to know that the Russian invasion was sparked by the purposeful actions of President Zelensky, more than any sudden fit of madness by Putin.  It was Zelensky’s decision to try and gain membership in NATO and the EU for Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, after repeated warnings from Putin that such an alliance would pose a grave threat to their national security. Hence this outcome was predictable, but then, Mr. Zelensky is not a seasoned statesman, he is a professional fool, a comic actor who used to play the president on television then became president in real life.  Sorta like Americans electing Dirty Donald Dimwit, a bonafide fool with no experience in public service of any kind.  And like Ukraine, we are paying a dear price for it.  I suppose the moral of this story is: If you elect a clown you are going to get a circus!

Of course, the western press – US and EU – is so busy casting Zelensky as the hero of this deadly tragi-comic fiasco to even mention this possibility.   The result of this one-sided coverage is that it impossible for the American public to empathize with the Russians, to view the conflict from their point of view, to see their side of the story.  This is kind of political blindness is exactly what Secretary McNamara said led the world to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

I experienced this event with a deep sense of apocalypse because only a few months earlier I had been stationed on a Strategic Air Command base up on the DEW – Distant Early Warning – line in Glasgow Montana, on the Canadian border.  Since I held a Top Secret security clearance, I was well informed about both the weapons and the mission of the base, which was the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union.   That was 60 years ago, yet here we are again alas.  Never was there a time when the wisdom of one man could make such a great difference in world affairs, if only Robert McNamara could be heard!

Linked below are selected videos of lectures and interviews from scholars and political actors who, in their own words, illuminate and enlighten by their deep knowledge and objectivity.  It is a welcome counter-narrative to the pious piffle and ahistorical bullshit that media during this crisis.

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 Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem New York

March 13, 2022

 

Unimpeachable Sources

Lessons On the Roots of the Ukraine/ Russian War

 

Ambassador Jack Matlock:

Served as diplomat in the US Embassy during Cuban Missile Crisis and was US Ambassador, during the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

https://youtu.be/e5F0JSy-HHY

 Robert McNamara:

Secretary of Defense During Cuban Missile Crisis and Escalation in Vietnam

Excerpts from “The Fog of War”

https://youtu.be/nU1bzm-BW0o

Eleven Lessons

https://youtu.be/MHdMeHxDg90

 Dr. Stephen F. Cohen

Was Director of Russian Studies at Princeton and Columbia and Putin’s Biographer.  One of America’s most distinguished Russian scholars, he was like the watchman of Russian/American Affairs, constantly warning that US policies was leading us into another “Cold War” that was unnecessary and dangerous!  On this Video, excerpted from a lecture at New York University, Dr. Cohen puts the question of American hypocrisy regarding NATO expansion.  No one has said it better in so few words!

On What NATO Expansion Means to Russians

https://youtu.be/mciLyG9iexE

 Dr. John Mearsheimer

John Wendell Harrison Distinguished Professor of Political Science U of Chicago

A brilliant and unconventional thinker, Dr. Mearsheimer has provided some of the clearest Analysis on the causes of the present Russian/Ukrainian war.  He has been sounding the alarm for years that NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders would lead to this.

On the role of the US/EU in Sparking Ukraine Crisis

https://youtu.be/oSw7X5v-_kU

Vladimir Posner

Mr. Posner is unique among journalists, the rare bi-lingual reporter/commentator who possesses a deep understanding of both Russian and American culture, society and politics.  I first became aware of him when he and the enormously popular US talk show host Phil Donahue, hosted a series of joint TV shows called “Town Halls,” in which ordinary citizens of the US and Soviet Union expressed their views on contemporary issues of mutual concern.  These were enormously important, because it provided an opportunity for the two peoples – citizens of nuclear armed nations locked in a “Cold War,” which would lead to the extinction of our species if it ever grew hot – to get to know each other as human beings.  These programs helped pave the path to better relations between the Russian and American people at the end of the cold war.  But, alas,  the American government’s policies toward Russia resulted in an intensification of Russian nationalism.  Here Mr. Posner gives his views on how these policies helped to empower Putin.  A phenomenon of which an overwhelming majority of Americans are oblivious.  The highlight of this highly informative and insightful Yale lecture is his warning about the increasing danger of accidental nuclear holocaust!

How the US Created Putin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X7Ng75e5gQ

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Afro-Futurism Comes to Harlem

Image By: Lisa Dubos

Once More Art Mirrors the Angst and Hopes of a People

From its inception modern artists have responded to developments in society and technology. European art, from the sculptures of ancient Greeks and Romans to the paintings of the Renaissance sought to produce realistic images of mythological figures or actual life.

Often these works centered on the concerns of their wealthy and powerful patrons, which is why we have so many portraits of aristocrats. Hence the role of the artist was primarily as documentarian. But with the invention of photography, the artist was no longer needed in that role, because the camera could it faster, cheaper, and with complete accuracy.

Hence the artist had to seek ways of expressing their ideas that transcended realism. African Sculptures, which were increasingly on display in European museums – especially the Louvre in Paris, where a group of gifted artists had congregated – offered a new direction. Inspired by religious rituals, this was an art that sought to capture the spirit of things rather than realistic portrayals.

The European artist’s encounter with this art inspired the Cubism of Picasso, the Surrealism of Salvador Dali, and the impressionist movement. The descent of European civilization – which was viewed as the highest achievement of humankind – into barbarism during World War I inspired both the Jazz Age in Paris and Berlin, and the emergence of the Dadaist movement spawned in the Café Voltaire in Zurich Switzerland.

All these artistic developments reflected the angst created among European artists and intellectuals due to the Great War. Which resulted in their rejection of hierarchy and the systems of order they imposed, which they believed were causes of the war. The product of this angst was an art of chance and improvisation.

When I read the comments of Diana Sinclair, the 17year old curator of the pathbreaking cryptoart exhibition, “Digital Diaspora: Liberating Black Creativity,” I felt that I was hearing the desperate cry of black youth in the dawning decades of the 21 Century.  In an interview given to the London Guardian, 6/16/21, she recalls crying when she heard Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election:

“The past four years felt so horrible. I think it all crashed down on me at that moment…It scared me to think that [the hatred] could continue on for four more years … You saw it online in the comments, even in my own town… I was on Facebook, and I saw the horrible posts about Black women and Black people and just absolute bigotry from people that were basically my neighbors. It was horrifying … I was going through all of these scenarios and thinking about what my future would look like in this country and that was very frightening for me as a young Black queer person”.

Referring to herself as they/she – a designation that reflects her search for identity and belonging that is itself a manifestation of the angst many in the present generation of Black youths are experiencing – Ms. Sinclair observed:” It was a scary time being a Black person in America.” And after what the guardian interviewer describes as sardonic laughter she added, “It’s always a scary time, but especially then!” It was from this deep angst that the exhibition she curated was born. “The theme of the show is Afrofuturism, to express our hopes for the future. The philosophy of Afrofuturism is the idea that we’ll [Black people] be here and thriving in the future…”

As an Afro-American male who came of age in the middle of the 20th century, I am acutely aware of the deep strain of pessimism among the generation born at the turn of the 21st century or after. Popularly known as Generation Z, or Gen Z, they were typically born between 1997 and 2012, which would make their senior members 24 years old.

At first glance Americans of my generation, especially Black people, wonder at the source of their pessimism. After all, my generation, which came of age in the 1960’s, had to face a society in which white supremacy was legal and had been so since the Plessy v Ferguson Decision of 1896.

Yet one need only observe the attitudes of the students who launched the sit-in movement, or World Heavy-Weight Champion Muhammad Ali – who was the perfect embodiment of the spirit of our generation, to see that we had what sociologists call “The Eternal Optimism of the Hustler.”

Hence, we wonder at the source of Gen Z’s angst. White supremacy as a legal fact expressed in a racial caste system that included segregation in many parts of American life is gone. Black quarterbacks in the NFL are ubiquitous, Black Astronauts male and female are commonplace, and all of them have lived through two terms of a black Presidency!

These gains that the present generation takes for granted, as they should, were but distant hopes when I was a college freshman in1959, and virtually none of our parent’s generation believed these goals were attainable in our lifetimes…if ever.  Yet we were not facing the horrors of climate change. A terrifying phenomenon that world leaders seem unable to cope with because of conflicts in the national interests of nation states.

Greta Turnbuerg, the bold and brilliant Swedish teenager, who has emerged as the voice of Gen Z, whom a recent PEW survey tells us speaks for “a youth led movement that “is among the most visible in global conversations advocating climate action. “   Yet instantaneous annihilation of all life on planet Earth by nuclear holocaust remains an ever-present possibility.

Viewed from a different perspective, Afro-Futurism might well represent a hopeful reaction to the pessimism of GEN Z. Perhaps it is performing the same psychological function for their generation that Blues musicians provided for past generations of Black Americans, and people around the world who developed a Blues sensibility.  The 20th century Afro-American Blues philosopher and Renaissance Man, Albert Murray, a paragon of the Blues sensibility, distinguishes “the Blues as such” from the “Blues as music,” in his magisterial text “Stomping the Blues.”

Professor Murray argues that the widespread conception of Blues music as sad is mistaken. The Blues as music, with its “heroic optimism,” is the joyous antidote to the depressive emotional state of the Blues as such. That’s why the musicians speak of “stomping the blues,” from which he took the title of his book.  Murray sums up the blues attitude thusly: “Life may be a low-down dirty shame, but we got to keep on swingin anyway!”

Perhaps, this is the deeper meaning of Afro-Futurism, the optimistic vision that functions as antidote to the angst. Looking at the works on display at the Underground Gallery + Studio last Saturday one feels uplifted. The artists on display spanned several generations. The “Baby Boomers” of my generation were represented by the pioneering Afro-Modernist painter Ademola Olugbefola, a founder of the highly influential Weusi Academy.

These “Afrocentric Visual Alchemist -” as Ademola calls them, conjured a new art that defined the visual aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s that continues to influence artists around the world. See my essay:  “The Afro-Modernism of Ademola Olugbefola.”  Those born a generation behind are repped by the brilliant art photographer Lisa Dubois, and GEN Y by the fabulous photographer Diaja, whose works resemble oil paintings to the untutored eye.

The works of art on display were visionary in their design and innovative in technique. Lisa Dubois has invented new ways of combining photography and painting to produce stunningly original works. The cover portrait for this essay is a poignant case in point. Diaja, the progeny of a dancer and musician who claims she was mugged by the muse and shanghaied into the arts, creates dramatic photography – employing body paint and photographs of traditional African masks, that are then superimposed on the models –  conjuring a futuristic celebration of blackness which she says “combines the past and present reimagining a new reality,” that appears to be completely original. Sui Generis.

Diaja and Her Unique Art

Diaja’s Masked Man

Ademola Olugbefola’s Afro-Modernism

A Synthesis of Traditional African Sculpture and Western Modernism, a complex wood cut print that manages to show the connection between traditional African sculpture and modern European painting.

The works on display at this Exhibition employ a wide range of materials to produce eclectic paintings, photographs and sculptures in which the artists give free range to their imaginations without regard to conventional wisdom. However, as with all movements that embrace the role of avant-garde, one must be ever aware of the distinction between “innovation” and what I have labeled: “A mindless search for novelty.” The distinction is a fairly simple one, despite the complexity of the problem it references.  Innovation is the elaboration and enrichment of a tradition, while the latter is an attempt to be merely different, even if it leads to decadence.

Obviously, an extended explication of the issues raised by this distinction is beyond the scope of this essay, but I have discussed it at some length in a treatise titled “Blues and the Abstract Truth: Reflections on the Art of Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker,” which I presented at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in Hartford Connecticut. It will be published in a forthcoming collection of essays. Suffice it to say that these works strike this writer as innovations, especially when viewed from the perspective of the respectful observer mindful of the artists’ intentions, rather than the omniscient arbiter who judges works of art based on what they believe the artist objectives should be.

This show was hosted by Reginal Rousseau and curated by Lisa Dubois at the Underground + Studio Gallery, which is both an exhibit space and a work  Studio for Reginal. When I discovered that he was a licensed architect, I asked why he would risk an investment of time and money in the fine art game. To wit he replied that the Gallery/Studio represents the fulfillment of a life-long dream, “I had to do it in order to live.”

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Text and Photographs by: Playthell G. Benjamin

 

Reginald Rousseau: Artist Gallery Owner

Lisa DuBois: Artist / Curator

A Black Magic Woman!

 

 

ATTENTION FELLOW AMERICANS!!!!

An Insurrectionist Trumpist Mob Attacks the US Capitol 

OUR CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC IS FALLING APART!!

The video below of a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” supplies further evidence that the Republican Party has devolved into a LAWLESS TRUMPIST CULT! It is the measure of the extent to which our Constitutional Democracy is falling apart.  Those who are witnessing the course of political events in our nation yet refuse to believe that widespread internecine violence – a form of “civil war” similar to the protracted violence between Catholics and Protestants that occurred during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, – is possible in the US are deluding themselves.

As this analysis makes plain, we are rapidly approaching a point where honest bipartisan discourse leading to the pursuit of justice based on the time-honored principle that NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW, is becoming impossible. Especially since millions of Americans are getting their “news” from different sources that are giving them radically different perspectives on events. Professional historians agree that the last time our two major political parties were so divided was 1860, when the United States broke apart in Civil War!

Back then it was a war between the states, but the present conflict is based purely on ideology, divergent views of what this nation should be. However, when coupled with the regional economic interests of the South in maintaining slavery, one could also argue that the war between the states was also driven by ideology. These irreconcilable visions of society have been the traditional cause of civil strife in nations around the world.  There is abundant evidence that the fanaticism of the Trumpist cult is tearing families apart; alienation from the family is a fundamental characteristic of cultist behavior.  A poignant case in point is the sad experience of  Alyssa Farah, a former Director of White House Communications, who says her father and stepmother boycotted her wedding because she denounced Trump’s role in inciting the Jan 6, assault on the US Capitol!  These kinds of incidents, which is evidence of serious political conflict in the primary family unit, is a class of phenomenon that presages the onset of civil war throughout history.

Yet because the present evolving conflict will NOT be a war between the states like the 19th Century conflagration, many smart politically astute Americans do not recognize the protracted conflict that we are experiencing as a LOW INTENSITY civil war. But people who study this phenomenon for a living SAY IT IS!!! In fact, there are two recently published books on this subject: “The Coming Civil War” and “How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them.”

We would be wise to carefully study the arguments put forth in these informative – and I believe prescient – texts. For if the US continues down the path we are heading unabated, conventional wisdom suggest the intensity of our ideological conflict will become increasingly violent. In a nation where armed right-wing extremist and ad hoc white supremacist militiamen routinely show up at peaceful demonstrations, and government buildings where policies they disagree with are being implemented, dressed in combat fatigues brandishing military weapons, armed conflict armed conflict on a widening scale is destined to occur: It’s just a matter of time!

Unless we can find a way to change the course on which we are headed at accelerating speed, alas this portends our future. Kyle Rittenhouse, an enraged confused white boy who armed himself with a military assault rifle, travelled across state lines, and murdered peaceful demonstrators…and was later acquitted by an all-white jury presided over by a blatantly biased Judge, and was offered Internships by Republican Congressmen who are openly hostile to the Black Lives Matter protests against police murders of unarmed black folks, is a preview of what our future could look like.

The Video posted here dramatically exposes the depth of the chasm between the right-wing Trumpist faction of the Republican Party – which is reconstructing the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln and Jacob Javitz into the neo-Fascist Grand Obstructionist Party of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – and the rest of us.  Including a good slice of the Republican intelligentsia -like producers of the “Lincoln Project” and former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele – who still believe in, and want to preserve, Constitutional Democracy in America. And the first step to defeating the trend toward fascism is to DEFEAT the Republicans at the polls in the COMING ELECTIONS!!!!!

 

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Click to see Morning Joe

Kurt Bardella: Why Aren’t Republicans Chanting ‘Lock Him Up” Over Document Destruction? – YouTube

 

Click to see Steele on The Reidout

https://youtu.be/unbmod_VPag

The Struggle for Black History

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

 Correcting the Master Narrative of America

“If you lie about anybody’s history you must lie about it all…

Which means If I am not what I have been told I am

You are not what you have been told you are either”

James Baldwin

Although most Americans appear oblivious or indifferent to it, February is Black History Month.  In black communities all across the nation it is a time for celebrating the struggles and achievements of our great ancestors.  It began as “Negro History Week,” when it was established by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 – during the cultural revivalist movement known as “The Harlem Renaissance” – and later extended to Black History Month during the turbulent anti-racist struggles of the 1960’s.   Dr. Woodson, who held a PhD in history from Harvard, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 – a period when the public crucifixion of Afro-Americans called “lynching” had averaged three a day since 1882 – in an effort to rescue black people from extinction in America.

Like the great Civil Rights/labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, a founder of the Brotherhood of sleeping Car Porters, Dr. Woodson believed this effort at racial uplift should be financed by Afro-Americans themselves.  Hence, rather than seek grants from white controlled government or private agencies and organizations, Woodson sold memberships to the Association. As a return on their investment members received the Negro History Bulletin, a publication of the ASNLH that presented fascinating facts about the accomplishments of their race.  Black people of all nationalities and classes bought memberships; it was a model of successful academic entrepreneurship rarely. if ever, equaled by a project in the humanities.  Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates’s Encarta Africana project may be the exception, but his project was financed by a corporate partnership not black community financing.

A voluntary group of professional scholars – black and white – the ASNLH is dedicated to excavating and publishing the history black people, employing state of the art research methods.  In 1916, only a year after founding the Association, Dr. Woodson established the Journal of Negro History, to publish the findings of the new historians he was training for peer review and public consumption.  To understand the enormous importance of Dr. Woodson’s efforts, it is enough to point out that all of the great Afro-American historians who emerged in the first half of the 20th century studied with him.  Among these are the distinguished historians Rayford Logan and John Hope Franklin, both like Woodson, holders of the Harvard PhD in history.  Dr. John Hope Franklin has evaluated Woodson’s contribution in “The Place of Carter G. Woodson in American Historiography.”

Dr. WEB DuBois, the first Afro-American to earn a PhD from Harvard in 1895, and in 1896 Harvard published his thesis “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade.” The first scientific historical study of Afro-Americans, spoke of Woodson in heroic terms.

“Woodson literally made this country, which has only the slightest respect for people of color, recognize and celebrate each year, a week in which it studied the effect which the American Negro has upon the life, thought and action in the United States.  I know of no one who in a lifetime has, unaided, built up such a national celebration.”

A more expansive view of Dr. Woodson, and what Dr. Dubois thought of him can be found in “Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk,” a book of two interpretive essays on Dr. DuBois by Stanley Crouch and the present writer.

Yet it is quite enough to say that Dr. Woodson dedicated his life and career to setting the historical record straight regarding the contribution of black folks to American civilization because he was convinced that their survival in the US depended upon it. Looking around the world Woodson witnessed the destruction of Native Americans; the growing extinction of the Australian Aborigines; the Maori people of New Zealand; and the atrocities of the Belgium King Leopold II in the Congo.

Leopold’s crimes so outraged the great white American writer. Mark Twain, that he moved to denounce the Belgium King and catalogued his horrendous crimes in “The Soliloquy of King Leopold.”  These events convinced Woodson of the gravitas and urgency of his historical project, because he was convinced that western nations that considered themselves “civilized” were quite willing tolerate genocide against peoples they considered sub-human and thus expendable in the advance of western civilization.  The native “American Indian” offered a home grow example of the fate that could befall Afro-Americans.

Although the world has turned upside down in the century that has passed since Dr. Woodson founded the ASNLH, I believe those who argue that Black History Month celebrations is an anachronism, a relic from a bye gone era that has outlived its usefulness in a nation that has elected an African American president twice, are tragically mistaken.  As I write there are attempts to scrub the historical record of shameful facts about America’s bloody history of racial oppression and genocide led by politicians in several states: Arizona, Virginia, Texas, et. al.

This is no picayune matter; it is an organized effort to suppress information that contradicts a master narrative that portrays American civilization as the “essential nation” the “shining city on the hill,” founded on the principle that “all men are created equal,” and has always promoted “liberty and Justice for all.”  Since it is these claims upon which the “American Exceptionalists” base their vision of the world, any counter-narrative which contradicts that vision must be denied – no matter what the facts say.

This is why the struggle to teach black history – without which there can be no valid “American” history – must continue. And Black History Month is the most powerful vehicle for raising the consciousness of the nation on the need to take a candid look at itself..  For as the Harvard philosopher George Santayana warned: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Black History Month, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

The Struggle for Democracy Continues

This year may well the decide whether our Constitutional Democracy shall long endure. It is now conventional wisdom among professional historians that these United States has not been so seriously divided since 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, the bloodest and most destructive war in world history at that time.
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President, whose election sparked the southern scession and the creation of the Confederacy, was tasked with holding the Federal Union together by whatever means necissary! What President Lincoln said then is equally true now: “A House Divided against itself cannot stand!”
It has also become conventional wisdom among a wide rage of political scientists, philosophers, sociologists and pundits that Donald Trump is a “Fascist” who hates the constitutional checks on executive power. And there are millions of Americans who now pledge their allegience to Dirty Don tha Con rather than the Constitution. There is NO greater challenge facing us as citizens than to stop the attempts by Republicans, who are no longer committed to our Constitutional Democracy, from implementing their anti-democratic laws which will enable them to LEGALLY STEAL the next elections!
We must NOT allow that to happen! This means that WHATEVER grievence you may have about President Biden and the Democrats not making all your dreams come true in a year, forget about it, put on yo grown folks drawyers, act like adults who understand that the choice before us is whether we want the Democrats or Republicans to govern this country! And ACT ACCORDINGLY!!!
At he founding of this constitutional Republic – racist genocidal slave nation that it was – several of the founders issued dire warnings that still ring true. Thomas Jefferson, the brightest star of the American Enlightenment warned: “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate.” James Madison, often called “The Father of the Constitution,” observed that despite all of the checks and balances built into the structure of the constitution designed to prevent the rise of a tyrant: “Without virtue in our leaders no system” can save us from tyranny.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the brighest of the lot, said to the drafters of the constitution in his home town of Philadelphia, after they had completed their work during the sweltering dog days of August in 1787: “Well gentlemen, you have got yourself a Republic…if you can keep it.”
This scepticism was echoed in the farewell address of George Washington – popularly considered “The Father of the Nation” – before he departed office as the first President of the newly formed United States of America. President Washington warned the nation against “excessive factionalism,” because he belived in could lead to a paralyzed government…and even treason if one faction decided to seek the aid of a foreign power to gain or maintain power.
Alas, we have witnessed all of these contradictions made manifest during the four years of Dirty Donald’s presidency…and the spectre of tyranny continues to haunt our Constitutional Republic; which despite its many failings remains worth saving against the ravages of the untutored mob of Trumpanzees that have become the base of the Republican Party. A tragic and dangerous development that has converted the Grald Old Party, GOP, into the Grand Obstructionist Party!
Hence, all who oppose Fascism, anti-fascist, must work to expand the democratic base by ELECTING MORE DEMOCRATS ON EVERY LEVEL!!!! One need not be a mental giant oin order to recognize the unimpeachable wisdom of supporting the democrats!!!
Wishing All a Happy and Prosperous New Year….
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!!!!!!!!!!
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The Village of Harlem
New Year’s Day 2022
PS: My New Years resolution, aside from opposing the Trumpanzees by writing euridite uncompromising commentaries that supply direction and intellectual armaments for the young comrades in the field, I shall finally produce a MEMOIR on my life – as I have been badgered to do by friends and historians – a written and audio book. And I am setting the deadline by my 80th birthday: May 25!

It Don’t Mean a Thing If it ain’t got that Swing!

Remembering Stanley Crouch

BLUES FOR A WORD SORCERER

Alas, the sad news has reached my ears that Stanley Crouch, a unique tribune of our times, has danced and joined the ancestors. A poet, essayist, dramatist, short story writer and novelist. Stanley was by any objective measure a GREAT writer. A native of South Central Los Angeles, Stanley began writing for the theater in a company that grew out of the great Watts riot of 1965. When I met him in 1968, he was a Poet in Residence at Pomona, one of the prestigious Claremont Colleges, just outside LA, popularly known as “The Harvard of the West.”

I was visiting the school as a guest lecturer to help make the case for the importance of Black Studies, add Stanley was part of the black campus movement attempting to establish a Black Studies Department. At the time he was a militant Black Nationalist, decked in a dishiki, dark shades with a big Afro, and had just produced a collection of weaponized words, radical poems titled: “Ain’t No Ambulances for No Niggers Tonight!”

It was clear that Stanley shared the view of writing advocated by the peerless word warrior, Ishmael Reed: “Writin is Fightin.” And although he would eventually reject Radical Black Nationalism, and abandon his leftist literary comrades, he remained a literary pugilist who would later skewer those comrades in a critically acclaimed collection of essays: “Notes Of A Hanging Judge.” For which he was awarded the highly prestigious “MacArthur Genius Award.

Stanley would become one of the most decorated writers in American letters. Primarily an essayist, Stanley wrote on a variety of subjects, but his greatest distinction was as a masterful critic of the quintessential American art of Jazz, which he correctly viewed as the great contribution of US civilization to the canon of great art. I discovered his love for Jazz the first time we met.

After my speech he invited me over to his crib to hang out, and he had a set of drums in his living room. Having once played the drum kit myself, but had long abandoned them for the Afro-Cuban Conga drums, I had remained a fan and was interested in hearing him play. He put on a record and began to play along. He said he was working on “some different stuff,” that he was not ready to reveal. Among the students hangin out was the young lady who later became the famous television star “Judge Mable, and a young saxophonist I believe was Davis Murray, who became one of the truly original voices on the tenor sax.

After that visit I didn’t see Stanley again until about six years later, when we met again in New York. But I had followed his brilliant column “Crouch on Jazz,” which was published in Players magazine, a black version of Playboy. I thought they were the most elegantly crafted insightful was essays I had ever read on the art of Jazz. There was a grandeur to his conception of the music that set his writing apart from the common lot of critics, even in the Big Apple, where good writers are common fare.

Crouch’s writings on Jazz conjured up the observation of Zora Neal Hurston in a letter to James Weldon Johnson – two great early 20th century Afro-American writers who migrated from Northern Florida to the Big Apple just like me – when she said: “We are a people who love magnificence and cannot get too much of it.” In New York he joined the staff at the Village Voice, an incubator of great music critics.

From his conspicuous prestigious perch at the Village Voice, Crouch quickly became the most outstanding Jazz critic in the big Apple…the world capitol of Jazz. And his influence became such that Stanley an intellectual mentor to the trumpet genius and brilliant composer Wynton Marsalis, and was a major force in the creation of “Jazz Lincoln Center,” the nation’s most important monument to Afro-American culture!

Known as “the writer’s paper,” and the “home of the New Journalism,” the Voice, with its reverence for fine English prose and creative storytelling, was the perfect place for Stanley, as the editors prized the individual writers voice – especially the great Bob Christgeau, who edited Stanley’s finest essays penned during his tenure at the voice. Several of which ended up as award winning anthologies.

Stanley really blossomed at the Voice, as he branched out from Jazz criticism and wrote about art, literature and politics. Although the subjects of his interest changed, his poetic style didn’t, concocting a prose style that prized poetic simile and metaphor. Often his prose seemed to dance off the page, animated by the polyrhythmic phrases.

A lover of literature, I was bewitched by Stanley’s compositions and avidly read his texts. In conversations about various and sundry issues, Stanly began to chide me about writing more, At the time my writing was limited to a few academic treatises published in obscure journals, and the lyrics to songs I had written for a great singer with whom I was smitten.

Stanley began to chide me to write more. He would say: “Listen man, it would be so easy for you because you speak in essays.” I was a voracious reader, and I was always telling him about something I had read. But one day he said to me: “You know why you read so much? Because reading is a lot easier than writing!”

He badgered me until I began to take myself seriously as a writer. And once I started I have been unable to stop having now written hundreds of serious essays…1000 of them posted at www.commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com.  (However at present I have a dispute with WordPress and the site is suspended, which is why I started this blog) I have written for some of the finest publications in the English language, here and in England. Along the way I have won several awards, and two Pulitzer Prize nominations for Feature Writing and Distinguished Commentary.

The nominating letters are posted on by bio here. Had it not been for Stanley’s insistent prodding and encouragement, I might never have pursued a writing career. We became serious intellectual sparring partners for years.

In 2003, Stanley and I was commissioned to write a book commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dr. WEB DuBois’ classic American text: “The Souls of Black Folk.” Since I was a co-founder of the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies at the University of Massachusetts in 1969, one year after our first meeting – the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies department in the world, and acquired Dr, DuBois’s voluminous papers – and held a professorship in history there, we agreed that I would write the historical overview, reconstructing the intellectual milieu, in the US and Germany – that shaped DuBois’s education and worldview.

Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folk” consists of two complex essays in intellectual, cultural and political history and criticism centered around the historical context, text and legacy of “The Souls of Black Folk” and its brilliant author. The book was selected for discussion at the opening session of the National Black Writers Conference, sponsored by Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, and hosted by the Studio Museum of Harlem. C-Spans Book World covered the event, and I have appended the link to their video below.

See> https://www.c-span.org/video/

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September, 2020 {Original Publication}