Flirting with Catastrophe!

One of these bombs can incinerate Manhattan

On American Exceptionalism and the Pax Americana

It was a surreal experience listening to the conversation between Joe Scarborough and Richard Hass discussing foreign affairs on WNBC television’s popular early show, Morning Joe. Scarborough, who hosts the show, was pressing Hass, who is Director  of the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes the widely influential Journal of Foreign Affairs, to prescribe what the US response should be if a looming military conflict breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, or if China finally moves to reunite the island of Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China.

After confessing that he is an “American Exceptionalist,” Scarborough goes on to argue that the US must stand up to Russia and China with military actions should either scenario arise. A stance which also exposes him as a true believer in the Pax-Americana doctrine. In fact, the cable TV host, who has never experienced combat in America’s “forever wars” was like a kid egging on a schoolyard brawl. Although I often find myself in disagreement with Hass, despite the fact that he comes armed with a prodigious array of factual information, I found his remarks refreshing.  It was a departure from the kinds of opinions that I am often forced to dismiss as “erudite nonsense.”

Although “erudite nonsense” strikes many readers as an oxymoron, it accurately describes an argument that is based in fact but arrives at a conclusion that makes no sense. One could also classify such arguments as sophistry. Scarborough raised the question as to “What is the most aggressive move we can make to send a message to Putin that we are not going to back down like we did in 2014, we are not going to back down like we did in Georgia in 08, that we are actually going to respond in kind if they go into the Ukraine.”

No doubt mindful of the notoriety that appearances on Morning Joe provide him, Hass was patient and polite in his response to what was a transparently absurd question. “The answer is we are not,” says Hass. “Why Not?” Scarborough asks. Hass replies:

“Because the military balance and the geography is tilted dramatically in Russia’s Direction…Ukraine is not a member of NATO. There are things we can do to strengthen Ukraine’s self-defense, there are sanctions we can threaten, but at the end of the day Putin is willing to Put more chips on the table. And he has more chips to put on the table, both in capability and will, so we are not going to offer direct defense of Ukraine, we are not going to war with Russia over the Ukraine.”

Obviously dissatisfied with such a tepid response Scarborough quickly suggested that we deploy a large contingent of American troops and weaponry to Poland. Which, he noted, the Poles would “love for us to do.” He went on to point out:” That would actually embarrass Putin, so he knows if he moves troops into Ukraine to flex his muscles, we are going to move troops and defensive weapons into Poland that will make it, maybe, not worth is while.”

In response to this light-weight prattle proposing reckless and dangerous ideas, Hass explained:

“That’s a serious option. Are there things we can and should do to strengthen NATO? So that whatever Putin might gain in Ukraine would be strategically offset.  That should be on the table; that’s exactly the sort of thing we out to be thinking about. Never letting a crisis go to waste. Are there things that maybe we should have been doing all along with NATO.  One of the questions is whether the Europeans will go along with it, a bigger issue.”

Unwilling to  accept the possibility that the US cannot dictate the outcome of a Russian/Ukraine conflict, Scarborough simply ignores the “bigger issue” raised by Hass and suggest: “The Poles will go along” with his proposal. “The Poles will, but  direct defense of the Ukraine I don’t think is in the cards, not if you are talking about the United States or  other European countries going to bat for the Ukraine.  That’s not gonna happen.”  Scarborough seems to be obsessed with “embarrassing Putin,” hence he says that American troops in Poland will be a “nightmare, a black eye” for Putin.  Then he goes on the offer the ridiculous suggestion that deploying US Troops in Poland “wouldn’t be confrontational because we are not invading.”  Hence Putin’s moves on Ukraine would “not be a clean political victory.”

Playing past Joe’s jingoistic prattle, Hass calmly points out the critical importance of  getting “certain understandings about things we are not going to do. We would not go into the Ukraine…or put troops from other parts of NATO up against the Russian Border. Hass explained:

“Part of this is not simply Russia’s unique relationship with Ukraine that Putin writes about and talks about…this is also a delayed reaction to the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and NATO enlargement.  One of the things that should be on the table for ourselves is what are we prepared to think about both in an assertive way and in a reassuring way. Both ought to be on the table

This sage advice takes on a special relevance just now, because as I write the Russian government has released a statement warning the US and NATO not to cross the “Red Lines” they have set in Ukraine. They have made it clear, defying this ultimation, which bans NATO troops from Ukrainian soil, will trigger a military response from Russia. Although Putin’s fears about NATO’s expansionist ambitions are routinely dismissed as paranoia, the fact remains that just because a person is paranoid does not mean the danger they fear is not real.

The fact is that the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has trashed the understanding they had with Russia when they dissolved the Soviet Union and scrapped the Warsaw Pact, an alliance among Communist countries that served as a check NATO, a military alliance whose raison d’être was to encircle the Soviet Union and “Contain” communist power. This strategy was conjured up by the brilliant albeit misguided foreign policy wonk George Kennan, and implemented as the “Truman Doctrine” on communism.

Hence, in light of its original mission, NATO should have been dismantled with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The “Cold War,” which characterized the growing hostility between US and Russia following the end of World War II – although they had been allies against the fascist Axis Powers during the great war just four years ago – was symbolized by the formation of NATO from 11 nations under American hegemony in 1949. It was fully six years later, in 1955, that the Warsaw Pact was formed out of 7 socialist nations in eastern and central Europe, taking its name from the Polish city where the Pact was signed.  And like the NATO agreement, the Warsaw Pact called for collective defense against any aggressor – setting the stage for a Third World War.

The catalyst for this alliance of socialist states was NATO’s decision to admit West Germany in 1955, a country which only ten years ago had been ruled by Nazis, fascist murderers that had wreaked havoc on all of them. Except for the USA, the lone nation who had avoided the devastation of the World War on its soil. The Russians alone lost 27 million citizens in the war, most of whom had been killed by the Germans.  They are determined that it will not happen again. The centrality of the West German issue was unambiguously stated in the introduction to the Warsaw treaty:

“Western Germany, which is being remilitarized, and her inclusion in the North Atlantic bloc, which increases the danger of a new war and creates a threat to the national security of peace-loving states.” 

Alas, while the dissolution of the Soviet Union removed the issue of Communism, it did not resolve the issues arising from Russian nationalism and their anxieties about national security. And these fears only have been fed by US actions since the end of the Cold War. When US Secretary of State, James Baker, met with Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990 –  as the Russian leader was in the process of dismantling the Communist Party and dissolving the Soviet Union – Baker assured him: “There would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east” And Baker unconditionally agreed to Gorbachev’s demand: “Any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.”

Alas, under US leadership NATO has not only reneged on promises not to expand eastward into what Russia rightfully regards as her sphere of influence, but has incorporated four nations that were once a part of the Warsaw Pact into its ranks –   Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia – and three former Soviet Republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Slovenia, which was once part of Czechoslovakia, has also joined NATO.  This brings these nations under the protection of Article 5 of the NATO treaty that binds other members to come to their defense with armed forces should they get in a conflict with Russia!

In view of this betrayal, and that’s what it is no matter how the US defines it, Russia has drawn a “Red Line” at Ukraine, which shares a border and was once a part of Russia.  There is every reason to believe that should NATO attempt to deploy military forces in Ukraine will result in war with Russia. And there should be no doubt that any military conflict between two nuclear armed nations could accidently lead to doomsday, the much-dreaded atomic war that would end life on this planet. This is what’s at stake if the US military meddles in the conflict between the Russians and their Slavic cousins in Ukraine .

Joe Scarborough then raised the question with Hass as to what the US should do if the Chinese moved to reunite the island of Taiwan with the Peoples Republic of China. He pointed out with growing impatience that the US promised Ukraine in the Budapest Accord, signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine had been a part, that if they gave up their nuclear arsenal NATO would protect them from Russian aggression. Now we are waffling on that commitment. And we have made a similar commitment to Taiwan,  which we must keep because we cannot continue to allow ourselves to be pushed around. Hass astutely pointed out that the remedy to this dilemma is for the US to cease making promises that we have neither the will nor capacity to keep.

This in my view, is the wisest path to take. Russia is a vast country with 11 time zones, the Grand Army of Napoleon and Hitler’s Nazi Juggernaut both met their doom in Russia. And China, with a population of a billion and a half people and the ability to put millions of armed citizens in the field to defend their homeland, would easily vanquish any foreign invader. With no chance of victory on the ground, it would not be long before the war would turn on air and naval power, which would greatly increase the possibility of accidental nuclear catastrophe now that these doomsday weapons are online!

The thing that I find most most remarkable about this discussion, is the fact that nobody pointed out the folly of American intervention in conflicts between peoples with long standing geographic and family ties. Neither Joe Scarborough nor Richard Hass recognized that the US is not the arbiter of world affairs, dictating what shall happen in nations thousands of miles and oceans away from our shores. That there are problems in international relations which the US cannot solve, and our intervention will only increase the death and destruction. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq are dramatic cases in point.  And when the adversary is armed with nuclear arsenals capable of delivering atomic warheads on targets anywhere in America, that destruction might well be our own.

Alas, it is the blind, irrational, commitment to the flawed ideologies of “American Exceptionalism” and “Pax-Americana” – that the US is the moral standard to which all other nations should aspire, and a world order based on the American capitalist model can be enforced by the prolific employment of US military power – that continues to lead us into costly and futile wars.

It would seem that the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two underdeveloped preindustrial countries – squandering vast amounts of American blood and treasure – in which we finally slithered away after 20 years of combat in humiliating defeat, would make reasonable people dismiss the idea of provoking a war with major military powers like China and Russia as extreme folly!  This, above all else, is what made the conversation between Hass and Scarborough, two highly educated men, seem unmoored from reality…surreal.

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Witness the Awesome Power of a Nuclear Explosion

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

127/2021

Note: President biden will be meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a face to face video conference today.  I will post my analysis of the metting at a later date.

A CONFEDERACY OF CHARLATANS, CLOWNS, FOPS, AND FOOLS!!!

Congressman Jim Jordon R-Ohio

Republican Hyproctites Insults Voter’s Intelligence!

It would be hard to find a more despicable group of shameless lying hypocrites than the members of the House Republican Caucus, who recently took to the floor to denounce so-called “Cancel Culture.”  In a brazen display of double-talk that would astonish George Orwell, the Republicans passionately denounced activities that they are feverishly engaged in for all the world to see.  There is absolutely no shame in these joker’s game.

These impudent charlatans had the unmitigated gall to denounce “Cancel Culture,” even as they removed long time conservative congresswoman Liz Cheyney from her post as the third most powerful member of the Republican caucus, and kicked her crusty cakes to the curb, and these scurrilous scoundrels are passing voter suppression laws all over the country in states controlled by Republican legislatures.  The purpose of these new laws is clear, to stop democratic constituencies from voting!  Black and brown folks, poor people, students, young people in general, et al.

It is the most blatant attack on the voting rights of Afro-Americans since the collapse of Radical Reconstruction in 1877.  Laws such as those making it a crime to give water to people waiting for hours to vote in the scorching southern sun, after they have made it nearly impossible to vote by mail and reduced the number of ballot drop boxes, resemble the “literacy test” widely employed in the south after the ratification of the 15th Amendment to prevent Afro-Americans from voting.  This test, given only to Afro-Americans, contained questions such as “Quote Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution and interpret it’s meaning?”  Or “How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?”

The effort to prevent people from voting is the ultimate expression of “Cancel Culture.” And the shameful attempt to eradicate the deadly assault on the US capitol by a murderous mob intent on arresting the orderly transfer of power based on the expressed will of the American people at the ballot box, is yet another case in point.  And the attempt to cancel the Justice Department’s investigation and prosecution of those who incited and participated in the insurrection – a treasonous act of war against the US government – is yet another graphic example.

As I witness these actions by the Republicans, it is abundantly clear that this nation is in the deepest trouble that I have seen in my lifetime, which spans more than three quarters of a century, and I have seen plenty.  In the words of the venerable Afro-American spiritual, composed by “Those Black and Unknown Bards” – as the Afro-American poet/polymath/ activist, James Weldon Johnson, called our anonymous enslaved ancestors who wrote these beautiful soul searing songs: ”Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen.”

Alas, I grew up in the American south, the former Confederacy that fought the bloodiest war in history at the time to keep Afro-Americans in chattel slavery, which had been going on for 250 years!   And the white majority who ruled those states employed the full powers of law and custom to keep Afro-Americans from exercising the citizenship rights guaranteed them under the “Equal Protection Clause” of the 14th Amendment.  And the most effective way to accomplish this nefarious policy was the keep black Americans from voting!  And they accomplished this by finding ways to nullify the 15th Amendment, which empowered Afro-Americans to vote.

This critical part of  American history can shed great light on what is happening just now.  Yet as I write,  the Republicans are frantically trying to cancel any discussion of this shameful history, some Republican controlled states have already begun passing laws against teaching the real history of race relations in America, complaining that it “traumatizes” white children to learn the truth about their ancestor’s deeds. This allows them to use the power of the state over education policy to continue lying about a history they passionately claim to be proud of.

Indeed, by cancelling the teaching of our real history, as has been carefully researched and written down in the texts of our great scholars, the duplicitous Republican sophists can lay claim to the good works of others.  For instance, it has become standard fare for todays Trumpist reactionary Republicans to lay claim to the legacy of the progressive revolutionary “Republicans” who were the architects of the “Radical Reconstruction” program following the Civil War that passed the 13, 14, and 15, Amendments to the constitution.

These Amendments transformed Afro-Americans from the status of chattel slaves with no rights under the US Constitution to fully empowered American Citizens, who elected black officials across the board from State legislatures to the Senate.  Today’s Republicans rightly point out that the Democrats were the Pro-Slavery party who also enacted the Apartheid “Jim Crow” Laws after the Civil War.

However, after a Democrat controlled Congress – House and Senate –  passed the 1964 Omnibus Civil Rights Bill, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Economic Opportunity Act that same year, and was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, also a Democrat, which amounted to a second radical Reconstruction in its empowerment of Afro-Americans, THE RACIST SOUTHERN DIXIECRATS WHO FOUGHT AGAINST ALL THESE LAWS FLED FROM THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND SOUGHT REFUGE IN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!

These unapologetic southern racist would transform the Republican Party from the Grand Old Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, to the “GRAND OBSTRUCTIONIST PARTY of Ronald Reagan and Dirty Don tha Con!  And, try as they might, the “Never Trumpers” who are embarrassed and appalled by Trump, as is his present antagonist Liz Cheney, cannot obscure the fact that there is A STRAIGHT LINE FROM REAGAN TO TRUMP!   You can follow this transformation in great detail in the excellent seminal study of this question, “The Politics of Rage,” written by the Bancroft Prize winning southern historian Dr. Dan T. Carter.

Hence by CANCELLING the teaching of real American history, and substituting racist myths for objective history, chauvinistic white nationalists like the Trumpanzees, the devotees who genuflect before Dirty Don tha Con in a permanent-lips to posterior posture, adopting his tactic of promoting “THE BIG LIE,” can continuously preach the bogus doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” to the world.  This is the ULTIMATE CANCEL CULTURE!

NOTE: Bear these facts in mind as you listen to these lying clueless clowns rant and rave against “Cancel Culture.”  These Republican follies would be hilarious if the results were not so tragic for our country.

To witness this ludicrous spectacle, CLICK ON LINK, https://youtu.be/0khGwfrOXRU

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

5/17/2021

 

 

 

Conversations with A White Parent

James Baldwin: Novelist, Essayist, Poet, Activist, Witness

 Reflections on Bridging the Racial Divide in America

 “I don’t like people who like me because I’m a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.  –from “Autobiographical Notes” (1952)

My response to this statement, written by the great 20th century Afro-American novelist and essayist James Baldwin, nearly 70 years ago, sparked a lively exchange between a friend, and a friend of a friend, on Facebook.  I described Baldwin’s statement thusly:

A tortured attempt to carve an individual identity while consigned to membership in an oppressed group who are defined by their race in the eyes of the white majority during an age of legal caste discrimination based on an unapologetic commitment to preserving white supremacy. It is a sign of his confusion as a black man to choose a racist macho bully like Ernest Hemingway as his role model. Baldwin’s thinking became a lot clearer during the black movement of the 1960’s, when he took a clear and courageous stand on racial oppression in America.”

To wit my thoughtful and progressive friend John Koroly, who posted the Baldwin quote with the caption “Very well put,“ replied:  “I took that as Baldwin saying that EVEN in a bigoted bully like Hemingway, some fugitive wisdom can be found.” To wit I replied:

“That’s a charitable explanation. For there were much better role models,  especially for a black writer in the middle of the last century. I knew Baldwin well, and read much of his work, especially his essays. We appointed him to a Professorship in the DuBois Department of Black Studies at U-Mass, the first such department in the world, which I co-founded. I had many conversations with the great writer who regularly enriched the English language with his complex elegant prose. I use to quote him often during speeches about the importance of accurately teaching the history of the Afro-American experience in US civilization.”

My favorite Baldwin quote was selected from a lecture on race relations titled, “A Talk With Teachers,” it was  given to public school teachers in New York, over a decade after the quote posted above was written.  Baldwin said in part: “Once 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!” A fact all the hysterical whites promoting the anti-Critical Race Theory hokum understand too well. That’s what all the fuss is REALLY about. That’s why they are trying to make it illegal to teach the actual history of race relations in America! People who want to get an in-depth look into what James Baldwin was all about should see the documentary “I’m Not your Negro,” a film produced by the brilliant and fearless Roul Peck.

My assertions provoked a rapid response from a concerned white parent – who shall henceforth be known as “The Outraged White Parent” – passionately recounting the negative affects that teaching the unvarnished truth about the history of race relations in the US has on her teenage daughter’s self-esteem and growing hostility toward school.

It is a painful story, in which the mother mistakenly attributes these problems to the teaching of “Critical Race Theory.”  However CRT is a sophisticated analytical method developed at Harvard and taught to advanced law school students.  Hence her child has about as much chance of ending up in a class discussing CRT as she has of getting struck by lightning, while lying in bed, twice! Ms. Outraged White Parent writes:

“Playthell George Benjamin going to guess you don’t have a child in k12 school and have no idea what is actually happening in these classrooms. It isn’t only white parents who oppose CRT and what’s going on. I see many of the parents don’t articulate well.  This allows the mockery which you demonstrate. It’s not about “the history of race relations” being taught. That’s an easy cop out way to shrug them off. 

When you start seeing your child, a kind loving giving child, who loves and cares for people and already has developed a very strong sense of the importance of social justice (didn’t hurt having an activist parent) who for years loved being at school, who is in vulnerable development years of their life, suddenly experiencing agonizing self-hatred and guilt over things that they themselves had NOTHING to do with, as if it is their obligation to carry all of the shame and guilt of long dead people- because what is being taught is being taught in such a way that it demoralizes and fucks them up in the head- and you see it’s not just ‘a’ class, but that every single teacher, whether it’s math, science, English or whatever- is suddenly in a short time basing their curriculum on this effort to establish what they call ‘equity’- the children themselves are being harmed. If you love your child and care about their mental health you’d be pissed off too.

My child went from loving school enthusiastically to being miserable and hating it in one year based on what is happening. I couldn’t blame her one bit. She was being systematically emotionally and mentally abused daily in near every class. “Why do I have to hate myself because I’m white mom?” This should tell you that they are failing at what they’re doing, that is UNLESS the goal is for white CHILDREN to hate themselves and to hate school. That summed up what she was learning. You’d be ok with that?  Since when did fucking with children’s minds become normalized and acceptable? Because that is exactly what is resulting.

They might have good intentions but what is happening is shit. Parents seeing the emotional and mental harm it’s causing is why they’re pissed.  It’s not that they are simply teaching history. It comes with a lot of baggage. Teachers even projecting the guilt they themselves feel upon their child students. Pathology. What and how it’s taught is the problem and it varies from teacher to teacher, many of them fail miserably. What I witnessed myself regarding my own child was akin to constant struggle sessions, where the only right answer was for my child to attack herself over her color. As a 14 year old how was she supposed to process it?! Never mind we are native Americans. But the color of our skin alone is all that matters. Sure looks like racism to me. If equity requires damaging and breaking one group in order to support another- that is not equity that is….shit.”

While I certainly feel for Ms. Outraged White Parent, and her innocent daughter, alas I hear a good dose of naivete in her protest, buttressed by the agony of losing white privilege. When I was fourteen years old the entire world was horrified by the savage crucifixion of Emmitt Till, a black teenager from Chicago, who was visiting his family in Mississippi over the summer vacation. Til and I were the same age and same weight, and I was living in racist apartheid Florida, a state with the same racial etiquette as Mississippi! Imagine the terror and stress that I, and EVERY 14 year old black male in the South, had to endure.

Hence, the insistence by an increasing number of hysterical white parents that the real pain black Americans suffered, resulting from 250 years of chattel slavery – at which time black children were snatched from  their parents and sold at auction like live-stock by white Americans with government approval – followed by a century of legal caste discrimination based on race, backed by the full force of the US government’s police powers, should be covered up because it causes some white children emotional stress, is unreasonable, unjust, and unacceptable.

Real life is not a fairy tale where righteousness always triumphs over evil, the heroes defeat the villains, and everybody lives happily ever after. And children cannot be sheltered from life’s realities. That is the problem in this country now, so many maladjusted emotionally fragile white Americans, people who cannot accept the  truth of their history because they have been fed myths and lies since childhood. And when they are forced to confront the truth they become ashamed of their ancestors, about whose greatness they never cease to celebrate. It is a schizoid mindset that requires persistent lies to perpetuate.

Yet it remains true that unarmed innocent black men and boys are routinely murdered by racist white police as I write. This is the burden that black parents must bear. While many white parents think the historical record of these crimes against humanity should be ignored because it might cause their children some discomfort. Yet the racist thinking that has produced a society in which far too many whites, intoxicated by the myth of white supremacy and the privilege it confers, enthusiastically support policies undergirded by the firm belief that Black lives don’t matter.

That’s why we have a mass movement sweeping the globe insisting that Black lives do matter!   As a black American male who is seven months from my 80th birthday, and grew up under the racist caste system designed to legally promote white supremacy, I know first hand the injuries institutionalized white racism has wreaked on Afro-Americans, for it is clearly evident in the experience of me and my entire family.

Yet we have been more successful and contributed more to American society than many whites despite their racial privilege.  And I have yet to meet the man who holds himself in higher regard than me.  I am inclined to believe that such a man is yet to be born…and his mother is dead.  This attitude has inspired admiration and provoved animosity in my white countrymen, depending upon their views on race.  The best and brightest whites I have met, in the US and abroad, who are knowledgeable about the system of instutionalized white superemacy in the US, think me something of a miracle.

The system of laws I grew up under served as the blueprint for the legal system of NAZI Germany. This is detailed in “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the making of Nazi Race Law, by Professor James Q Whitman. For those who are not familiar with Academia, let me point out that Professor Whitman’s book is published by the Princeton University Press.

Hence this is a refereed peer reviewed text, meaning it was critically reviewed by leading scholars in the field before publication.  The central questions posed were: “Is this author telling us something new that expands our knowledge on the subject, and does the evidence presented by the author justify his conclusions.  Obviously, after rigorous review, the book met both test.

This cannot be said of the history textbooks in virtually all of our public schools. For textbook publishing is a commercial enterprise and they are composed to garner the most sales in a multi-million-dollar textbook market, which is dominated by school boards that must cater to ignorant and racists white parents.  A constituency whose paramount interest is in promoting white supremist mythology, rather than historical scholarship.

At present the largest market in the US is Texas, a state that has banned hundreds of books – some by prominent authors – because of the way they discuss racial or gender issues. Hence most history and social studies texts are increasingly shaped by the demands of the Texas market, a state whose government has made teaching the murderous history of the racist Ku Klux Klan illegal in their public schools!

Hence, I cannot accept the view that white children are routinely subjected to an anti-white version of history designed to make them feel guilty. Although, I must confess that just telling the simple truth about race relations in America is a painful task for most whites.  For as Frederick Douglass, arguably the most brilliant public intellectual in 19th century, said in his famous 4th of July  speech in 1852, it is a shameful tale that “would disgrace a nation of savages!”  Hence my reply to the Outraged White Parent  was:

My, My, how victimized you people feel about the fact that YOUR children are finally learning the TRUTH about the history of race relations in America, which has NOTHING to do with CRITICAL RACE THEORY! However, compared to the racist bullshit – see “On Bullshit” by Princeton philosopher Dr. Harry G. Franks – I and MY CHILDREN had to endure in America’s schools, what you are describing is a walk in the park. Black parents have had, and STILL have in most schools, to deal with their children being assaulted with white supremacist propaganda that amounts to PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE for generations! What with schools teaching that our ancestors were docile sambos that never RESISTED SLAVERY and contributed NOTHING to the making of America – Goddammed LIES that ignores the ACTUAL historical record, which tells a radically different story.

Yet we found a way to deal with it and produced generations of outstanding citizens who excelled in every worthwhile endeavor, despite institutionalized white supremacy hobbling our life’s chances in America. But we were fighting against LIES! You must now confront the TRUTH! And it is an UGLY SHAMEFUL story by ANY measure. White parents now must figure out how to raise their children to deal with this TRUTH! And it can be done, if you confront the facts with honesty and imagination. Tell them that they are NOT PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT THEIR ANCESTORS DID, BUT THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT WAS COMPLICIT IN ALL OF THIS AND THEREFORE AMERICAN SOCIETY BEARS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT. I know smart white parents who are handling this challenge just FINE!!!! But continuing the racist myths – white Supremacist prattle that teach our children that they are inferior to whites because they are black – masquerading as American history, is NOT THE ANSWER!!!!!!!

Furthermore, I know whereof I speak. When I was a professor in the DuBois Department, I taught MANY white students. In my introductory lecture I made it clear that “Nobody in this classroom is responsible for ANY of the historical incidents we will discuss in this course. For we can neither justifiably take blame nor credit for the deeds of our ancestors. The problem with the official version of American history is that whites want to praise the virtues of their ancestors and bury their myriad sins. However, EVERYBODY will be judged by their own actions henceforth.”

My lectures, and the scholarly readings the students studied, pulled no punches, examining the historical evidence with neither prejudice nor favor. We examined the history of African people from Ancient Egypt to the assault on Africa by Slave traders and European colonialist, and then surveyed the history of these African people transplanted in the Black Atlantic Diaspora – North America, the Caribbean isles, and South America – under the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English Settler Colonists in what became the US.

This also necessitated examining the experience of the “FIRST NATIONS” – Native American “Indians” – who were the victims of genocide, slavery, and the theft of their lands and resources!  Acts that were central to the birth of the United States.  Viewed from this perspective, African Slavery is not “America’s Original Sin”; nor the worst…as horrible as it was.

I taught a few thousand white students this story, and many said in my “Student Evaluations” that it was the most beneficial course they had taken! So, it can be done in such a manner that white students BENEFIT from this knowledge. By liberating them from the pathology of white supremacy, they are empowered to reject this tradition of racism that has inspired so many crimes against humanity, and inspire them to seek a better way of relating to people of color on the basis of real, rather than rhetorical, equality. Where the teachers come up short, alas it is the parent’s duty to set the matter straight with their children, utilizing the approach I have outlined here.

My parents and millions of other black parents fought institutionalized racism that brazenly promoted a system of white supremacy that were codified in the laws of the land…hence they faced MUCH GREATER ODDS!!!  For we were not only TAUGHT that we were inferior to whites, we WERE TREATED AS SUCH IN LAW AND CUSTOM! Hence to me, you are like the woman crying out in hunger with a Virginia ham under both arms. Compared to what black parents have to deal with at this very moment in America…your task is EASY WORK!!!

White parents need to stop whining and lying to their kids, while trying to cast them as victims. Just step up and deal with the problems caused by America’s racist legacy, as generations of black parents have done so heroically! Talk to them frankly about the horrible history of white supremacy in our country, but also tell them, as the Reverend Al Sharpton has recently pointed out, “there were also freedom fighters!”

Teach them that if it were not for a brave minority of righteous white allies, neither the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, nor the eradication of “segregation” – a legal racial caste system enforced by legal and extra-violence that confined black Americans to second class citizenship – would have been possible! Alas, one thing is certain, continuing to lie about our nation’s racist history will not promote “domestic tranquility,” a goal clearly stated in the Preamble of the US Constitution. That’s my take on the matter of teaching the real story of racial oppression in “the land of the free.”

James Baldwin: Novelist, Essayist, Poet, Activist, Witness

 Reflections on Bridging the Racial Divide in America

 “I don’t like people who like me because I’m a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.  –from “Autobiographical Notes” (1952)

My response to this statement, written by the great 20th century Afro-American novelist and essayist James Baldwin, nearly 70 years ago, sparked a lively exchange between a friend, and a friend of a friend, on Facebook.  I described Baldwin’s statement thusly:

A tortured attempt to carve an individual identity while consigned to membership in an oppressed group who are defined by their race in the eyes of the white majority during an age of legal caste discrimination based on an unapologetic commitment to preserving white supremacy. It is a sign of his confusion as a black man to choose a racist macho bully like Ernest Hemingway as his role model. Baldwin’s thinking became a lot clearer during the black movement of the 1960’s, when he took a clear and courageous stand on racial oppression in America.”

To wit my thoughtful and progressive friend John Koroly, who posted the Baldwin quote with the caption “Very well put,“ replied:  “I took that as Baldwin saying that EVEN in a bigoted bully like Hemingway, some fugitive wisdom can be found.” To wit I replied:

“That’s a charitable explanation. For there were much better role models,  especially for a black writer in the middle of the last century. I knew Baldwin well, and read much of his work, especially his essays. We appointed him to a Professorship in the DuBois Department of Black Studies at U-Mass, the first such department in the world, which I co-founded. I had many conversations with the great writer who regularly enriched the English language with his complex elegant prose. I use to quote him often during speeches about the importance of accurately teaching the history of the Afro-American experience in US civilization.”

My favorite Baldwin quote was selected from a lecture on race relations titled, “A Talk With Teachers,” it was  given to public school teachers in New York, over a decade after the quote posted above was written.  Baldwin said in part: “Once 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!” A fact all the hysterical whites promoting the anti-Critical Race Theory hokum understand too well. That’s what all the fuss is REALLY about. That’s why they are trying to make it illegal to teach the actual history of race relations in America! People who want to get an in-depth look into what James Baldwin was all about should see the documentary “I’m Not your Negro,” a film produced by the brilliant and fearless Roul Peck.

My assertions provoked a rapid response from a concerned white parent – who shall henceforth be known as “The Outraged White Parent” – passionately recounting the negative affects that teaching the unvarnished truth about the history of race relations in the US has on her teenage daughter’s self-esteem and growing hostility toward school.

It is a painful story, in which the mother mistakenly attributes these problems to the teaching of “Critical Race Theory.”  However CRT is a sophisticated analytical method developed at Harvard and taught to advanced law school students.  Hence her child has about as much chance of ending up in a class discussing CRT as she has of getting struck by lightning, while lying in bed, twice! Ms. Outraged White Parent writes:

“Playthell George Benjamin going to guess you don’t have a child in k12 school and have no idea what is actually happening in these classrooms. It isn’t only white parents who oppose CRT and what’s going on. I see many of the parents don’t articulate well.  This allows the mockery which you demonstrate. It’s not about “the history of race relations” being taught. That’s an easy cop out way to shrug them off. 

When you start seeing your child, a kind loving giving child, who loves and cares for people and already has developed a very strong sense of the importance of social justice (didn’t hurt having an activist parent) who for years loved being at school, who is in vulnerable development years of their life, suddenly experiencing agonizing self-hatred and guilt over things that they themselves had NOTHING to do with, as if it is their obligation to carry all of the shame and guilt of long dead people- because what is being taught is being taught in such a way that it demoralizes and fucks them up in the head- and you see it’s not just ‘a’ class, but that every single teacher, whether it’s math, science, English or whatever- is suddenly in a short time basing their curriculum on this effort to establish what they call ‘equity’- the children themselves are being harmed. If you love your child and care about their mental health you’d be pissed off too.

My child went from loving school enthusiastically to being miserable and hating it in one year based on what is happening. I couldn’t blame her one bit. She was being systematically emotionally and mentally abused daily in near every class. “Why do I have to hate myself because I’m white mom?” This should tell you that they are failing at what they’re doing, that is UNLESS the goal is for white CHILDREN to hate themselves and to hate school. That summed up what she was learning. You’d be ok with that?  Since when did fucking with children’s minds become normalized and acceptable? Because that is exactly what is resulting.

They might have good intentions but what is happening is shit. Parents seeing the emotional and mental harm it’s causing is why they’re pissed.  It’s not that they are simply teaching history. It comes with a lot of baggage. Teachers even projecting the guilt they themselves feel upon their child students. Pathology. What and how it’s taught is the problem and it varies from teacher to teacher, many of them fail miserably. What I witnessed myself regarding my own child was akin to constant struggle sessions, where the only right answer was for my child to attack herself over her color. As a 14 year old how was she supposed to process it?! Never mind we are native Americans. But the color of our skin alone is all that matters. Sure looks like racism to me. If equity requires damaging and breaking one group in order to support another- that is not equity that is….shit.”

While I certainly feel for Ms. Outraged White Parent, and her innocent daughter, alas I hear a good dose of naivete in her protest, buttressed by the agony of losing white privilege. When I was fourteen years old the entire world was horrified by the savage crucifixion of Emmitt Till, a black teenager from Chicago, who was visiting his family in Mississippi over the summer vacation. Til and I were the same age and same weight, and I was living in racist apartheid Florida, a state with the same racial etiquette as Mississippi! Imagine the terror and stress that I, and EVERY 14 year old black male in the South, had to endure.

Hence, the insistence by an increasing number of hysterical white parents that the real pain black Americans suffered, resulting from 250 years of chattel slavery – at which time black children were snatched from  their parents and sold at auction like live-stock by white Americans with government approval – followed by a century of legal caste discrimination based on race, backed by the full force of the US government’s police powers, should be covered up because it causes some white children emotional stress, is unreasonable, unjust, and unacceptable.

Real life is not a fairy tale where righteousness always triumphs over evil, the heroes defeat the villains, and everybody lives happily ever after. And children cannot be sheltered from life’s realities. That is the problem in this country now, so many maladjusted emotionally fragile white Americans, people who cannot accept the  truth of their history because they have been fed myths and lies since childhood. And when they are forced to confront the truth they become ashamed of their ancestors, about whose greatness they never cease to celebrate. It is a schizoid mindset that requires persistent lies to perpetuate.

Yet it remains true that unarmed innocent black men and boys are routinely murdered by racist white police as I write. This is the burden that black parents must bear. While many white parents think the historical record of these crimes against humanity should be ignored because it might cause their children some discomfort. Yet the racist thinking that has produced a society in which far too many whites, intoxicated by the myth of white supremacy and the privilege it confers, enthusiastically support policies undergirded by the firm belief that Black lives don’t matter.

That’s why we have a mass movement sweeping the globe insisting that Black lives do matter!   As a black American male who is seven months from my 80th birthday, and grew up under the racist caste system designed to legally promote white supremacy, I know first hand the injuries institutionalized white racism has wreaked on Afro-Americans, for it is clearly evident in the experience of me and my entire family.

Yet we have been more successful and contributed more to American society than many whites despite their racial privilege.  And I have yet to meet the man who holds himself in higher regard than me.  I am inclined to believe that such a man is yet to be born…and his mother is dead.  This attitude has inspired admiration and provoved animosity in my white countrymen, depending upon their views on race.  The best and brightest whites I have met, in the US and abroad, who are knowledgeable about the system of instutionalized white superemacy in the US, think me something of a miracle.

The system of laws I grew up under served as the blueprint for the legal system of NAZI Germany. This is detailed in “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the making of Nazi Race Law, by Professor James Q Whitman. For those who are not familiar with Academia, let me point out that Professor Whitman’s book is published by the Princeton University Press.

Hence this is a refereed peer reviewed text, meaning it was critically reviewed by leading scholars in the field before publication.  The central questions posed were: “Is this author telling us something new that expands our knowledge on the subject, and does the evidence presented by the author justify his conclusions.  Obviously, after rigorous review, the book met both test.

This cannot be said of the history textbooks in virtually all of our public schools. For textbook publishing is a commercial enterprise and they are composed to garner the most sales in a multi-million-dollar textbook market, which is dominated by school boards that must cater to ignorant and racists white parents.  A constituency whose paramount interest is in promoting white supremist mythology, rather than historical scholarship.

At present the largest market in the US is Texas, a state that has banned hundreds of books – some by prominent authors – because of the way they discuss racial or gender issues. Hence most history and social studies texts are increasingly shaped by the demands of the Texas market, a state whose government has made teaching the murderous history of the racist Ku Klux Klan illegal in their public schools!

Hence, I cannot accept the view that white children are routinely subjected to an anti-white version of history designed to make them feel guilty. Although, I must confess that just telling the simple truth about race relations in America is a painful task for most whites.  For as Frederick Douglass, arguably the most brilliant public intellectual in 19th century, said in his famous 4th of July  speech in 1852, it is a shameful tale that “would disgrace a nation of savages!”  Hence my reply to the Outraged White Parent  was:

My, My, how victimized you people feel about the fact that YOUR children are finally learning the TRUTH about the history of race relations in America, which has NOTHING to do with CRITICAL RACE THEORY! However, compared to the racist bullshit – see “On Bullshit” by Princeton philosopher Dr. Harry G. Franks – I and MY CHILDREN had to endure in America’s schools, what you are describing is a walk in the park. Black parents have had, and STILL have in most schools, to deal with their children being assaulted with white supremacist propaganda that amounts to PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE for generations! What with schools teaching that our ancestors were docile sambos that never RESISTED SLAVERY and contributed NOTHING to the making of America – Goddammed LIES that ignores the ACTUAL historical record, which tells a radically different story.

Yet we found a way to deal with it and produced generations of outstanding citizens who excelled in every worthwhile endeavor, despite institutionalized white supremacy hobbling our life’s chances in America. But we were fighting against LIES! You must now confront the TRUTH! And it is an UGLY SHAMEFUL story by ANY measure. White parents now must figure out how to raise their children to deal with this TRUTH! And it can be done, if you confront the facts with honesty and imagination. Tell them that they are NOT PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT THEIR ANCESTORS DID, BUT THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT WAS COMPLICIT IN ALL OF THIS AND THEREFORE AMERICAN SOCIETY BEARS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT. I know smart white parents who are handling this challenge just FINE!!!! But continuing the racist myths – white Supremacist prattle that teach our children that they are inferior to whites because they are black – masquerading as American history, is NOT THE ANSWER!!!!!!!

Furthermore, I know whereof I speak. When I was a professor in the DuBois Department, I taught MANY white students. In my introductory lecture I made it clear that “Nobody in this classroom is responsible for ANY of the historical incidents we will discuss in this course. For we can neither justifiably take blame nor credit for the deeds of our ancestors. The problem with the official version of American history is that whites want to praise the virtues of their ancestors and bury their myriad sins. However, EVERYBODY will be judged by their own actions henceforth.”

My lectures, and the scholarly readings the students studied, pulled no punches, examining the historical evidence with neither prejudice nor favor. We examined the history of African people from Ancient Egypt to the assault on Africa by Slave traders and European colonialist, and then surveyed the history of these African people transplanted in the Black Atlantic Diaspora – North America, the Caribbean isles, and South America – under the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English Settler Colonists in what became the US.

This also necessitated examining the experience of the “FIRST NATIONS” – Native American “Indians” – who were the victims of genocide, slavery, and the theft of their lands and resources!  Acts that were central to the birth of the United States.  Viewed from this perspective, African Slavery is not “America’s Original Sin”; nor the worst…as horrible as it was.

I taught a few thousand white students this story, and many said in my “Student Evaluations” that it was the most beneficial course they had taken! So, it can be done in such a manner that white students BENEFIT from this knowledge. By liberating them from the pathology of white supremacy, they are empowered to reject this tradition of racism that has inspired so many crimes against humanity, and inspire them to seek a better way of relating to people of color on the basis of real, rather than rhetorical, equality. Where the teachers come up short, alas it is the parent’s duty to set the matter straight with their children, utilizing the approach I have outlined here.

My parents and millions of other black parents fought institutionalized racism that brazenly promoted a system of white supremacy that were codified in the laws of the land…hence they faced MUCH GREATER ODDS!!!  For we were not only TAUGHT that we were inferior to whites, we WERE TREATED AS SUCH IN LAW AND CUSTOM! Hence to me, you are like the woman crying out in hunger with a Virginia ham under both arms. Compared to what black parents have to deal with at this very moment in America…your task is EASY WORK!!!

White parents need to stop whining and lying to their kids, while trying to cast them as victims. Just step up and deal with the problems caused by America’s racist legacy, as generations of black parents have done so heroically! Talk to them frankly about the horrible history of white supremacy in our country, but also tell them, as the Reverend Al Sharpton has recently pointed out, “there were also freedom fighters!”

Teach them that if it were not for a brave minority of righteous white allies, neither the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, nor the eradication of “segregation” – a legal racial caste system enforced by legal and extra-violence that confined black Americans to second class citizenship – would have been possible! Alas, one thing is certain, continuing to lie about our nation’s racist history will not promote “domestic tranquility,” a goal clearly stated in the Preamble of the US Constitution.

One need only look at places like the affluent surbard in Texas known as “Southlake,” in order to see what happens when the issue of instutionalize systemic racism is swept under the rug in order to maintain the pretence of racial harmony.   Bitter experience has shown that eventually the truth will out.  Hence it is far better to confront the problem honestly, because it ain’t going away otherwise, and the next generation will find itself  confronting these same unresolved problems that has caused so much conflict in our society.  As the poet warned: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!   That’s my take on the critical matter of teaching the real story of racial oppression in “the land of the free.”

*********************

SOUTHLAKE TEXAS: Witnessing the Hysteria of White Parents Who Oppose Teaching the Truth About Race in USA

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/inside-southlake-texas-suburb-center-critical-race-theory-battle-looks-n1277748

 

By: Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 20, 2021

 

 

Good Night Sweet Prince

A Remembrance Of Teddy Pendergast

The Sweetest Soul Singer Ever!

There is no telling how many people walking the earth today owe their existence to Teddy Pendergast, including my own twins Makeda and Samori. Annette John-Hall, a black female columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer, reveals in a January 24 column “Plenty of women will tell you their children were conceived to Teddy’s boudoir ballads – ‘Close The Door…Love TKO.’” Then Miss John-Hall goes on to tell give us a glimpse of the effect Teddy’s singing had on the ladies who enthusiastically listened to him: “But truthfully, Teddy could have sung the phone book and sold millions of records, that’s the kind raw, full-throttle sex appeal he had…such was the intimate power of his music.”  t

This does much to explain the magic moments I enjoyed with the ladies listening to Teddy’s records.  For my money Teddy was the greatest singer of love songs that the gods ever blew the breath of life in.  Just as Zora Neale Hurston, that great student and interpreter of Afro-American culture, once observed that a black preacher “must be a poet in order to survive in a Negro pulpit;” a black singer of love songs must sound like a poet who’s really in love to woo and win a black audience.  And Black women of a certain vintage, wise dusky earth mothers that they are, have very demanding standards; a dude’s got to know how to beg with style alas.  Although great black singers of love songs are legion, nobody ever did it better than Teddy.

As a fellow Philadelphia I had many opportunities to view Teddy from his earliest performances; long before he captured the attention of the world with his thrilling baritone voice – an extension of the style introduced by the lead singer of the Dells, in the same way that Michael Jordon was an extension of the art of Julius “Dr. J” Irving on the b-ball court.  From jump street Teddy’s raspy rough edge sound radiated a sensuality that was more than mere animal desire. Although the chemical reactions and electric sparks that his crooning ignites between males and females often fills the listener full of fluid and make them wanna do it, creating an urge to merge not unlike the heat sizzling between the beast in the fields – Teddy’s sound is the epitome of true romance.  It is grown folks music; reaching deep down to a level of emotional gratification that can be only achieved in true romance between mature adults….or an intense religious experience.

I can still remember the day I took a lady of mine to see Teddy at the world famous Apollo theater when he was the lead singer with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  It was right after they had a big hit, and the theater was packed.  This was during that halcyon age in Afro-American culture before the removal of music programs that provided the opportunity for black youths to participate in the joyous art of choral singing, back before the hard edge truth telling of hip hop replaced the transcendent sermons of the church for increasing numbers of alienated youths, who had lost both faith and hope in the nihilistic milieu of the post industrial city, alienating them from the source of all great African America music: the black church.  But Teddy was very much a child of the church, and it’s deep spiritual power informed  the way Teddy sang his  songs.

The memories that stands out most  from that Apollo concert was first of all the magical effect his performance had on the women in the audience.  My date was a very reserved you southern lady who had impeccable manners and  two Doctorate degrees.  But as Teddy began to croon his tune in that special way in which he seemed to be singing to every woman in the room personally, Doctor Doctor completely lost her cool right along with her unlettered sistas from round the way!

I was astonished at Teddy’s gift for achieving a sense of intimacy in a crowded room, it was the closest thing to real magic I have ever seen in a performance – and I have been around the world and spoke to everybody twice, spending a thousand and one nights in the theaters and music halls.   I knew two things at that moment: Teddy was to big to remain merely the featured singer with Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes for long.

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See Teddy Live!

 

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 4, 2010

The Amazing Carlos del Pino Plays Paganini

The Maestro Contemplates the Score

 A Classically Cuban Concert for the Ages

It is no exaggeration to say that every time the virtuoso Bassist Carlos del Pino and his quartet performs in concert it is a history making event, as was the recent concert held at the elegant Christ and St. Stephens Church on the Upper West side, sponsored by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council of the Arts.

The eclectic programs performed by the quartet are made possible by the extraordinary musicians in the band, whose virtuosity span three major musical genres encompassing the most complex in the western tradition – European Classical, Classic Jazz and the Afro-Cuban Son Montuno.  On this occasion the quartet played a program of mostly Cuban composers, hence the title “Classically Cuban.”

However, the unequalled performance by Carlos del Pino of Niccolo Paganini’s compositions stole the show. Carlos provides us a glimpse of the twin ambitions that fuel his artistry. First, like all greats in any field, he is constantly trying to get better.  “Through time,” says Carlos, “man has always taken on goals and challenges to improve himself.  Music has been no exception.” And secondly, he seeks to expand the range of the double bass violin.  He tells us: “Due to its large size, the doubled bass has posed a challenge for musicians who wish to interpret works composed for other instruments.”

Since he is on a mission to prove the contra-bass is capable of performing compositions conceived for the lead violin, Carlos chooses some of the most difficult literature to perform. For instance, the 24th Caprice is considered by violinists to be one of the most difficult pieces to perform ever written for solo violin. The performer must successfully negotiate such obstacles as Parallel octaves and rapid shifting covering several intervals. Plus, extremely fast scales and arpeggios including minor scales in thirds and tenths, left hand Pizzicato, high positions, and quick string crossings.  These compositions, written and performed by Paganini, are so difficult that his contemporaries believed his mother – like Dr. Faust – made a deal with the devil bartering her son’s soul in exchange for Paganini’s musical gifts.  Yet, Carlos never missed a note!

As if he intends to really stick it to the naysayers, Carlos performs these compositions pizzicato rather than bowing.  He explained the challenge he has undertaken in the present concert as “the interpretation of three Caprices by Paganini written specifically for the violin, played in pizzicato something never before accomplished with the double bass, which entails a double challenge – the technical and the musical…My interpretation will remain for future generations.”

For the musically tutored observer it was breathtaking to watch, the performance was flawless, Carlos performed this historic feat with the apparent effortlessness of the true virtuoso that can make the exceedingly difficult look easy. To observe how difficult this work is to play for a violinist with a bow, see the video at the end of this essay.  It will give the reader some idea of the magnitude of Carlos’ extraordinary achievement.

The marvelous versatility of his quartet enables Carlos to explore his ideas with a multi-lingual musical approach. Whereas the great majority of musicians spend a lifetime trying to master one musical idiom, Carlos and his collaborators roam across genres at will, smashing musical barriers and ignoring the conventional wisdom regarding the limits musical performance.

This is no picayune feat because the demands that Classical European music and classical Jazz makes upon the instrumentalists are very different due to the philosophy, organization and performance technique required by the two musical idioms.  For instance, European Classical music evolved in a rigidly hierarchical society where the written text reigns supreme. Hence every note is dictated by the composer’s score, and if they are members of an orchestra the instrumentalist is also subjected to the tyranny of the Conductor, who interprets the score with his baton.

Classical Jazz is a creation of Afro-Americans in the 20th century; it is the product of what Professor Bernard Bell calls “a residually oral culture where written text competes with the spoken word,” in his seminal study “The Afro-American Novel and its Tradition.” Jazz also embodies the continuous Afro-American quest for freedom, and as the quintessentially American Art Jazz is democratic, values individually liberty and promotes innovation.  It also swings to the poly-rhythms of a machine age society.

Hence, in Jazz the written score serves to set the theme and parameters of the musical conversation not dictate what the instrumentalist plays. And whereas performance styles in European music is dictated by rigid convention, the Jazz musician has been free to create new instrumental techniques to better express their musical innovations.  This is apparent in the way the double bass is played in the two idioms.

In European music it is the bottom voice of the violin section and played with a bow, in Jazz it becomes a member of the rhythm section and is played pizzicato – a technique which Afro-American musicians raised to a high art. In Jazz bowing is ornamental, and in European concert music the pizzicato is an ornament.  Hence in European Music virtuosity on the bass is achieved by bowing; the great innovation of Carlos del Pino is his performance of European masterworks pizzicato.

Chimi Nakai: Vituoso Pianist

The musicianship of the quartet, like the music they make, is beyond Category.  Pianist Chimi Nakai plays with the same technical brilliance and emotional power regardless of the idiom. And she is equally superb as soloist or accompanist to Carlos. Although a native of Osaka Japan Chemi holds a Masters Degree in Jazz performance from The Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queen’s College in New York, and has won distinction as a recording artist with her own band.

David Eure teaches Jazz violin at the New England Conservatory of Music, and is a master of the instrument whose passionate and innovative playing appears to push it to the limits of its capability.  Renowned for its voice like qualities, the violin is capable of expressing a wide rage of emotions through its tonal colors and lyrical phrasings.  David makes the most of them as his violin sings, cries and soars over the rhythm section.  He is an artist of rare gifts a virtuoso of the highest rank, as you can witness in the videos below.

David Eure: Violin Virtuosso

Percussionist Thomas Estrada, a native of Santiago de Cuba, who like Carlos was trained at the distinguished Instituto Superior de Arte is a marvel who routinely does things with traditional Cuban percussion instruments that I would not have believed possible if I had not witnessed it.  I have been playing these instruments for 50 years, saw all the greats – Francisco “Mongo” Santamaria, Carlos “Potato” Valdez, Armando Paraza, Ta Ta  Guiness, Francisco Aquabella, et al – but Estrada remains unique.  When I closed my eyes, it sounded like three people playing.

Thomas Estrda: Master Percussionist

Edgar Sanfeliz Botta was the featured vocalist with the fabulous four.  He is the kind of electrifying singer on whom Latin musicians confer the honorific “El Gran Sonoro,” and like the rest of the band it was clear that he can sing in a variety of styles.  He has performed with a number of groups in Cuba, and holds an honors degree in vocal performance from Florida International University.  In January 2012 he had the honor of singing for Pope Benedict XVI.

By any measure this was an all-star cast, fully up to the challenge of pathbreaking performance.  They belong to that rare class of gifted versatile musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, and Carlos’ Afro-Cuban countrymen Chucho Valdez, Arturo Sandoval and Piquito d’Rivera who speak various musical languages without accent.   It was an affair to remember.

 ****************

Text and Photographs by:

Playthell G, Benjamin

Harlem, New York

1/28/1018

Jazz Around The World!

The First Family of Jazz: Ellis Marsalis and his Boys

A Classic Afro-American Art Wins Hearts Everywhere!

As the learned and insightful music critic Henry Pleasants tells us in his seminal book on modern music “Serious Music and All That Jazz,” the Afro-American musicians who created jazz were the only musicians to introduce a new musical terminology since the Italians did it back during the Renaissance.  The point Mr. Pleasants was making is that Jazzmen created an art music using instruments of European origin, as well as their system of melody and harmony, yet invented something really different from anything Europeans had ever heard…or imagined.

Pleasants was uniquely positioned to see this because of his extensive training in the classical music of Europe, and he was writing about the modern music scene in Europe for the New York Times.  And he has much to say about the way Jazz influenced modern European composers.  However, apart from whatever influence Jazz may have had on European composers, the way in which jazz captured the imagination of musicians and won the allegiance of music lovers around the world, is the real story.

Whether we are talking about writers, businessmen, diplomats, Presidents, artists or kings, Jazz has found passionate fans. It is safe to say Jazz musicians do wondrous things that fascinate both fools and kings. The British critic Stanley Dance devoted his career to writing about Jazz. Ahmet Ertegun – who founded Atlantic Records and first recorded Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin – was the son of a Turkish Ambassador to the US, who was such an avid Jazz fan he once expelled a white Southern US Senator from his diplomatic residence because he insulted a black jazz musician who was his guest!

Ahmet expressed his life long love affair with this music by contributing the “Hall Of Fame Room,” a multi-million interactive display of the great virtuosos of the tradition.  It is located in Jazz at Lincoln Center at 60th and Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, and the viewer can just push the panel with portraits of their favorite artist and a video of them in performance will appear, accompanied by a biographical essay.

I interviewed Ahmet at the grand opening of the 150 million dollar edifice to Jazz, and it can be read in a forth coming book “Jazz At Lincoln Center: Magic moments In The House Of Swing,” with photographs by Frank Stewart and text by this writer.  In a nutshell he said: “Jazz is the greatest music in the world.  It is America’s contribution to the great artistic heritage of mankind.  And it has influence more musicians than any other music.”

Then there is the legendary jazz crazy king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej – “”Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power” – and his Queen Sirikit.  At a time when Jazz virtuosos were ignored by the princes and powers who fashion cultural policy in the US, and the thought of playing in the White house was unimaginable, Jazz musicians were hanging out in the Palace jamming with King Bhumibol, who was a devoted  jazz clarinetist.

The King is very proud of the fact that he played with clarinetist Benny Goodman and Saxophone master Wayne Shorter. Although the King is believed to have descended from the gods, he is democratic in political style and philosophy. Some observers attribute these democratic instincts to his deep involvement with the art of Jazz.

In Eastern Europe Jazz music became a metaphor for freedom and democracy, especially in Czechoslovakia where a whole school of philosophy based on the democratic principle of jazz developed as a counter-statement to communist totalitarian rule.  They were known as “The Velvet Philosophers,” and they were part of an organization know as “The Jazz Section.

In 1995, I participated in a seminar with one of those philosophers at a conference sponsored by the European Association of American Studies, chaired by Dr. Justine Talley, and heard him tell how they used the values and ethics of jazz to teach lessons about the advantages of democracy and the virtues of individual liberty. The authorities felt so threatened by it they arrested and imprisoned the philosophers in the Jazz Section.

It is not surprising that people who crave freedom and democracy would be attracted to Jazz. After all, as the quintessential American art, Jazz embodies the most cherished ideals of American civilization. Jazz is democratic, values individual freedom, promotes invention, and grooves to the complex rhythms of a modern urban society. As a genre of western art music Jazz distinguishes itself by overthrowing the tyranny of the composer and the iron discipline of the conductor’s baton.

The emphasis on freedom and democracy in Jazz is both a reflection of the American creed, and the persistent struggle for freedom waged by African Americans against white oppression.  This struggle is the major theme of African American history.  And since, as the Afro-American cultural theorist and brilliant Jazz Critic Albert Murray notes: An Art style is the refinement and elaboration of a lifestyle; it is in the nature of things that the highest creative achievement of Afro-American culture is an art that celebrates freedom and practices democracy.

Thus the jazz man is always looking to free himself from the restraints of convention and explore new territories. But, as it turns out, this search for freedom is a universal value; which is why Jazz appeals to serious musicians and music lovers across class, color, nationality and geography. Along with freedom and improvisation jazz also conveys a unique blues sensibility that speaks to something so profoundly human that it touches the hearts of people everywhere.

This explains the appeal of Jazz to South African musicians under apartheid as well as French musicians in the aftermath of World War I, a period when one write recalls that had they been left to listen to European Classical music they would all have committed suicide.  It was the heroic optimism in the spirit of Jazz that spoke to disillusioned European intellectuals and artists, who were deeply depressed after witnessing their civilization degenerate into barbarism and mass murder.

Another reason for the universal appeal of Jazz early on in the twentieth century is that it is a synthesis of several musical idioms and offers the opportunity for musicians to add their flavor to the performance of the music.  Hence if you listen to Jazz harpist Edmar Casteneda on the album “Cuarto de Colores” you will hear a Columbian approach to Jazz composition and performance.

The harp he plays is of Columbian origin and is very different from the European harp that one hears in symphony orchestras. When I first head him perform at Dizzy’s, a beautiful night club in Jazz at Lincoln Center especially engineered for the acoustic requirements of Jazz, I kept looking for the bass player.

Eventually I discovered that he was playing the bass with his left hand, along with chords and on solos.  The sound was amplified so that it sounded like an acoustic bass fiddle, and the complexity of the rhythms he was playing sounded as if he were playing the bass line with both hands.  The rhythms ran the gamut from swing to Samba, and his wife sang in voices that came deep from her Afro-Indio culture.  They were no doubt playing Jazz, but it had a decidedly Columbian flavor.

Japanese Virtuoso Chimi Nakai

The nation that is producing the most impressive crop of young Jazz virtuosi outside of the United States is Japan.  It seems that every time I look up I see another gifted young Japanese jazz artist.  And they are distinguished by the fact that so many of these virtuoso instrumentalists are women, especially key board players.  One of the most impressive of these is Chimi Nakai, a consummate master of the acoustic piano.   Ms. Nakai is one of the new jazz virtuosi who are multi-lingual in musical terms.  She is equally at home in Jazz, European classical and Afro-Cuban music.

Cuban Virtuoso Carlos Del Pino

I have seen her perform on several occasions with the great Afro-Cuban conta-bassist Carlos Del Pino.  Carlos is a top shelf jazz bassist – Afro-American virtuosos Ray Brown and Paul Chambers were his inspiration and tutors via recordings – but he is equally brilliant playing the classical European repertoire for the double bass violin, and he is master of his native Afro-Cuban Son Montuno and other forms.

Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet Virtuoso

Artistic Director Of The World Famous JALC Orchestra

However the model for the multi-lingual virtuoso instrumentalist Jazz star is Wynton Marsalis, arguably the greatest trumpet player in the world.  That is certainly the impression I’ve gotten from interviewing other great trumpet trumpet players, classical and jazz artists – professors who teach advanced courses on the instrument, and vintage Jazz masters on all instruments.

Because Wynton has won nine Grammys – four for European classical music and five for Jazz – plus a much coveted Pulitzer Prize for composition, musicians and music lovers all over the world are interested in his work. Hence great performances by Wynton are all over internet on You Tube, where musicians and fans can see him perform on video at will!

As a result of this vast exposure, sharp intellect, knowledge of Jazz tradition – he was born and raised in New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz – easy eloquence, and genuine warmth and southern charm, he is the most effective ambassador Jazz has ever known.  And the Marsalis family is the First Family of Jazz.  Their contribution to keeping the Jazz tradition alive is so important that on January 11, 2011 the National Endowment for the Arts bestowed the prestigious “Jazz Masters Award on the entire family.

Aside from his four sons, Ellis Marsalis, the patriach of the clan, has trained other world famous Jazz musicians like the pianist / singer Harry Connick Jr. and the great trumpeter and prolific composer of movie scores, Terrance Blanchard.   These New Orleans bred Jazz musicians are constantly travelling the world and exposing audiences to the classical tradition of American Jazz, the gift of African Americans to world culture. And as the representative anecdote for American civilization, “America as she is swung” in the words of Albert Murray, Jazz is also the great American contribution to the classic arts.

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 By: Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

1/16/211

Photos of: Ellis and his boys, and portraiat of Wynton, by Frank Stewart.

Photos of Chemi and Carlos by: Playthell G. Benjamin.

 

 

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Swings Berkeley

Maestro Marsalis conducts the Boys in the Band

 An Evening of Gilded Memories and Divine Music

Standing in front of Zellerbach Hall waiting for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to hit, my mind was filled with random thoughts; all provoked by my being in that particular place on that particular occasion.  The University of California at Berkley has a unique niche in my memory bank.  I first became aware of this campus in the 1960’s when it had a dual identity both as a center for radical ideas and activism, and the University with the most Nobel Laurates on its faculty. Plus it was located in a part of America that looked as if it had emerged from a fairy tale to my East Coast eyes.  The aura of “radical chic” was enhanced by the fact that Berkeley was located just across the Bay from San Francisco, then the home of the Hippy Counter-Culture which I had observed first hand upon my maiden voyage to the City, where I found myself living at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.

I had been raised in the racially segregated black community in St. Augustine Florida, where I was socialized on the values of the “Talented Tenth;” the enlightened striving class who set high standards for the Afro-American community and guided us away from “the worst in our own and other races” as Dr. DuBois had called upon them to do in 1903.   And I made my maiden voyage to San Francisco directly from the comparatively staid and culturally conservative environment of Philadelphia; hence I was fairly shocked at the way white folks were carrying on in “the Haight.”  The few black folks I encountered were Jimi Hendrix acolytes, and at that time I thought Hendrix had lost his cotton pickin mind.

I was a disciplined member of the leadership of the Revolutionary Action Movement – which gave birth to the Black Panther Party of Oakland, a matter I have written about extensively elsewhere – and as a doctrinaire Maoist I viewed the entire counter-cultural movement as a mass exercise in bourgeois self-indulgence that only well off white folks could afford to fool with.  I was a soldier in the black struggle, a committed warrior intellectual who had been trained in the use of arms by the US military.

My first visit to the University of California Berkley was occasioned by an invitation to present a speech on the importance of Black Studies in the struggle to eradicate white racist ideology and behavior from American life.  Given the nature of the times – with massive urban riots in which it seemed that the torching of American cities had become common fare and the country was on the verge of race war – this subject matter was considered an urgent matter and Universities were trying to define a useful role they could play in resolving the racial crisis. Normally presenting this argument was easy work; I had already presented it with great success at universities and school boards across the country, including the Claremont Colleges and four of the campuses of the University of California.

But to my mind Berkeley was different.  I was all too aware that this was the incubator of the “Free Speech Movement,” an Ivory tower where great minds communed about perplexing problems in the social and physical world.  When I walked through the imposing gates on Telegraph Ave and set foot on the campus I felt an intimidation that I had never felt before.  Nobody really knew me there but I got a big audience because I was on the program with Afro-American writer Alex Haley, whose collaboration on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” had made him the most famous author in America, and read around the world.

At the time Haley was a Writer-in-Residence at the university and was working on a new book that he called “Before the Anger,” but was later published as “Roots,” an epic saga about African slavery in America that became one of the bestselling books in the history of publishing and was made into a riveting blockbuster television saga that made ratings history.As a devotee of Brother Malcolm, whom I knew well, and a big fan of the book, I was delighted to meet Mr. Haley, whom I thought had done America a spiritual benefaction by writing the “Autobiography.”

He was a warm and unpretentious southern brother that reminded me of church deacons that I had known in Florida.  I expressed my gratitude for his labors which he accepted with grace. As I waited to go on after his remarks, I pondered how to approach this audience, who routinely heard great minds hold forth in this space.  It was as if I suddenly had a revelation; I heard an inner voice say “What would John the Prophet Do?”

It was not the biblical prophet that I had in mind but the modern day sound sorcerer John Coltrane, whose music we revolutionaries were convinced was the sound track of the black Revolution.  And when he showed up at a speech of mine in North Philly at a rally organized by radical activist/Jazz Pianist John Churchville, a leader in the Northern Student Movement and we spent the rest of the evening rapping, I was convinced that we were right….Trane told me so.  “I say it all with my horn young brother,” he replied when I invited him to speak to a Black history class I was teaching in the basement of Mt. Zion Church, pastored by the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion!”

After pondering the question for a moment, I decided that if Trane was in my place he would come out and wail, knowing there was no profounder musical truth than that which he was preaching….so that’s what I did.   The audience bought what I was selling – being a skilled orator trained by my aunt Rosa, an exacting tutor, made the task a lot lighter – and they rewarded me with a standing ovation! All of these memories swirled around in my head as I waited for the concert to start in Zellerbach Hall.

Although I am a former history professor who left the profession for other endeavors, I have never lost my love for the study of history and how it can illuminate our understanding of present realities.  It is especially gratifying when you can reflect on events that you participated in that have now become important historical milestones and the people now famous whom you knew back when.

I found special satisfaction in how Black Studies have become a standard part of university curriculums across this nation. This was not always true; I know because I was a co-founder of the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in the world at UMass Amherst in 1969, just a couple of years after I spoke on this campus, and we were the first to incorporate Jazz Studies taught by seminal artists into the curriculum when we awarded full professorships to instrumentalists/Composers/bandleaders Max Roach and Archie Shepp.

I also have a deep pride in what the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has made of itself since I was present at its inception and produced the most extensive media report on the opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center, presented on WBAI FM in New York. I have also worked on a book project with the world famous photographer Frank Stewart, who is the official photographer for the JALC Orchestra.  Titled “Magic Moments in the House of Swing,” it documents some of the great performances in this Mecca of Jazz in words and pictures.  Some of my essays were written as program notes for important concerts at Rose Hall, and they were illustrated with Frank’s photos.  As I write the manuscript is finished but unpublished.

The slice of history that I was most conscious of that evening was the claims that had been made by Dr. Ortiz Walton – bassist extraordinaire, insightful music critic and Ph.D. in sociology – who had been a doctoral student when Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performed on campus.   At the concert Walton – who would later write the great book “Music: Black, White and Blue” – was appalled by the absence of black students. In order to provide an explanation for what was obvious evidence of a cultural disconnect Walton designed a questionnaire and administered it to the Black students at Berkeley, and what at first looked like a cultural disconnect proved to be a cultural disaster!

The dominant answer of the black students was that they played past the concert because Duke Ellington’s band “didn’t play Black Music.”  Walton was astonished!  Duke Ellington, the greatest composer in the Afro-American musical tradition, had become a stranger to his progeny; a prophet without honor in his own land.  This experience led Walton to write two important books about music and the Afro-American tradition.  A musically ambidextrous virtuoso on the double bass violin, Walton was a principal bassist with the Cairo Symphony and also played with John Coltrane.  Like Wynton, he is a master of both musical Idioms.

Hence one of the things I paid close attention to was the number of black students, or young black people from whatever walk of life, who attended the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert.  Although half a century has passed since Duke’s band was here, and the world has turned upside down, black student disinterest in serious Afro-American art music has evidently remained pretty much the same. Here the old adage “the more things change the more they stay the same” applies.  The scant black presence dribbles off to near nothing when it comes to young people, who were outnumbered by their elders despite, and among those that I talked to only one young couple were not musicians; the rest were all aspiring musicians.

However the diversity of the crowd and the young musicians who sought Wynton’s advice is eloquent testimony to the widespread influence of the Afro-American art of Jazz; which in its love of personal freedom and promotion of invention makes it the quintessentially American art.   And that art has never been on finer display than it was at Zellenbach auditorium on that enchanted evening.  The band, an aggregation of virtuosi on all instruments, was in fine form.  The ensemble play was perfectly balanced, with each musician contributing his unique voice to a musical tapestry composed of many intriguing colors.  The program moved effortlessly as the music went from the classic big band repertoire to the most modern Jazz styles; the entire tradition of complex Afro-American art music was traversed and each was true to the performance style of the period.

The Deeper Lessons of the 9/11 Jihadist Attack

The World Trade Towers on 9/11

Adding the Dimension of Historical Perspective

A national remembrance ceremony, a period of collective mourning, has become common fare on 9/11, as Americans honor the fallen, who were victims of the terror attack on the US by Islamic Jihadist.  However, this remembrance ceremony is intensified by the fact that it marks 20 years since the attack, and there has been much discussion in the media of the causes of the attack.  These conversations are wide ranging but just now, as in the moments after the attack two decades ago, too much of the discussion consists of playing the innocent victim.  In this twisted telling, the US was suddenly attacked by Islamic terrorists simply because they were evil and hated Americans because of our just and democratic society.

Alas, this simple-minded self-serving explanation has been advanced by some of the nation’s most thoughtful preachers, powerful politicians, and prestigious pundits.  And millions of Americans believed it, convinced that it was the whole story.  If ever there was a time and circumstance where the admonition of Harvard philosopher George Santayana was needed it is here and now: ”Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it’s mistakes.”  Here a note of clarification is called for.  I do not mean to suggest that history repeats itself, nor do I believe this is the essence of Prof. Santayana’s axiom.  It is more like Mark Twain’s observation that history may not repeat “but it rhymes.”

In other words, there are classes of events that repeat themselves such as international wars, national liberation movements, socialism, fascism, racism, genocide, etc. And studying these phenomena as a class will help us understand their origins, history, and function.  Hence when we see these patterns  arise, we will be better equipped to recognize the pitfalls and avoid them.  It does not mean that these events will recur in the exact form as before, but they will share enough basic characteristics as to fall into the same general category.  Hence, we can use the past events as a guide for dealing with the present.  I believe this is the most productive use to which the study of history can be employed.

In all societies it is the ideology of the ruling classes – what they think is valuable, important, even sacred –  that shall determine how the society is organized and what its priorities are.  In advanced societies these values are refined into policies, foreign and domestic.  And to understand the ideology of the US ruling class, and how it is reflected in the policies of our government, requires the added dimension of unsentimental historical analysis. When viewed from this perspective, and told with unvarnished candor,  the story of how and why 9/11 happened, and the 20-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan sounds very different from the popular narrative spun by the official myth-makers and their self-appointed boosters.

The true origins of the tragedy of September 9, 2001,  and the two decades that just ended with a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, that long fabled “Graveyard of Empires,”  has deep roots in US history.  The ideas that led to this catastrophe can be found in the 19th  century belief in “Manifest Destiny,” and the Monroe Doctrine.  Both of which is reflected in the 20th century belief in American Exceptionalism.

The “Containment Theory” authored by the brilliant Foreign Policy wonk George Kennan in 1947, which became the basis of the “Truman Doctrine” in the aftermath of  World War II, ushering in the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union and other nations governed by Communist Parties – which the US government erroneously insisted were nothing more than “Soviet Satellite’s” – lies at the root of the continuous wars, internal subversions, and covert actions carried out by the CIA against leaders the US did not like.

From the liberal progressive democratically elected leader of Iran Muhmmad Mossadegh; to the Salvador Allende in Chile, to Patrice Lumumba,  Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela in Africa, to Ho Chi Mihn and Mao Tse Tung in Asia, to the Cuban Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Caribbean.  And after the fall of the Soviet Union, which created a unipolar world with only one super-power, the US developed a policy of Pax-Americana, roughly based on the old Pax-Romana or “Roman Peace,” by which Rome ruled the world by imposing order through the positioning of powerful Roman Legions in far off lands on territory ceded to Rome in perpetual treaties.  Like the US military base in Guantanamo Cuba.

The idea of Pax-Americana became the basis of American foreign policy during the Bush Administration, due to the ascension of the cabal of hawkish  vulgar imperialist policy wonks from the “Project for a New American Century,” in the panic that consumed the Bush Administration in the Aftermath of 9/11.  This Cabal of right-wing Neo-con policy wonks led the US into the ill-fated invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein,  an offshoot of the “mission creep” in Afghanistan, whose raison d’etre was the destruction of Al Qaeda in retaliation for the 9/11 attack.

But, alas, under the direction of the PNAC cabal it became a mission to reshape the geo-politics of the mid-East region based upon a blueprint crafted in Washington and Tel Aviv.  Alas, this ill-conceived strategy backfired.  It resulted in the rapid spread of radical  Islam and a dramatic growth in the ranks of armed Jihadists, that expanded a conflict which was initially viewed by its promoters as a swift little war that would eradicate Militant Muslim fundamentalist – the same people that the US government encouraged, and the CIA trained, including Osama bin Laden, during the recent Cold War with Russia when it was still the Soviet Union.

This reckless exercise in hubris and folly, resulted in the 20 year war that we are just retreating from in defeat, after squandering trillions in US treasure and spilling buckets of American blood.  The toll in life, limb and property among the Iraqis and Afghans is too ghastly to contemplate.  This is the real story that should be told in the grand gluttonous rhetoric of pious pontificators in every nook and cranny of the land today.

Alas, sadly this kind of straight talk will be as rare as flying elephants, instead the people will be fed the same old lies and deceptions whose objective will be obfuscation not education, useless disinformation, puerile propaganda unworthy of the citizens of the world’s most powerful country. For while lies my give us a temporary high, making us feel good, it cannot help us understand our past, navigate the present, nor fathom the future.

Hence this feel-good narrative will not help us navigate the thorny terrain of international relations in a multi-polar world, and thus it cannot keep us from drifting into future wars.  To accomplish this, we first must accept the fact that American Exceptionalism is a dangerous myth, and that we cannot make foreign nations over in our image with guns and bombs. Then we can perhaps learn the valuable lessons that our history has to teach….and be born again.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Fall 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aftermath of the Disaster

Terrified New Yorkers Flee for Their Lives!

 Irony, Rage, Denial, but Little Truth

As I awoke on this first Sunday after the great terror rained down from the skies over the nation’s Capitol, and the Financial Center of the world in lower Manhattan, I was greeted with rumors and rumblings of war. And as the day proceed the rattling of sabers became fairly deafening, drowning out any attempt at sober and objective analysis of both the possible causes of the Kamikaze like attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, and what strategy the nation should now employ to eradicate those causes. Most disappointing has been the pronouncements of our elected officials and Christian clerics.

Both too often speak as if they are addressing a nation of little children or adult morons. The preferred rhetoric of the day abounds with simple-minded equations of those “evil men” who are out to “destroy our democratic Christian way of life” because they envy and hate our “American freedom and prosperity.” Even as enlightened and reasonable a man as Senator Charles Schumer came on WCBS TV and resorted to moronic arguments like “They hate us because we are free, because I can go to a book-store and buy any book I want” and – turning to the black woman anchor, a super intellectual lightweight – he said “they hate you because you don’t have to wear a veil.”

The question, put to the senator by the Afro-American anchor that prompted this torrent of propagandistic invective masquerading as wisdom was: “Why do these people hate us so, do they want to turn us into the Talibans?” This, as strange as it seems, is about the level of the discourse conducted by the talking airheads who control the mikes in the major media, whether radio or television. And, rather than take the opportunity television offers to speak to millions in order to raise the level of the discourse by calling for a measured response and soul searching about American policy in the middle east, the politicians and clerics have, for the most part, descended to the level of the media wags.

Yet the present crisis, which has forced the anchors to engage in extemporaneous conversation due to the many hours they are on the air covering unfolding events, has exposed how ignorant they are of world affairs as well as their moral bankruptcy. It is frightening to think that many people look upon these overpaid over hyped media personalities as well informed and ethical sources from whom they can gain wisdom about the world.

The awful truth is that many of these anchors have skills that are closer to those of an actor than what is required of a journalist. One News organization – If memory serves it is the Fox network – recently hired a third-rate blond actress whose career was going nowhere on the big screen to serve as a news anchor. While serious female journalists howled in protest, the suits at the network put the blond bubblehead on the air reading the news while displaying her shapely legs ala Katie Couric – that’s what your favorite news anchor does folks, just read copy by an anonymous author off a teleprompter. That she has been successful verifies the claim made by many journalists that it is more important for a successful TV anchor to be physically attractive and able to read news copy with the proper emotions than to develop crack journalistic skills and spend years learning about world affairs. Hence the sordid state of our present public discourse should surprise no one, for it is being conducted by morons!

However, the same claim cannot be made for our clerics. Among the ranks of men of the cloth who are entrusted with the spiritual guidance of our nation are charlatans like Jerry Falwell, and pious preachers like Wyatt T. Walker, and many who have extensive educations in philosophy, religion, history, and the social sciences. But most of all, for Christians, the canonical text is the Holy Bible. The New Testament, which contains the teachings of Jesus Christ, expressly forbids the use of violence, and instructs us to “Love thy enemy” and “Turn the other cheek.” Advice all too readily given to black folks suffering from centuries of horrid oppression, whether in the USA or South Africa, by the same white folks who are now whipping up the war hysteria.

I have heard one Christian cleric after another call for war against the Muslim terrorists with all the fervor of a medieval monk recruiting knights for the crusades – a term actually employed by President Bush. The teachings of Jesus – whom they all give lip service to – along with reason, are the first casualties of the nationalistic war fever that has gripped the nation. In fact, the orgy of self-righteous anger my countrymen are engaging in just now is such that it is dangerous to try and offer a reasoned argument based upon the Christian principles taught by Jesus. Indeed, in a flurry of jingoistic indignation the clerics have scrapped the biblical injunction, “Vengeance is mine! sayth the lord,” faster than the Lone Ranger could draw his gun.

It is not surprising that the clearest voices calling the nation away from this course of blind vengeance and setting forth arguments based on Christian charity and reconciliation have come from the African-American community. The first voice that I heard clearly calling for the nation to reflect upon its policies in the Middle East, and the Bush administration’s increasingly unilateralist posture in world affairs, was the Reverend Jesse Jackson who, despite the recent exposure of his adulterous affair, remains one of the clearest voices for Christian charity in governmental policies.

And the other was the courageous warning of the black Episcopal priest who spoke to the nation at the “Day of Mourning” ceremonies in the National cathedral. With all of the high and mighty congregated to express their anguish at the sudden attack on the nation’s centers of power, including four former presidents who are far from innocent of blame in the present tragedy, the compassionate Cleric admonished the nation not to become the evil they were seeking to redress.

Here in New York this Sunday, progressive black preachers long committed to the struggle for social justice through public policy informed by Christian charity – Herbert Daughtry, Calvin Butts, Al Sharpton, etc – called the nation away from blind rage and reminded us of white America’s long record of sinful treatment of people of color. These insightful clerics, who refuse to join in the national chant for war against the infidels, made it clear that the American government is not blameless in the disaster that has befallen our nation. That such an obvious conclusion may soon become grounds for the government to tap our phones and intercept our e-mails – scrapping the civil liberties that are one of the finest features of American civilization – is a true measure of the abysmal mess we are in.

However if the poet James Russell Lowell was right, that “Truth crushed to earth will rise again,” as Dr. Martin Luther King was fond of pointing out, then no matter how hard the official mythmakers in our government, pulpits and press try to deny any culpability on the part of America’s foreign policy establishment for the present disaster, the truth will out. And the truth is that American policies in the Islamic world – and the so-called Third World in general i.e. African, Asia, and Latin America – over the past century have created innumerable enemies with a passionate hatred for the USA.

For instance, between 1890 and 1932 the US military intervened in the affairs of third world countries 45 times. And since the close of World War II the US has conducted 20 armed interventions into the internal affairs of other countries, all of which were in support of anti-democratic forces. It is this disgraceful legacy to which the historian and lawyer Gerald Horne refers when he argues that white Americans have promoted a policy of democratic institutions for themselves, quasi-fascism for African-Americans, and fascism for third world countries.

The evidence is abundant and incontrovertible. To deny these fundamental facts is to eradicate the possibility of reaching the kind of understanding that is essential to developing a new world order that can foster peace and prosperity for all peoples. Hence it will not well serve the national interest to deny the history and present realities that so many others in the world are living or share as collective memories.

For instance, none but a Charlatan or an ignoramus can deny that the Islamic revolution, which began with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, is a direct response to American policies in the region. The root cause of the revolution was the American decision to have the CIA overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Muhammad Mossedeh in 1953 and establish the Pahlevi dynasty – a group of greedy, dictatorial, murderers – to reign over the Iranian people as absolute rulers backed by American military might.

It is common knowledge to anyone who has cared to study the matter that torture was a standard tool for quelling dissent and maintaining the Shah’s stranglehold on the country. There was no pretense at democracy, yet the US government supplied the Shah with the most advanced military hardware, which he paid for with the oil wealth of the country, wealth that the Shah squandered as if it were his personal fortune.

But while the Pahlevi’s and their US sponsors basked in Hubris, the increasingly militant clerics of Iran, led by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeni, who would burst upon the scene like and old testament prophet calling for the death of “The Great Satan,” was quietly winning the hearts and minds of the people. And when the people rose in righteous anger fueled by a militant and redemptive brand of Shiite Islam, the Shah’s army, the best equipped fighting force in the region, proved impotent as the soldiers turned their guns on their officers.

Sadly, most Americans, who are terminally provincial, never heard of any of this until the Mullahs ordered their Muslim students to take American hostages. I remember well how, aside from the CIA operatives who the architects of this mess were, Middle East Scholars, and a hand full of progressive intellectuals concerned with international solidarity with the oppressed, most Americans were standing around completely befuddled, clueless. The dominant theme of the discourse among my fellow Americans at the time was: “What’s wrong with these crazy people, why are they doing this to these innocent Americans!” But to those of us who had been studying American policy in Iran the Islamic revolution came as no surprise.  Just as only the methods used by the terrorists of 9/11 surprised us, not that it happened; for that was predictable.  Yet most Americans were caught completely off guard.

Hence the dominant discourse in the aftermath of the present disaster is strangely familiar. The same mind-numbing ignorance and self-righteous bombast that characterized the mainstream American response to the Iranian revolution now colors the present conversation. And the incredible policy blunders that led the US to arm Iraq to invade Iran provoking a bloody war that Iraq eventually lost but not before acquiring advanced American training and military technology.

However, when the Iraqis decided to use their military might to reclaim a part of their oil rich territory – which Saddam Hussein calls “The fifth province of Iraq” – that the British colonialists had ripped off and renamed Kuwait, then placed under the control of a Bedouin Sheik whose vast oil wealth enables him to rule as a benevolent dictator, George Bush Senior, along with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell launched “Desert Storm,” supposedly to save these rascals!

The present conflict with Osama Bin Laden, and the pending invasion of Afghanistan to arrest him, is also the consequence of misguided American meddling. Ben Laden and the fanatical, super- repressive Taliban regime is a product of the largest CIA covert action since WWII, a two-billion-dollar operation which trained the militant Islamic forces – “ the Mujahadeen “ who were then called “freedom fighters” – in “urban terrorism” to employ against the Russians. Hence, if the terrorist who wreaked such devastating violence on Washington and New York were trained in Afghanistan, it is a particularly horrible case of what the intelligence community calls “Blowback”!

Finally, there is America’s long-standing policy of always supporting the Israelis in their struggle with the Palestinians. On Tuesday the Arab-American leaders who met with the President the day before, held a press conference at which they candidly addressed the issue of America’s apparent unconditional support for Israel as a major source of hatred for this country in the Islamic world. Although acknowledging the danger of being accused of anti-Semitism for speaking out on this issue, they never-the-less chose to speak their minds.

But they are not alone in arguing this point. A retired Admiral associated with The Center for Defense Information made the same point in an interview with former Daily News columnist Earl Caldwell, in a live broadcast on WBAI FM last Saturday. The admiral argued that there is no purely military solution to the scourge of Islamic Terrorism; only a solution to the problems that give rise to the terrorist – whom he said were “made not born” – can finally end this deadly plague. It was obvious to all who watched the television reports on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that Arab parents were not going to long tolerate the steady procession of caskets bearing the bodies of their children, slaughtered by Israeli soldiers for throwing rocks. That’s why the suicide bombers came as no surprise to many observers.

Listening to the swelling howl for blood vengeance that now drowns out any attempt at a rational and honest discussion of the issues surrounding the most-deadly terrorist attack in US history, I fear for the future of my children. With one child living in an area where there is a major concentration of military installations, and another dwelling in the shadow of nuclear reactors, a quiet but persistent terror creeps into my soul, and I long to find the voice that could conjure the words powerful enough to turn this nation away from the path of death and destruction, and study war no more. I wish for the language that could convince my irate countrymen that now is the time for diplomacy not bombs! For if history teaches us anything it is that violence begets more violence.

Sadly, since the arrogance of the largely Anglo-Saxon white male elite who still own and run this country knows no bounds, they will more than likely rush head long into the abyss and rain bombs on many thousands of innocent people – and increasingly we hear a rising call for nuclear weapons. To claim that this is a Christian response is blasphemy; to confuse it with wisdom is pitiable self-deception, to declare it just is a vainglorious lie! And, like the poet said, “No lie can live forever.” Since no man or woman of the cloth has yet shown the moral courage to say “We have reaped what we have sown” – at least it has yet to reach my ears – like Thomas Jefferson, I fear for the fate of my country and “I shudder when I reflect upon the fact that god is just!”

Reaping what You Sow…

New Yorkers Struggling to Survive the Attack

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Playthell George Benjamin

Ground Zero, New York City

September 11,  2001

  • Orginally Published in The Black World Today

Our Refusal to Learn the Lessons of History…

        South Vietnamese Fleeing the Fall of Saigon in 1975

 Dooms us to Repeating Costly Mistakes

After carefully surveying the human saga, Dr. George Santayana, a professor of Philosophy at Harvard, observed: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”  There has never been a nation for whom this axiom is more appropriate that the USA.  As I write the big story of the moment is the fall of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes over the country.

One need only listen to President Biden’s speech at the beginning of the final , assuring us that the US retreat from Afghanistan would bear no resemblance to our retreat from Vietnam in 1975, to recognize that the US has learned nothing from history.  For even Stevie Wonder can see it’s SOS…same old shit!   Just look at the film…the South Vietnamese who had sided with the Americans in the war were storming the American embarkation point, holding onto the blades of helicopters as they ferried US personnel away, and crowds of Afghans are now holding onto US transport planes as the try to take off on the runways, in a desperate last ditch effort to escape the fate that awaits them at the hands of the Taliban.

When the persistent question arises, “how could this happen?” the routine answer is that there was “an intelligence failure.”  Of this there can be no denial.  However, the problem with this explanation is that few seem to recognize it is an intelligence failure that began over 60 years ago and has persisted ebbing and flowing like an ocean tide, with military conflicts returning in intervals like the theme of a bad song.  Alas, the US government, high on self-righteous hubris and fired up on the dangerous destructive fiction of “American Exceptionalism,” the misbegotten belief that “America is the essential nation” graced by God and destined to lead the world, traverses the globe attempting to pound the non-believers, the evil heretics, into submission.

It is this set of beliefs, which also holds the interests of US multi-national corporations sacred, requiring a pro-capitalist posture on the part of other nations, that has been the raison d’ etre for the continuous foreign wars that stains our history with the blood of peoples around the world who have suffered American interventions.  Hence the present disaster in Afghanistan cannot be understood apart from the history of US foreign interventions since the end of World War II, when the USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the world.

Armed with the awesome power of atomic bombs, a newly invented weapon whose unprecedented capacity for widescale destruction had been recently demonstrated by the horrible bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which many observers regard as a war crime since it was an indiscriminate attack on civilians – along with the most developed and productive economy in the world, the US elite set out to realize Henry Luce’s earlier prediction that the 20th century would be “The American Century.”

In order to achieve this Pax Americana, a post war world order where all roads would lead to America, just as they had once led to Rome under the ancient Pax-Romana, there was first the matter of nullifying the influence of Communism, which placed the US in direct conflict with Soviet Russia, who had been a critical US ally in the war against the fascist axis powers of Italy, Nazi Germany and the Japanese “Empire of the Rising Sun,” which sought to unite all of Asia under Japanese leadership. “Asia for the Asians” they cried, even as they raped the Chinese city of Nanking with unprecedented cruelty, while invading Korea and Vietnam.

Having defeated the Fascist powers in a grand alliance with the Soviet Union, in which the Russians had lost 27 million people, the United States now considered them the paramount obstacle to American global ambitions, keeping the world safe for US capitalism.  Hence the policy of “Containment” was hatched by US foreign policy wonks such as George Kennan, and put into practice by American statesman and bureaucrats led by the Dullies brothers, Allen and John Foster, who served as CIA Director and Secretary Of State during the crucial years of the 1950’s when the Cold War began.

Watching the world they were making, Dr. WEB DuBois, the most prescient American social scientist/ historian/activist of the 20th century, observed: “If the Dullies brother are wise men then God save our fools!” History verifies the gravity of Dr. DuBois’s remarks because the policies initiated by the Dullies Brothers led to Korea, Vietnam, the overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, the genocidal repression in Guatemala, support for right wing dictators all over the Americas and the world, from the murderous Sukarno in Indonesia, the Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt American puppet whose oppressive regime led to a popular people’s revolution led by Fidel Castro – young idealistic middle-class lawyer who was radicalized by Batista’s nullification of an election won by progressives dedicated to ushering in a more equitable society that overthrew him, nationalized the vast tracks of land owned by the US based United Fruit Company which paid starvation wages, and began to build a socialist society in Cuba.

Had the US government stood up for democracy in Batista’s Cuba, there might never have been a revolution.  And had they embraced the revolution instead of automatically resorting to the “Containment” policy Castro would not have been driven into the waiting arms of the Soviet Union in an alliance for national survival.  If President Kennedy had not decided to try and overthrow the Cuban Revolution by supporting the corrupt racist white Cuban exiles in the misbegotten “Bay of Pigs” invasion, the history of US Cuban relations could have been entirely different and mutually beneficial, positive and productive rather than negative and destructive, as would the history of all the Americas over the last half century.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century – the reasons for which are too complex to dissect here, but Vladimir Putin has called it “the greatest tragedy” of the last century – the world looked forward to a period of planetary peace free of constant wars and rumors of wars, with the horrible specter of nuclear annihilation ever hovering in the shadows.

Americans especially were giddy at the prospect of a “peace dividend” where the billions being squandered on maintaining a warfare state would be put to good use solving the myriad problems confronting American society.  And the military-industrial complex – a voracious monster consuming a large proportion of American treasure and intellectual talent, an unholy alliance between industry and the military that President Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe that defeated the Nazi’s, warned against at its inception –  would be put in check and eventually dismantled.

But this promise of a future free of perpetual wars proved to be a short- lived illusion.  For the policy of containing communism would soon be reincarnated as the “War on Terror,” an American effort to contain the spread of radical Islamic theology, whose growth was largely a response to odious American policies in Islamic countries that produced both the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the terrorist attack by Islamic Jihadist on America of 9/11.

Hence the present debacle in Afghanistan has deep roots in decades of American foreign policy that has kept the US mired in the muck of constant military conflicts, large and small, overt and covert, since the end of World War II.  The intellectual roots of the Afghan war can be found in the machinations of the policy wonks of the Project for a New American Century, that were installed in the American national security apparatus after Dirty Dick Cheney – Liz Cheney’s daddy – brought them into the administration of George W. Bush.

After the disastrous attack by Islamic Jihadist on 9/11, their hawkish theories became official US foreign policy, effectively replacing the more cautious counsel  of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice with the reckless imperialist vision of the likes of  warmongering wonks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, et al.

It was a view premised on the vision of a unipolar world with the US reigning as the only global superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where the US could successfully pursue a policy of Pax-Americana – a new world order based on the prolific use of military power in pursuit of American objectives around the world – with Israel and Saudi Arabia playing pivotal roles in the containment of militant Islam.  The thinking that led us into the present hot mess in Afghanistan, a defeat more inglorious than Vietnam, can be clearly seen in a policy paper formulated in the Project for a New American Century.” 

Titled “Redesigning America’s Defenses,” it was a plan in search of a President foolish enough to implement it – I have published an extensive analysis elsewhere titled “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank.” It will soon be available online.   They tried to introduce it during the Administration of George The First, Bush the Elder, but as a former head of the CIA, he understood too much about the realities of the world to embark on such a reckless adventure.  Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld made their pitch for the ideas that would later appear in the PNAC policy paper when Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Operation Desert Storm, whose mission was to drive the invading armies of Saddam Hussein out of oil rich Kuwait.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, both prominent members of the Bush Administration, wanted to use the conflict to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, but General Powell put the brakes on this blatant attempt at mission creep and uttered the now famous advice to President George HW Bush. Invoking the Pottery Barn Rule, he said: ”If you break it you own it.”  Pointing out that if the US took down Saddam, we would be responsible for putting Iraq back together again.  Wisely, President Bush listened to General Powell, rejecting the advice of the future founders of The Project for a New American Century, whom he and General Powell routinely called “The Crazies” behind their backs.

With the election of George Bush Jr. aka “Clueless George,” the Crazies got the opportunity they had been waiting for.  Dick Cheney, a founder of the Neo-Con think tank, was now Vice President of the United States, and placed in charge of choosing key personnel in the national security apparatus.  And, predictably, Cheyney chose policy wonks from his think tank PNAC.  After the 9/11 Jihadist terror attack on the US, Clueless George panicked and turned to them for guidance – effectively sidelining Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.  And this resulted in the invasions that launched the wars in which we are finally ending in humiliating defeat a generation later!  Alas, looking at the photos of Afghans holding onto departing American military planes in 2021, is indeed like watching a rerun of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975.

            Attempting to Flee Afghanistan with Americans

A Defeated America Retreats 2021

 So, yes there was indeed an intelligence failure that led to our debacle in Afghanistan, but it began in the middle of the last century, when the American government began to believe that they could shape the nations of the world to conform to American desires through containment of undesirable movements, covert political subversion, and armed intervention into the affairs of other nations. There is a straight line from those decisions to now, albeit with some bizarre twists turns and cul de sacs.

Hence when the question of where things went wrong in Afghanistan comes up, the “intelligence failure” that led to the present disaster, I am reminded of a conversation between the great pugilist Sugar Ray Robinson and the Judge conducting an inquest after Robinson accidently beat an opponent to death in the ring.  “When did you know your opponent was in trouble Mr. Robinson,” asked the Judge.  To wit Sugar replied: “I knew he was in trouble when he signed the contract your honor.”

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

8/17/2021