Archives for category: history


In Flanders Fields 1915 John McCrae

Especially appropriate since this is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the horrors of the First World War

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.


See, here’s the thing that is being lost in all the hubbub over the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, and the incident itself. They are SYMBOLS, symbols of one thing to one side, and of another to the other side. Symbols are POWERFUL, emotionally resonant and in a lot of cases more powerful than the things they symbolize. THAT is the reason for the unrest in LA and elsewhere, and for the intense emotions on both sides. I would like to believe we could look at this as a teaching and learning opportunity, an opportunity to look objectively about what really is going on in this country, even after five years of having a black president. He, Obama, is just a symbol too. If we continue to focus on the symbols and fail to ignore or trivialize the underlying realities, we will never find common ground and will continue lurching along on our course to oblivion and irrelevance.

We did not invent democracy. We have not, all propagandistic, patriotic blandishments to the contrary, even perfected it. Who are we, really, to tell the citizens of Egypt, or Turkey, or Syria, or Iraq, how to achieve it? It is a messy, long process, especially in countries where there is no history of democratic rule. The historical perspective we need to even BEGIN to understand what is happening in Egypt and elsewhere will not even be available until after I am gone. That is just the way it is. However, that won’t stop the pundits from bloviating and pontificating (how those words sound like excretory functions, which they are). David Brooks isn’t the only culprit. The US is the empire now, and is seen as such from more parts of the world than it is not. There is a new Orientalism afoot, and it ain’t pretty. Edward Said, where are you when we need you? I would love to be able to hear your insights on the events of the past few years in the Arab world.

index(6)837997257Snowden’s Run

This story proved the accuracy of the cliche “truth is stranger than fiction” a couple of weeks ago. And it just keeps getting stranger. One of the most interesting aspects to me is how the supremacy and power of the US government is being challenged. And, in this latest chapter, how sovereign governments kowtow to the wishes of the US government and do their bidding. In a way, I think, the incident is prescient about how things are going to be in the future. By this I mean the struggle between the global south, or third world, or whatever, and the nations who have traditionally controlled the world for centuries. We are seeing the beginnings of huge change here, change which I regret I likely won’t be around to witness.

The image that comes to mind is Gulliver, prostrate on the ground and being harassed by the Lilliputians who are swarming around him and restricting his movement by staking him to the ground. Bravo to Morales, and Kirchner, and to an extent even Putin, who are exercising their sovereignty and by their actions acknowledging the reality that the US has lost its moral and political authority in the world. A new world is here, and as is usually the way with superpowers, the US is the last to realize it.

The (not so new) F word

May be a little overwrought, but in general I agree with the thoughts expressed here. I reserve the use of the word “fascism” until I believe a certain line has been crossed. I don’t believe we have crossed that line yet, I don’t even know where it IS, but I do believe we are dancing perilously close to it. Civilizations and cultures in decline resort to extreme measures to preserve themselves, and their power, only to finally find that the lengths to which they went result, in time, not in their continuance, but their destruction. Examples through history are numerous, and I believe that the so-called American Century ended in 1989, with the collapse of Communism. It didn’t last long, not even a full 100 years, but what I see now is pretty convincing evidence of a culture in decline and spasmically lashing out, most especially at the weak and relatively defenseless, in a vain effort to preserve itself.

Walter Benjamin on writing

Once again, he nails it. i have found this to be true for myself, that if I let an idea for an essay stay in its cocoon for a while longer, it will metamorphose into something stronger, more fully formed, able to support itself on its wings.

Français : Walter Benjamin en 1928

Français : Walter Benjamin en 1928 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Angelus Novus by Paul Klee

Walter Benjamin‘s concept of the angel of history has particular resonance for me, in looking at how things go in the world. I quote, “A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

— Walter Benjamin,

Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

Benjamin saw what was happening in and to Europe in the 30’s, and particularly what was happening to Jews. He chose to take his own life, in 1940, rather than deal with the horror or take the chance of being corralled by the Nazis.

Benjamin’s observation, or insight, is from a completely different time from our own. Its relevance to human history in general, however, is timeless. I quote here from an essay on by Henry Giroux, linked below:
“we are pulled forward by future happiness – [when] in fact, [as Benjamin noted], we are pushed from behind by the horror of destruction we keep perpetrating on the way.”

The promise of a brighter future is constantly held before us, but we, at least most of us will never get there, neither in this life or whatever may come after. Most of us will experience the stick, in one way or the other, much more often than we will taste the sweetness of the carrot. It doesn’t HAVE to be this way, but as the system currently is constructed, and works, this is how it is. It is up to us to change it if we can muster the desire, pull away from the distractions constantly dangled in front of us, and bond together with like-minded individuals to enact change.