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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 10 June 2004

Topic: Making Use of History

Ronald Reagan is dead. So is Emma Goldman.

Reagan, like Franco, is still dead - not one of my heroes, a little bit of a dim bulb, but pleasant enough. He had five thousand times the intellectual horsepower of the younger Bush, and not much of the inherent mean-spiritedness of the younger Bush. Everyone said he was warm quite good-hearted. But all in all a dangerous man.

On the other hand I saw my own parents slowly fall to Alzheimer's and it wasn't pretty. My memories of all those days, each and every one of those days, are far too precise to feel any glee at this at all.

I didn't care for the man, or his politics. But no one should die that way.

The assessments of the man fill the week. A lot of praise, and also more that a few critical comments on what he actually did and didn't do.

Just after the announcement of his death I received a comment from The News Guy in Atlanta (Rick Brown) -
So the guy hasn't been dead two hours and already I'm getting tired of people talking about him - especially the part (mostly from Novak) about his having ended the cold war. I'm still of the school that says he didn't see it coming, didn't know it when it arrived, and afterward, took credit for it, much like the proverbial rooster taking credit for the dawn.

And suddenly I also feel like the Barbra Streisand character in "The Way We Were" who, on hearing all these friends of her husband rejoicing at FDR's death, screamed something like "For God's sake, have you no shame? The man is dead!" Sorry.

But now that he's "passed," as they say here in the south, and after all these years as an untouchable invalid, are we allowed to criticize him yet? No? Okay, can we at least start filing the paper to rename that airport in Washington?
Suggestions for the new name for Reagan International Airport?

Bill Frist, Republican leader of the senate, wants to rename the Pentagon after Reagan. Others suggest his face replace FDR on the dime, or that we have his face on the twenty dollar bill, or the ten. Poor Alexander Hamilton. Poor Andrew Jackson. Some suggest his face on the fifty-cent piece, replacing JFK. Others suggest he be the fifth face on Mount Rushmore.

There is talk of a monument on the Mall in DC - but Reagan himself signed the bill that made that impossible until the person to be honored had been dead at least twenty-five years. Darn. No one has suggested just renaming the Washington Monument, the big white obelisk, for Reagan. But that will probably come.

This is the man who strongly opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the man who decided the Apartheid rule in South Africa was fine, who laughed at the AIDS problem when he wasn't ignoring it... the list goes on and on.

Christopher Hitchens has his way of putting it -
Reagan announced that apartheid South Africa had "stood beside us in every war we've ever fought," when the South African leadership had been on the other side in the most recent world war. Reagan allowed Alexander Haig to greenlight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, fired him when that went too far and led to mayhem in Beirut, then ran away from Lebanon altogether when the Marine barracks were bombed, and then unbelievably accused Tip O'Neill and the Democrats of "scuttling." Reagan sold heavy weapons to the Iranian mullahs and lied about it, saying that all the weapons he hadn't sold them (and hadn't traded for hostages in any case) would, all the same, have fit on a small truck. Reagan then diverted the profits of this criminal trade to an illegal war in Nicaragua and lied unceasingly about that, too.

Reagan then modestly let his underlings maintain that he was too dense to understand the connection between the two impeachable crimes. He then switched without any apparent strain to a policy of backing Saddam Hussein against Iran. ...
And that's not to mention his record in California.

But all of this is called mean-spirited this week. Maybe it is.

Perhaps it all should be left until next week.

Anything critical said this week is called crassly political at best, and really, at bottom, unpatriotic.

We'll we should be used to this. Agree with Bush and his neoconservative handlers and you'll be called brilliant. Raise an issue and you'll be called an appeaser of terrorists, in league with traitors, if not one yourself.

So next week I will take up a cause someone mentioned to me - getting Reagan's picture on every food stamp printed for the poor.

Well, long before David Frum put the words "Axis of Evil" into George Bush's defining speech, Reagan spoke often about the Evil Empire we had to fight. The sacred word this week is Reagan brought back pride in America and made us patriotic once more. No matter what mistakes he might have made, he did that.

In the meantime, think about what patriotism is.

I found this at a site called Body and Soul and it seems somehow appropriate to the week. The death of Reagan the ceremonies and the funeral swamped all else, or so it seemed.

Here you will find the text from Emma Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays. Second Revised Edition. New York & London: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911. Pages 133-150. Selected excerpts -
PATRIOTISM: A MENACE TO LIBERTY

What is patriotism? Is it love of one's birthplace, the place of childhood's recollections and hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it the place where, in childlike naivet?, we would watch the fleeting clouds, and wonder why we, too, could not run so swiftly? The place where we would count the milliard glittering stars, terror-stricken lest each one "an eye should be," piercing the very depths of our little souls? Is it the place where we would listen to the music of the birds, and long to have wings to fly, even as they, to distant lands? Or the place where we would sit at mother's knee, enraptured by wonderful tales of great deeds and conquests? In short, is it love for the spot, every inch representing dear and precious recollections of a happy, joyous, and playful childhood?

If that were patriotism, few American men of today could be called upon to be patriotic, since the place of play has been turned into factory, mill, and mine, while deafening sounds of machinery have replaced the music of the birds. Nor can we longer hear the tales of great deeds, for the stories our mothers tell today are but those of sorrow, tears, and grief.

What, then, is patriotism? "Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels," said Dr. Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our times, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment for the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the average workingman.

Gustave Herv?, another great anti-patriot, justly calls patriotism a superstition--one far more injurious, brutal, and inhumane than religion. The superstition of religion originated in man's inability to explain natural phenomena. That is, when primitive man heard thunder or saw the lightning, he could not account for either, and therefore concluded that back of them must be a force greater than himself. Similarly he saw a supernatural force in the rain, and in the various other changes in nature. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self-respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit.

Indeed, conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate.

Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that, from early infancy, the mind of the child is poisoned with bloodcurdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood, he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater army and navy, more battleships and ammunition. It is for that purpose that America has within a short time spent four hundred million dollars. Just think of it--four hundred million dollars taken from the produce of the people. For surely it is not the rich who contribute to patriotism. They are cosmopolitans, perfectly at home in every land. We in America know well the truth of this. Are not our rich Americans Frenchmen in France, Germans in Germany, or Englishmen in England? And do they not squander with cosmopolitan grace fortunes coined by American factory children and cotton slaves?

... But, then, patriotism is not for those who represent wealth and power. It is good enough for the people. It reminds one of the historic wisdom of Frederick the Great, the bosom friend of Voltaire, who said: "Religion is a fraud, but it must be maintained for the masses."

That patriotism is rather a costly institution ...

... The awful waste that patriotism necessitates ought to be sufficient to cure the man of even average intelligence from this disease. Yet patriotism demands still more. The people are urged to be patriotic and for that luxury they pay, not only by supporting their "defenders," but even by sacrificing their own children. Patriotism requires allegiance to the flag, which means obedience and readiness to kill father, mother, brother, sister.

The usual contention is that we need a standing army to protect the country from foreign invasion. Every intelligent man and woman knows, however, that this is a myth maintained to frighten and coerce the foolish. The governments of the world, knowing each other's interests, do not invade each other. They have learned that they can gain much more by international arbitration of disputes than by war and conquest. Indeed, as Carlyle said, "War is a quarrel between two thieves too cowardly to fight their own battle; therefore they take boys from one village and another village, stick them into uniforms, equip them with guns, and let them loose like wild beasts against each other."

It does not require much wisdom to trace every war back to a similar cause. ...

... The contention that a standing army and navy is the best security of peace is about as logical as the claim that the most peaceful citizen is he who goes about heavily armed. The experience of every-day life fully proves that the armed individual is invariably anxious to try his strength. The same is historically true of governments. Really peaceful countries do not waste life and energy in war preparations, with the result that peace is maintained.

However, the clamor for an increased army and navy is not due to any foreign danger. It is owing to the dread of the growing discontent of the masses and of the international spirit among the workers. It is to meet the internal enemy that the Powers of various countries are preparing themselves; an enemy, who, once awakened to consciousness, will prove more dangerous than any foreign invader.

The powers that have for centuries been engaged in enslaving the masses have made a thorough study of their psychology. They know that the people at large are like children whose despair, sorrow, and tears can be turned into joy with a little toy. And the more gorgeously the toy is dressed, the louder the colors, the more it will appeal to the million-headed child.

An army and navy represents the people's toys. To make them more attractive and acceptable, hundreds and thousands of dollars are being spent for the display of these toys. That was the purpose of the American government in equipping a fleet and sending it along the Pacific coast, [remember this was written in 1911] that every American citizen should be made to feel the pride and glory of the United States. The city of San Francisco spent one hundred thousand dollars for the entertainment of the fleet; Los Angeles, sixty thousand; Seattle and Tacoma, about one hundred thousand. To entertain the fleet, did I say? To dine and wine a few superior officers, while the "brave boys" had to mutiny to get sufficient food. Yes, two hundred and sixty thousand dollars were spent on fireworks, theatre parties, and revelries, at a time when men, women, and children through the breadth and length of the country were starving in the streets; when thousands of unemployed were ready to sell their labor at any price.

Two hundred and sixty thousand dollars! What could not have been accomplished with such an enormous sum? But instead of bread and shelter, the children of those cities were taken to see the fleet, that it may remain, as one of the newspapers said, "a lasting memory for the child."

A wonderful thing to remember, is it not? The implements of civilized slaughter. If the mind of the child is to be poisoned with such memories, what hope is there for a true realization of human brotherhood?

We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.

Such is the logic of patriotism.

Considering the evil results that patriotism is fraught with for the average man, it is as nothing compared with the insult and injury that patriotism heaps upon the soldier himself,--that poor, deluded victim of superstition and ignorance. He, the savior of his country, the protector of his nation,--what has patriotism in store for him? A life of slavish submission, vice, and perversion, during peace; a life of danger, exposure, and death, during war.

... Thinking men and women the world over are beginning to realize that patriotism is too narrow and limited a conception to meet the necessities of our time. The centralization of power has brought into being an international feeling of solidarity among the oppressed nations of the world; a solidarity which represents a greater harmony of interests between the workingman of America and his brothers abroad than between the American miner and his exploiting compatriot; a solidarity which fears not foreign invasion, because it is bringing all the workers to the point when they will say to their masters, "Go and do your own killing. We have done it long enough for you."
Well, Emma Goldman isn't one someone should cite, I suppose.

She was a radical and an anarchist. Heck, finally 1936 she committed herself to the support of the anarchists and their fight against fascism and Stalinism - that Civil War in Spain. Against Franco, who wasn't dead then. She died in 1940. This is all just ancient history.

But she was onto something.

Posted by Alan at 21:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 10 June 2004 22:14 PDT home

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