Category Archives: History
Speaking to the crowd of Poor People’s Campaign demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court building 6-13-18, Reverend William Barber II, co-leader of the campaign, said, “I heard a friend of mine. He’s dead, but I heard him in a book. He was gay. He’s a powerful brother. And he said something like this in the 1930s, in the middle of traumatic times, that still has relevancy today to us:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every person is free.
The land that is mine—the poor man’s, the Indian’s, the Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Call me any ugly name you choose—
But the steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
That America will be!
It’s a good thing I listen to selected episodes of “Democracy Now” via podcast, or I would have missed last Wednesday’s incredibly moving story about the Poor People’s campaign, barely mentioned in the New York Times. I hope you’ll go to http://www.democracy now.org and listen too. The story of the arrests (for demonstrating in front of the Supreme Court, which had just upheld suppression of voter rights in Ohio), what participants had to say, and the songs they sang (“Everybody got a right to live”) had me on the verge of tears. Go to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and volunteer to join the campaign and/or donate. I did both.
This campaign inspires me for two powerful reasons: its goals not only need to be realized, but when they are the promises of my era, the ’60s, will be fulfilled (this campaign is a continuation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign). Another key podcast, a speech by Black Panther founder and leader Bobby Seale broadcast on June 7th, is available on Alternative Radio (www.alternativeradio.org). Seale’s ideas are right in line with the Poor People’s Campaign. Power to the people!
As a student of history, particularly Russian history, I was curious about the new film “The Death of Stalin,” then appalled when I did some online research and found out that it’s a slapstick comedy about officials grasping for power after Stalin died in 1953. What’s funny about something like this? Nothing. Also shocking is the way the film gives absolutely no context about Stalin, one of the key historical figures, for good or ill, of the 20th century. As Peter Hitchens, a London reader of The Guardian wrote in that paper’s letters section on 10-27-17, “As far as I know, this is the first time a mass-market film has dealt with this event. We may be saturated with serious drama and documentary material on the Nazis and the end of Hitler, but the equivalent evils of the Stalin nightmare haven’t received anything like the same treatment. For most who see the film, it will be the first time they’ve ever heard of these strange events. And what do they see? An intensely serious moment in human history played for laughs, with lavatory humor and plentiful use of the failed comedian’s standby, the F-word. We’re so free and safe that we can hardly begin to imagine a despot so terrifying that his subordinates are even afraid of his corpse. This trivial and inaccurate squib doesn’t help us to do so. Perhaps it’s the comedians who need to be satirized, by some fitting seriousness about a serious subject.”
The only critical review I found of the film online was one posted on the World Socialist website (www.wsws.org) on 3-9-18. David Walsh describes it as “a fatally ill-conceived ‘black comedy’ about the demise of the gravedigger of the Russian Revolution, Joseph Stalin, in March 1953. The film is not so much maliciously anticommunist as it is, above all, historically clueless. Iannucci presents the various surviving Stalinist officials, Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Nikolai Bulganin, and the rest, all of whom had gallons of blood on their hands, as a largely ineffectual bunch of bunglers and toadies, jockeying ‘comically’ for position. The betrayal of the Russian Revolution was one of the greatest tragedies in world history [not to mention the planned famine in Ukraine and Stalin’s purges, which together killed more people than Hitler]. Iannucci’s film doesn’t begin to confront the vast significance of events in the Soviet Union.
Taken in and of themselves, there are amusing lines and moments, until one remembers the general context and the historical stakes, and the laughter freezes in one’s throat. All the actors are fine at doing what they’re asked to do, but what they’re asked to do is terribly off the mark. It’s impossible to make sense of a film like ‘The Death of Stalin’ except in the context of the disastrously low level of historical knowledge or interest that exists in the arts at present.
Iannucci is a Scottish-born television, film and radio writer and director, responsible for ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ (along with Steve Coogan), ‘The Thick of It,’ ‘In the Loop,’ and ‘Veep,’ among other efforts, and under the right circumstances, he’s capable of creating funny, pointed satire. When it comes to bringing out the dishonesty, careerist opportunism, and stupidity of garden-variety politicians, media personalities, and other establishment figures, he probably has few equals today. However, when the writer-director steps outside the fairly narrow confines of parliamentary and entertainment industry backroom shenanigans, he falters badly. The second half of ‘In the Loop,’ which satirized the British government’s complicity in the Bush administration’s drive to war in Iraq, is politically blunted and largely unfunny. HBO’s ‘Veep,’ too, about a fictional female US vice president, finds Iannucci over his head. For all its coarseness, it’s quite timid in its portrayal of the ugliness of American politics, with little mention of war policy, drone strikes, and other things that surely consume a great deal of a real president’s focus and attention.
Art and comedy have to rise to – or at least approach – the level of the events or personalities they’re treating. That is, there needs to be some artistic and intellectual correspondence between subject and object. Iannucci’s film is based on a [non-comic] French graphic novel series by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. Iannucci has undoubtedly added his own touch. And it’s simply inappropriate and, at times, grotesque.”
I believe history, as the backstory to current and future events, is the key to understanding where we are and where we could go, and I’m more than saddened by the preponderant lack of knowledge of or interest in it today – probably because of the boring, textbook-centered way it’s taught in high school. Good historical novels and films can make up for some of this, but bad ones, like “The Death of Stalin” just deepen the ignorance. Take the time to be curious about your world, and how it came to be the way it currently is. Find important history books by reading reviews on Amazon, then buy or borrow and read them!
According to Wikipedia, Zionism is “the national movement of the Jewish people that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic land of Israel (Eretz Israel in Hebrew). Modern Zionism emerged in the late 19th century in central and eastern Europe as a national revival movement, both in reaction to new waves of anti-Semitism and as an imitative response to other exclusionary nationalist movements. Soon after this, most leaders of the movement associated the main goal with creating the desired state in Palestine, then an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionism continues primarily to advocate on behalf of Israel and to address threats to its continued existence and security.”
Wikipedia also says that around 1895 Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian writer and political activist, rejected his earlier ideas regarding Jewish emancipation and assimilation and came to believe that, since anti-Semitism couldn’t be defeated or cured, Jews needed to remove themselves from Europe and establish a Jewish state. His work led to the First Zionist Congress at Basel in 1897, which created the World Zionist Organization. When Herzl’s attempts to reach a political agreement with the Ottoman rulers of Palestine were unsuccessful, he sought the support of other governments, culminating in the British Balfour Declaration of 1917 announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which then had a minority Jewish population of around 3–5%. The British made this promise in the throes of World War I, hoping to obtain American Jewish support, while at the same time making contradictory promises to Arabs also seeking national self-determination.
After the war was over, the British occupied and attempted to govern Palestine as a League of Nations mandate. They grew more and more frustrated in their efforts to keep the peace and satisfy both the native Palestinians – the Muslim (Arab) majority, Arab Christians, and longtime Jewish residents, who actually opposed Zionism – and the new influx of European Jewish settlers. According to the book I just finished reading, which I’ll describe in just a minute, this was mainly because of the intransigent attitudes of the latter group: Zionists living on donations who believed they had a historical and racial right to the whole of the area.
The book is called State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel. By a researcher and writer named Thomas Suárez and published in 2017, it demonstrates “how violence and terror were used by Zionist militias [which after 1948 became the Israeli Defense Force] against Arabs and the British to transform Arab Palestine into a Jewish state.” I’m quoting from the back cover, but trust me – the claim is true, and depressing as the litany of horrors is, I hope everyone who reads this will get a hold of a copy.
Again from the back cover: “The Israeli-Palestine conflict is often seen an inevitable clash between two ethnic groups – Arabs and Jews – inhabiting the same land. In fact, as this book shows, what actually occurred was the takeover of an Arab land, Palestine, by a political organization of European Jews, Zionists, using terror tactics to assert by force a claim to the land that has no [moral or] legal basis. Thomas Suárez has written a shocking book detailing a litany of terrorist acts over a period of [37 years, from 1918 to 1955], against the British government, the indigenous Palestinians, and even Jews who disagreed with terrorism. Suárez has discovered documents in the British archives, many revealed here for the first time, which establish beyond doubt that far from being isolated incidents by rogue groups, the use of terror to acquire and keep Palestine for the Jews was deliberate, planned, and sustained well into the early years of the Jewish state. It also casts new light on the use of violence by Israel against the Palestinians,” bringing the total of years this has been going on to 99 – almost a century!
The reason there can be no peace in the Middle East isn’t because the Palestinians refuse to negotiate, as the Israeli government would have us believe – or because in retaliation for Israeli aggression, the residents of blockaded and horribly suffering Gaza periodically retaliate with crude rockets. It’s because the still-Zionist Israeli government hasn’t completed its project of securing Eretz Israel just for Jews. It’s hoping to complete the ethic cleansing of “their” land by making the Palestinians of tiny Gaza and the patchwork West Bank suffer as badly their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents – die or leave!
I thought I knew most of this stuff, but here are some things I didn’t know:
Far from caring about other European Jews suffering anti-Semitism, especially during the Hitler years and immediately post-World War II, the Zionists refused to help them in any way unless they agreed to emigrate to Israel. They even tore children from adoptive homes in France and Britain for this purpose.
Zionists extorted money from non-Zionist Jews in Palestine and also threatened harm to teenagers (and their families) who didn’t enlist in their paramilitary force.
And they didn’t just ethnic cleanse before and after achieving statehood in 1948 – they raped, tortured, and mutilated, ordering Palestinians into their homes and then burning or bombing them. They even used bacteriological warfare, poisoning Palestinian wells with cholera. Israeli troops were even ordered to send people into the desert with no food or water – to die – just as the Turks did to Armenians during World War I (the Armenian genocide). And make no mistake about it, this is genocide – in no way justified by anti-Semitism or the Holocaust.
Zionist propaganda has and continues to be quite successful in the United States. And then and now, when that doesn’t work, the accusation of anti-Semitism is thrown in our faces. Well, sorry – I’m not anti-Semitic, just anti-terrorist and anti- these horrendous massacres – so, therefore, anti-Zionist and anti- the Israeli government.
As hard as it is to do, I hope you’ll also familiarize yourselves with these lies and injustices. Even if we can’t stop it or make it not have happened, we owe it to the victims to know and spread the truth. I think and hope that eventually that will stop it.