The Last Idealist

WARNING: This is a long post.

“They watched him bang away at Berkeley and other campuses, a man nearing eighty-one commanding the attention of student crowds usually scornful of anyone over thirty.”

NOT Bernie Sanders. Norman Thomas.

The Book of the Week is “Norman Thomas, The Last Idealist” by W.A. Swanberg, published in 1976.

Born in November 1884 in Marion, Ohio, Thomas began attending divinity school in 1908, pursuant to his parents’ wish for him to become a Presbyterian reverend, like his father. He espoused the political ideology of a socialist, believing that antisocial behavior could be eliminated if people the world over were provided with a decent standard of living, as there would be no class resentment.

However, Thomas’ marriage to an heiress allowed him to live better than those he aided financially. Initially, the couple lived on an ethnically mixed, high-crime block in East Harlem, among Irish, Jews, Italians and Hungarians. He ministered to parishioners and established social programs at various churches.

Thomas was a charismatic public speaker and a pacifist, keeping busy “eight days a week” with all kinds of political, social and religious groups. He rubbed shoulders with the political influencers of the day, including president Woodrow Wilson. During WWI, he asked the president to refrain from conscripting conscientious objectors– both the devout and those who held sketchy religious beliefs like atheists (and agnostics like himself).

Thomas got in trouble and was forced to resign from his various groups for pacifist speechifying and distribution of pacifist publications (which were censored)– a clear and present danger once America entered WWI. Conscientious objectors and pacifists like himself were getting arrested and jailed. He railed that all Americans had a right to free speech (and later helped found the ACLU); hypocritically, the country was fighting the war in order to combat the fascist Prussians.

Although in 1917 Thomas endorsed the Socialist Party candidate Morris Hillquit for mayor of New York City, Thomas actually delayed joining the Party until the end of the war. Hillquit thought Thomas could be instrumental in getting more Gentiles to join, as the New York City chapter was overwhelmingly Jewish.

Both the Socialist and Communist parties ran candidates for mayor even though they knew they would lose. Each hoped to convert the members of the other’s Party to join their own. The socialists’ enemies smeared them all as Bolshevists (though only a few were on the far left fringe), as the Russian Revolution heated up.

In the 1920’s, the ruling class committed a lot of violence against the working class when there occurred labor unrest. The Palmer raids resulted in beatings, arrests and jailings. The government reasoned that violence was a necessary (temporary!) evil in restoring democracy. That was the same thinking of the Communists in America who felt the Soviets were creating the right kind of political system, but that the oppression would eventually cease.

Thomas wisely stayed Socialist through the decades, as he saw that Communists were totalitarian. Nevertheless, he was conflicted, as he took heart in the fact that the Russians fought against Fascism: by aiding the Loyalists in Spain during its civil war, and during WWII. Some American Communists were thrown for a loop after Stalin made a pact with Hitler in 1939; others, when Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s human rights abuses and atrocities in 1956.

In 1920, New York State Assembly speaker Thaddeus Sweet, a Republican, took the undemocratic action of suspending five New York State Assembly members just for being in the Socialist Party. Their constituents included sixty thousand voters in New York City. The Assembly voted 145-2 to expel them altogether. They were accused of seeking to break up traditional families, being anti-religious, and opposing capitalism.

In 1933, membership in the Socialist Party reached its peak, numbering about nineteen thousand. But those who had been spellbound by the shrewd, entertaining Thomas, began to back FDR instead; the latter began to offer similar social programs and was already president. Many voters thought the evils of capitalism had caused the Great Depression. Others turned to hatred spouted by rabble rousers like Father Coughlin, Hitler and Mussolini.

In the 1930’s, there were heated discussions, debates and decisions that never pleased everyone, between and among all the different factions (Communists, Trotskyites, Old Guard, Militant-Centrist, etc.) in election years and at political conventions. Up until 1936, they used various communications outlets to spread their gospel: the Rand School, the Jewish Daily Forward, a radio station, publications like the New Leader, and a summer camp.

In 1940, the American Labor Party favored FDR, who supported capitalism and war. Thomas acted as a spoiler, as he was still an anti-capitalist and pacifist. He bristled at Britain’s colonialism in India. Jews in New York City felt the need to fight Hitler, so their allegiance lay with FDR, especially after December 1941.

Arguably, Thomas engaged in hypocrisy in his choosing to ally with the Nazi-friendly Charles Lindbergh, but only because the latter wanted America to stay out of the war. Lindbergh, and Joseph P. Kennedy were the kinds of individuals who attached themselves to Hitler because they thought Germany would win the war. That way, in the end, they’d be on the winning side. They would get the spoils. Fortunately, on WWII, they guessed wrong.

Fast forward to spring 1960. After the U-2 incident, Thomas wrote, “… in the widely played game of peacetime espionage, we lie and cheat like the rest of them– only better, we now boast, because of our technical skill. In the anarchy of sovereign nations there are no morals, there is no crime, except to be caught.”

In summer 1963, Thomas, a Princeton University graduate, got his article published in the alumni magazine. He expressed his dismay that the school received a bit more than half (!) of its total budget from federal grants. He wanted to know what proportion of those were made on behalf of the Pentagon. No word on whether anyone answered him. Later, Thomas was bothered that the younger generation was rooting for the NLF and the Vietcong rather than trying to lobby LBJ to stop the Vietnam War. He advised them to wash, instead of burn, the American flag.

In the mid to late 1960’s, Thomas was able to push his causes because his articles were printed in the national, high-circulation Life and Playboy and Esquire magazines; he also did TV interviews with highly rated shows. Unfortunately, publicity is only a small ingredient that is part of the planning process in getting people to adopt causes. Thomas, even with all his popularity, lacked the other ingredients on and off during the entire course of his career: funding and executing (actually getting elected to office).

Read the book to learn of the numerous elective offices for which Thomas ran as a Socialist and his adventures in connection therewith globally: speaking, publishing and socializing with diplomats; of the details of decades-long Socialist Party infighting; the shocking revelation that came to light about the CIA in 1967; and much, much more.

ENDNOTE: This blogger would like to clarify once and for all, what characterizes a few different economic and political systems.

First:

With SOCIALISM, the people collectively own entities, and share and share alike. These can be profit-seeking businesses. The government can own entities that provide essential services, that should not be profit-seeking (but some of their subcontractors are, anyway), such as libraries, welfare, healthcare, early childhood education, infrastructure, and social programs.

With COMMUNISM, the government owns profit-seeking entities (businesses) in whole or in part (as in the former Soviet Union and China). So yes, these
include public-private partnerships in which there are clearly outrageous conflicts of interest that result in patronage and profiteering. So, arguably, the former Soviet Union and China have both Socialism and Communism to a large degree.

Also, see a bunch of this blog’s posts: Wikinomics, Here At the New Yorker (beginning with the 9th paragraph), Street Without A Name, Against the Grain, Crossing the River, and Patriot Number One. Lastly, see a bunch of excerpts from this blog’s posts:

  • Klima got a job with a construction crew [in Czechoslovakia in the 1950’s], where he got his first taste of socialism in action. “No one could earn more than was necessary for daily subsistence.” The government was stealing the economic surplus from the people. That was why corruption came into play. He was pressured into joining, surprise, surprise, the Communist Party. He said, “I was stunned by how the environment bubbled over with rancor, continual suspicion, malicious gossip, and personnel screening.”
  • Fast forward to 2007. Dubai’s small population of about a million citizens (mostly royal family members) allowed the government to adopt a socialist policy of generous entitlements, including an average annual $55,000 in stimulus money, and low-cost or no-cost: cooling of their lavish homes, car-fuel, food, education, healthcare, and water.
  • In late 1993, mayor Chirac [in Paris, France]– a socialist at heart– agreed to start a (no-charge) ambulance service for the homeless in Paris. By 1995, via the city council, against the wishes of the socialist (federal) government, he provided free medical care to 150,000 homeless people.
  • In the early 1920’s, “After 2 decades of debate and agitation, the rise and fall of Populist, Progressive and Socialist parties…” and lots of labor unrest, there was general consensus between government and American business “… that the role of government was not to supersede or control the corporation, but to legalize and legitimize it by regulating its excesses.” [As is well known, capitalism flourished until the late 1920’s.]
  • Because East Germany was a police state with a socialist mentality, the people availed themselves of a free university education. Merkel got hers, as well as a doctorate in nuclear physics. In exchange, she was required to work for the government for a specific period.
  • They examined democratic, autocratic and socialistic models of leadership. The most mature group was found in the first model. The second spawned a form of Nazism. The third model’s group members displayed resentment of lazy and non-cooperative individuals.
  • Although Communism preaches godlessness, the supervising Soviet government [in East Germany] allowed some religious activity among the local citizens. Merkel’s family was spied on by the Stasi- the secret police. It was cost-effective and efficient. For, all the socially dangerous elements (potential subversives) were in one place.
  • For four decades, Czechoslovakians forced to live under Communism had been told everything was great. In January 1990, Havel truthfully told his countrymen that the nation was in an economically, infrastructurally, environmentally and ethically horrible state. The younger generation who had been born into the Soviet mentality– unless they were dissidents– were obedient robots. So converting people to a capitalist, liberated, honest way of thinking was very difficult.
  • Blakely thought that bringing capitalism to them [Siberian people] would be a good thing. However, they soon developed an insatiable appetite for consumer goods. Once they were made of aware of their severe deprivation by the media and increased their connections with the rest of the world, they became depressed. Previously, they had been happy due to their ignorance of how materially poor they were.
  • After the Korean War, the Communist Party of North Korea oppressed business owners– who were considered evil capitalists, but praised farmers and peasants– who were considered virtuous; they served the Party. Adults were forced to attend self-criticism meetings every Saturday morning. The meeting leaders punished them by making them stand up against the wall while others stared at them. Around the time she started school, Jang and her mother went to a theater for the first time. They saw a movie written by their fearless leader, Kim il-sung. Of course, it ended happily because the peasants conquered the landlords.
  • Once in power [in 2000, Communist] Putin actually kick-started the Russian economy by nationalizing oil companies, and taking control of the gas industry and television.
  • In order for any native (Chinese) to prevail at a journalism career, joining the Communist Party was mandatory. This involved attending Party conferences on some weekends.
  • Under Vladimir Lenin in 1918 Russia, “The very notion of pleasure from flavorful food was reviled as capitalist degeneracy.” Millions died of starvation under [Communist] Stalin in 1927 when he took over the means of grain production.
  • It examines the issue of whether Berlusconi practiced Fascism, not necessarily through creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, but through monopolistically broadcasting propaganda in the guise of education, to the masses. He combined his business dealings with politics to amass a staggering amount of power, with the usual conflicts of interest that come with the territory.
  • He [Charles Koch] became a convert to it [Libertarianism] in its most extreme form. It espouses the belief that a purely capitalist society is the best economic system. This means total deregulation, no entitlements such as government-administered retirement or medical plans, no unions, no socialism of any kind, no income tax, and a government whose role is only to protect citizens and property from each other and outsiders, and from fraud. As a result of their political mentality, Charles and David could have cared less about the environmental destruction and wrongful deaths their company caused due to poorly maintained oil and gas pipelines. Perhaps to salve his conscience, David made huge donations to cultural institutions, especially in New York City. The liberals (hypocritically) gratefully accepted the money, notwithstanding David’s political activities that led to rack and ruin.
  • In the early 1990’s, [Soviet] leader Boris Yeltsin became a convert of [Jeffrey] Sachs. The result was mass corruption. On the other hand, this has helped the United States and other nations with already evolved [mostly] capitalist systems to maintain their economic dominance in the world. This blogger is not saying such a goal is right or wrong, but merely suggesting that this might have been Sachs’ goal.

***

Strom Thurmond’s America

The Book of the Week is “Strom Thurmond’s America” by Joseph Crespino, published in 2012.

Born in December 1902 in South Carolina, Thurmond grew up in the small-town farming community of Edgefield. His father was an attorney and his family was wealthy and aristocratic.

In 1929, Thurmond became schools superintendent in his hometown. He favored giving a teachers a raise and extending the academic year, funded by the state through a beer tax. He entered into a legal apprenticeship under his father, and in 1933, as a Democrat, was elected to South Carolina’s state senate. Three years later, he became a circuit-court judge, traveling around the state to preside over county-court cases.

During the Depression, the way Thurmond and his fellow southern Democrats defined themselves as “liberal” allowed them to support FDR’s New Deal in order to provide financial aid for white farmers and low-skilled industrial workers in their districts.

After fighting in WWII, Thurmond ran for governor as a Democrat. He was a white-supremacist, mudslinging, drama-queen, populist demagogue while campaigning. Although he did some good things, his actions were always politically expedient. In 1947, he actually delivered on a promise to have South Carolina law enforcement and FBI agents round up 31 (white) men who were suspects in the lynching of a black man. However, a jury of twelve white men acquitted the suspects.

At the time, the United States was helping to establish the United Nations– an international body that concerned itself with respecting human rights. There was pressure on the state of South Carolina to help America maintain a good reputation in that regard, so Thurmond spoke in favor of a federal anti-lynching law. Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats wanted to continue to prevent intermingling of blacks and whites so as to not contaminate the genes of the latter. He therefore denigrated every one of president Truman’s civil rights proposals.

And Thurmond was always arguing for state-level laws. To that end, in 1948, he ran for president on the States’ Rights ticket (a third party) in order to play the spoiler against Truman to kill civil rights legislation. But postwar, he returned to a lucrative law practice.

Thurmond then sided with corporate America and the kings of industry in oil, cattle, sugar planters, mercantile and shipping entities, steel, coal, and textiles, etc. He became rabidly anti-Communist and anti-union. Up until 1950 in South Carolina, voting for the Republican Party was NOT anonymous. If one wanted to do so, one had to request a ballot at the polls when he or she voted.

Thurmond ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1954 as a write-in candidate (due to the previous officeholder’s death) even though his fellow Democrats were less than thrilled that he had disloyally run as a third-party candidate in 1948.

A litany of events and groups influenced voters in the South: the Korean War, the Democratic National Committee, the federal goings-on, the CIO, the NAACP, the national labor movement, the upward mobility of urbanites, and backlash (by whites) against southern blacks consequent to Truman’s civil rights legislation.

In the early 1960’s, Thurmond executed a series of far-right-wing campaigns that failed. For one, he pushed for the Nike-Zeus missile program that would help America respond to an attack by the U.S.S.R.; another had him holding hearings to stop JFK from scotching a military education initiative that would spew anti-Communist rhetoric. Finally, in September 1964, Thurmond announced he was a (Barry) Goldwater Republican.

Two prominent legal minds (William Rehnquist and Robert Bork) expressed their opinions that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would lead to a tattletale culture when it came to civil rights violations. Another indicator of the mentality of then-conservatives was that of blaming the Supreme Court for its pro-desegregation stance in a 1969 ruling in a major case, instead of blaming president Nixon.

Two years later, however, in 1971, Thurmond hired a black staffer (!) He needed to repair his reputation after he backed conservative Democrat congressman Albert Watson, who agreed with him on civil rights issues but ran a dirty campaign in 1970. Thurmond needed to woo moderate Republican voters to get reelected in 1972. Nevertheless, he stuck with Nixon until the end.

In sum, the current COVID face-covering issue in American schools is as controversial as desegregation-busing was from the mid-1960’s into the mid-1970’s. Shortly before he was reelected in 1972, Thurmond actually said, “If it [busing] improves the quality of education, then busing is good. If it doesn’t, then I think it’s bad.” According to their respective memoirs, busing was good for Vernon Jordan, but was socially traumatic and a hardship for Donna Brazile.

So letting local officials decide, pursuant to the majority of their constituents’ preferences, might have been a better policy. And if local officials acted against those preferences, then community organizing and political activism in neighborhoods that believed in education, would likely lead to some changes in the next election year. Dissatisfaction would reach critical mass eventually, in those districts.

Incidentally, in 1975, Senator Joe Biden listened to his constituents in his state of Delaware. He wrote a bill making race irrelevant to assignment of students and teachers to schools.

Read the book to learn of: the skeleton in Thurmond’s closet, his presidential-run results, his one-man filibuster, the historical events (Supreme Court cases and election campaigns) that compelled him to change with the times (or else he would see the end of his political career), the differences between his style of campaigning and that of Jesse Helms, and much more.

The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit

The Book of the Week is “The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor” by Nelson Lichtenstein, published in 1995.

Born in September 1907 in West Virginia, Walter Reuther was of German ancestry, raised Lutheran. He quit high school to learn the tool and die trade. In February 1927, he and a friend moved to Detroit for better pay and hours. He eventually made his way to Ford Motor Company, where he quickly rose through the ranks before the Great Depression hit America.

In the early 1930’s, Ford opened a plant to manufacture its Model “A” in the Soviet Union. Americans who believed in socialism were aware that the Stalin-led Soviet government ruled via one party– the Communist, and was perpetrating human rights abuses. But they liked certain economic aspects of its experimental “Five Year Plan.”

Beginning in early 1933, Walter and his brother Victor bicycled a distance of approximately twelve thousand kilometers during the nine months they were meeting with their European political contacts in various countries. In spring 1933, they were already seeing Fascist oppression in major German cities. In late 1933, they began working in a few Soviet industrial complexes to see labor and political conditions for themselves.

By the late 1930’s, the famine caused by Stalin’s disastrous agricultural-reform program prompted peasant-farmers to go to work in the factories that made steel, cars and tractors. In mid-1934, since they were foreigners and skilled middle-managers (training workers in tool and die making), Walter and Victor were permitted to travel between Stalingrad and Moscow to visit construction projects, collective farms and tractor factories. They were chaperoned by Party bureaucrats. They got special treatment, so perhaps they did not see the abuses suffered by unskilled workers. Their experiences led them to believe that the Soviet system was far less of a police-state than Germany’s.

Walter and Victor wanted to believe so badly in a Soviet workers’ paradise that they rationalized away the serious problems (such as impossible-to-meet production quotas, and reports of fancifully high numbers of vehicles manufactured). In 1934, on supervised tours, the brothers also took a look at labor conditions in China and Japan. October 1935 saw them return to the United States.

On May Day of 1936, in major cities across America, various political groups were speaking in the public square with the goal of unionizing workers; some of them– the Socialists, Proletarian and Communist parties– united to form a Popular Front (the joke in Spain was, “the girl with the Popular Front”).

By the mid-1930’s, the auto industry (which included carmakers, parts suppliers, tool and die makers, etc.) consisted of about a half million union members, thirty thousand of whom were in the United Auto Workers (UAW), a national union. In autumn 1936, Walter became a member of that union’s executive board. He planned and got employees to execute work-stoppages and sit-down strikes in order to get the big automakers like GM, Ford, Chrysler and Dodge to grant collective bargaining rights exclusively to the UAW. Other workplaces such as U.S. Steel were inspired to take such actions, too.

Ford was particularly hostile in its anti-union activities, as it had an in-house security department that spied on workers, fired some, and used violence against photographers. GM took measures to protect against productivity losses by rotating its parts suppliers and building new plants in different locations.

In the late 1930’s, Walter launched propaganda campaigns with the distribution of leaflets, and ran pro-union candidates in local political elections in Midwestern cities. In October 1945, he knew that his UAW workers couldn’t win their strike on just solidarity and militancy. He needed support from other ordinary Americans and the federal government. In January 1946, union workers in a bunch of other industries struck, too; electrical, meatpacking, steel milling, and iron mining.

By the late 1940’s, the power of the unions and corruption in government skyrocketed, so that organized crime used bribery, patronage-contracts and and physical violence in order to rule the “… construction industry, short haul trucking, East Coast longshoring , and the bakery and restaurant trades.”

It is a little-publicized datum that in 1962, president Kennedy granted a cut to all taxpayers that favored corporate America, which also got tax breaks. The rich got richer. That same year, members of the UAW executive board included 21 Caucasians, and one African American, whom they knew wouldn’t buck the status quo.

By then, Walter, a liberal, realized he had been incorrect in thinking that the American labor movement would eliminate discrimination in the workplace when the unions and the economy were strong. But he was still stubborn in insisting on an all-or-nothing egalitarianism. Others of his political ilk, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson were willing to compromise with the Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats who opposed civil-rights legislation) to make a little progress rather than none. The following year, Walter had become more flexible, as he was friendly with JFK and his brother.

In July 1967, the race riots in Detroit resulted in the deaths of 43 people and $250 million in property damage. The mayor, and the governor of Michigan assigned a 39-member panel of leaders and influencers in the community to suggest solutions for quelling hostilities. Various actions were taken; among the major ones:

  • throwing money at low-cost housing;
  • hiring of black workers at Ford and GM; and
  • throwing money at black community groups

but nothing seemed to help. The automakers moved their plants from Detroit to Troy and Dearborn.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on Walter’s trials, tribulations, triumphs, and disputes with the AFL and CIO (unions competing against, and with different views from, the UAW); the growing-pains of the labor movement– how it was affected by: the WWII years (hint– the government ordered it to make war weaponry), political elections, regulation of pricing / wages / production in the steel industry, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War; how and why different automakers’ compensation structures changed, and much more. See this blog’s post “See You In Court” for more information on the pros and cons of unions in America.

Tough Love – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Tough Love, My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For” by Susan Rice, published in 2019.

Rice– of Jamaican ancestry on her mother’s side, and African American on her father’s side– spent her childhood in Washington, D.C. She was a key player in foreign policy during the presidential administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

In economics and foreign policy, president Ronald Reagan truly led a “Revolution” that has lasted forty years. American political, economic, and even cultural hegemony began to be taken for granted. The way his administration papered over the downsides of the United States’ military intervention in the world’s hotspots (except for Lebanon), made “might makes right” acceptable again, less than a decade (!) after Vietnam.

Rice (post-Obama) had an awakening similar to that of Jeanne Kirkpatrick (post-Reagan) when she naively wrote, “At the time, the notion we could send U.S. forces to a faraway land to save innocent lives only to have our lives taken away was infuriating and bewildering.”

Yet Rice sometimes favored sending in troops (through the UN) during the many instances of bloody unrest (some genocidal) that reared their ugly heads on various continents in the 1990’s into the 2000’s. She put in her two cents in heated, emotionally stressful debates over civil wars in Somalia, Rwanda, Libya (which eventually became a quagmire– unsurprisingly), Syria, etc.

Often, the alleged initial mission of NATO was to stem the proliferation of deaths of civilians. But in the long run– even with all kinds of assistance (military, political, humanitarian) from democratic countries– civilians in the Third World cannot break their homeland’s vicious dictatorship cycle (See this blog’s entire category “Third-World-Country-Victims of War and/or Dictator”).

Another set of repeated epic fails through the decades (as recently as the 2010’s) has been the United States’ attempts at “Vietnamization.” During 2012, Rice and other high-level officials wrung their hands regarding Syria. Rice wrote, “President Obama decided in 2013 to join our Sunni Arab and Turkish partners in arming and later training vetted Syrian rebels who were fighting Assad [Syria’s leader]. Some were terrorists.”

A simple reason for the failure of “Vietnamization” is that the people are being given fish (short-term handouts) with too much emphasis on military operations. This quick fix is provided by short-sighted politicians who have their eye on reelection or political expedience. The alternative is teaching the people how to fish (a system of democracy that jives with their culture), which is expensive, and takes years or decades, and might not be worth doing, pursuant to the strategic interests of the “liberators.” Installing democracy is like installing new software– it’s initially problematic, and it will require frequent patches and updates, and occasionally third-level tech support, indefinitely.

Read the book to learn of the smear campaigns launched against Rice (including that led by Lindsey Graham after Benghazi), how she built her career and what she did, the different mentalities of the UN and U.S. government agencies that handled foreign policy, the different personalities of all kinds of people whom Rice encountered in her lifetime, and almost everything you ever wanted to know about her life.

Politics of Conscience

The Book of the Week is “Politics of Conscience, A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith” by Patricia Ward Wallace, published in 1995.

The author wrote,

“Or perhaps it was that after four years, the nation had witnessed his unseemly bullying, insulting, and humiliating tactics for too long…”

of Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). In the spring of 1954, the U.S. Army held hearings in order to give McCarthy a taste of his own medicine.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) took over her deceased husband’s U.S. Senate seat when he died, and was reelected in 1940. She received special treatment from Bangor Daily News columnist May Craig, in that Craig was assigned specifically to favorably cover Smith, but hardly ever, any other politician.

Smith was best known– aside from her gender, along with six other senators– for issuing a “Declaration of Conscience” in June 1950, that took McCarthy to task (even though she and he were both Republicans) for his dictatorial methods in rooting out accused Communists.

After Smith delivered an accompanying speech on the Senate floor, her group took no follow-up actions, ingenuously thinking that that one act of protestation would convince the rest of the government and ordinary Americans that McCarthy was violating people’s civil rights in capitalizing on Cold War hysteria. He retaliated against her, (as politicians of his ilk will) by pressuring senate-committee-leaders to deny her membership and assignments she wanted.

In 1952, the book U.S.A. Confidential was published. It was full of lies and smears against all parties who were automatically treated as guilty of associating with Communists (many through only the most tenuous of connections), or who were automatically Communists by virtue of simply being accused (by their enemies, of course).

Smith sued the book’s authors and publisher for libel, as several of the book’s pages mentioned her. The defendants used every possible tactic to delay litigation, but finally agreed to settle the case in autumn 1956. It was a hollow victory for Smith.

In the 1950’s, some members of the United States government galvanized citizens to turn their fears of nuclear war into hatred of one enemy: the former Soviet Union. Nowadays, fears and hatreds are scattered between or among all kinds of groups, absent the threat of nuclear war.

One way American governmental authorities are again attempting to galvanize the people against one enemy is to direct it against a disease, through controlling the population in various ways.

And yes, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 is soon to arrive, bringing with it threats to national security. But the government has known this anniversary would arrive, for the last twenty years; the most recent administration, for the last eight months. Just a thought.

Read the book to learn much more about Smith’s career, life and times.

The Rape of Bangla Desh

The Book of the Week is “The Rape of Bangla Desh” by Anthony Mascarenhas, published in 1971.

In March 1969, Pakistan got a new leader named Khan. The reason was that dissatisfaction with Khan’s predecessor had reached critical mass among various parties that were keeping him in power, including the military.

Khan made the following campaign promises: “drain the swamp” in the government, and hold elections that would establish parliamentary (representative, civilian rather than military) government, pursuant to a constitution. The sovereignty of Pakistan had not held elections since its 1947 inception via the partition of India (amid excessive bloodshed, religious hatreds and a caste system that retarded the country’s economic, cultural and social growth for decades; see this blog’s post, “Freedom At Midnight”).

In November 1969, Khan claimed he was still working on the new constitution. He made other announcements on other issues that made it pretty obvious to politically astute people that he was turning out to be yet another dictator. He declared that Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier (in West Pakistan) would become separate states again, and changed how votes would be tabulated, territorially.

Khan set dates for steps that helped Pakistan prepare for its elections, which would allegedly be held in October 1970. But they weren’t. In early November 1970, a tidal wave and cyclone hit the coastal areas of East Bengal. Khan then had a great excuse to postpone the elections until December.

Khan wrote the new constitution, which contained “small print”– a Legal Framework Order– that basically gave Khan unlimited powers; plus murky language that would cause endless arguments over the application and jurisdiction of laws between the provinces and Pakistan’s federal government.

However, in his evil scheme to become Pakistan’s supreme ruler through “divide and conquer” Khan’s new vote-tabulation method allowed Bengalis (of East Pakistan) to obtain too much representation in the national assembly, in the elections (when they were finally held). West Pakistanis became resentful, although they had previously enjoyed the lion’s share of control of governmental affairs for decades.

By February 1971, Khan had been executing various political machinations, including dissolving his civilian Cabinet. He said that he couldn’t let civilians rule Pakistan’s government just yet, as there was a national-security emergency– conflicts among East and West Pakistan, and India. The military had to handle them.

Unsurprisingly, in the first week of March 1971, there began more than three weeks’ worth of violence, rioting and looting, with Bengalis’ agitating to become an independent Bangladesh. To sum it up, “Pakistanis are intensely patriotic people and could not for one moment believe that their government was deliberately misinforming them so terribly.”

Read the book to learn the details of this “textbook example” of how actions taken by an alpha male with hubris syndrome (whose actions backfired!) led to circumstances that resulted in independence for a specific group of people in a particular territory (not without: serious sacrifices of human lives, the usual ethnic, tribal and religious warfare– including what some have defined as genocide; plus linguistic and other issues, and millions of refugees).

The Foreigner’s Gift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Foreigner’s Gift, The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq” by Fouad Ajami, published in 2006. This was a repetitive, non-chronological mishmash of the author’s observations about the history of the Middle East intertwined with goings-on in Iraq up until the book’s writing.


The author, an American citizen, grew up in a Shia family in Lebanon. He interviewed all kinds individuals– soldiers, students, government officials, academics, etc.– of different religions, different sects, during his visits to different regions of Iraq in 2003, 2004 and 2005. There were conflicting reports of whether ordinary Iraqis viewed the Americans as “occupiers” or “liberators.”

The author argued that American president George W. Bush wanted to spark a pan-Arab reform movement in the Middle East by attacking Iraq. However, clearly, the American vice president’s motive was profiteering. Yet– anyone who has read his or her history and has basic knowledge about human nature, would know that centuries-old hostilities and hatreds between the Sunnis and Shias is never going to be resolved; not even by someone like Mahatma Gandhi!

Gandhi stopped the fighting between Hindus and Muslims only momentarily. Even he had a crack public relations team who got him featured prominently in the history books, as someone who was more powerful than he actually was. Suffice to say, the American presence in Iraq in the past thirty years has been yet another instance of too many alpha males with hubris syndrome who won their propaganda war. For decades, they have refused to take lessons from seeing military conflicts ranging from: the 1950’s end of French colonialism in Indochina to the 1947 partition of India to the 1980’s civil war in Lebanon, and many others.

Of course, oil threw a wrench in the works. Now, almost twenty years later, the current American government is making a much more aggressive push to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. This, by constantly reminding its citizens that they can assist with energy-related initiatives that arguably slow the changing of planet earth’s atmospheric conditions, that adversely affect humans; changing that has allegedly been caused by humans. So the energy-related issue is a whole other ball of wax now.

But human nature doesn’t change. In America (never mind Iraq), there are still racial tensions and cancel culture. Plus, there is an incidental ideological aspect to the masking order of the COVID crisis: that of forcing Westernized, yet religious Muslim males to empathize with their female relatives. The males now know how it feels to be required to cover their faces.

Read the book to learn of the good consequences and bad consequences of removing Saddam Hussein from power, as seen through many interviewees’ eyes, and the author’s take on the situation, given his knowledge of Middle East history.

It’s My Panel – BONUS POST

IT’S MY PANEL
sung to the tune of “It’s My Party” with apologies to the estate of Lesley Gore; this is the song Nancy Pelosi is singing now:

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

We all know what Banks and Jordan would do.
They’d spread Trump’s every line,
with McCarthy holding their hands
when they’re supposed to be mine.

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Conspiracies abounding,
we need to get a life.
Updating status for a while,
till you’re in MY reality show,
I’ve got no reason to smile.

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Tweeting and posting up the wazoo.
Our attention whoredom never ends.
Oh what a political surprise.
Election day,
we’ve got new “friends.”

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Oh, it’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Boyd

The Book of the Week is “Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” by Robert Coram, published in 2002.

Born in January 1927 in Erie, Pennsylvania, John Boyd was the fourth of five children. His father died just before his third birthday. Boyd became a fighter pilot, but was too young to fight in WWII and Korea– though he was stationed there for a time.

By 1954, he was a highly competent flying instructor at Nellis, a U.S. Air Force base near Las Vegas. There, promiscuous men broke military codes of conduct and deserted in large numbers. But a few of Boyd’s students– standouts– completed successful missions in Vietnam.

Boyd was a pathological liar and a crude, insubordinate potty-mouth, but throughout his career, his friends in high places kept him from being drummed out of the service altogether. The way the author described Boyd’s lifelong mannerisms and practices, however, suggested that he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Boyd acquired years and years of formal education and training in aeronautics, avionics and physics. Beginning in the 1960’s, his “Energy-Maneuverability Theory” allowed him to tell his colleagues (ad nauseum in 3am phone calls) the best design for fighter-aircraft. Unfortunately, the nature of warfare that existed during WWII was going out of style.

Also, Boyd rubbed superiors the wrong way, and he was a square peg in a round hole, given the culture of the Air Force. In fact, the culture of the U.S. military in the second half of the twentieth century was one of fierce inter-service rivalry. It was one that: a) wasted inconceivably large amounts of taxpayer dollars that went into the pockets of military contractors, while b) continuing to promote mostly waaaay overrated servicemen (who waaaay overrated their proposed weaponry) who c) simply kissed up to their bosses, rather than rocked the boat. These were power-hungry alpha males who simply got lofty titles with little to show for them.

Boyd was principled and truly committed to helping his country improve its military might and national security. He and a few of his colleagues were willing to pay the price of a stalled career for fighting “City Hall” in pushing their agenda for teaching pilots psychologically advantageous combat techniques, while making military aircraft the safest and the most war-winning it could be, at minimal cost.

The servicemen who met Boyd either loved him or hated him. In the late 1960’s, his passion for doing the right thing led him to complain to the head of Systems Command about the proposed design of a new fighter jet then called the F-X. Boyd’s input in the disputes between or among the Navy, Army and Air Force on that project and others led to Congressional hearings.

Read the book to learn the details on all Boyd-related matters, including:

  • the emotional trouble in his dysfunctional personal life;
  • his theories (hint: the reason his suggestions for how to go about waging war were superior in actual practice because they minimized the time it took planes as manipulated by pilots [reminiscent of ninjas] to switch from one activity to another, throwing the enemy off-guard);
  • the shenanigans with the B-1 bomber and the Bradley;
  • how he shook things up at the Pentagon with the help of the media (Time magazine in particular in March 1983) and Congress; and much more.

Promise and Power

The Book of the Week is “Promise and Power, The Life and Times of Robert McNamara” by Deborah Shapley, published in 1993.

NOTE: The author (a journalist, not a historian) rambled on for pages and pages on certain events (perhaps those were from sources to which she had easy access), and omitted or provided scant coverage on others that were equally important. [Case-in-point: She completely neglected to mention that the Washington Post initially published an excerpt from the Pentagon Papers, and the New York Times printed additional excerpts. It is unclear whether the omission was intentional.] Even so, on another point– it is difficult for anyone to extract truth from accounts of any CIA- related activities unless they come verbatim from declassified documents, not the minds of media members or historians playing “telephone.” History during McNamara’s career was crowded with CIA incidents. The whole premise of spying-agencies is based on using dishonesty to gather information!

Born in 1916 in San Francisco, California, McNamara spent most of his childhood in Oakland. His parents doted on him. He attended high school in a good school district, and made additional contacts while attending University of California at Berkeley. He became active in campus social life, cozying up to the college president and provost. McNamara and a friend got their graduate-business degrees at Harvard, where they were already displaying the kind of arrogance that gets politicians in trouble.

SIDENOTE: Both politicians and voters can learn from previous, recent presidents’ mistakes of arrogance (but it seems they never do!):

  • Ronald Reagan’s secret, international military adventures;
  • George H.W. Bush’s ill-advised optics and messaging;
  • Bill Clinton’s poor impulse control in the face of the age of zero privacy for public figures;
  • George W. Bush’s history of failing upwards thanks to inheritance, that allowed him to ultimately gain maximum power that led to profiteering and good-enough optics and messaging to get him reelected, but that ultimately ruined his reputation– but he was too sociopathic to care about a legacy;
  • Barack Obama’s optics and messaging that caused most conservative Republicans to claim: he made the U.S. appear weak in the eyes of the world, and led America’s healthcare industry in the wrong direction; plus, the facts that health-plan applicants could not necessarily “keep their doctor” and initially, they had excessive trouble signing up; notwithstanding, most liberal Democrats would agree he did the best he could under the circumstances (which he inherited), and he will be remembered for continuing the national healthcare debate because he helped pass historic legislation on it;
  • Donald Trump’s —– [redacted, censored, protected by non-disclosure agreements or executive privilege].

Anyway, at the start of WWII, McNamara and his friend settled for being posted overseas so as not to begin on the lowest rung of the military ladder. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t play well with others. McNamara’s lifelong philosophy was always action-oriented– take risks, do something, even if it was the wrong thing. Unfortunately, the truth didn’t change just because he didn’t want to see it, hear it, or speak it. And it didn’t get any less complicated just because he oversimplified it.

By the end of the 1940’s, McNamara was helping turn around Ford Motor Company, where he and his leadership team created and implemented the cost-accounting system (a trendy new method for numerical tracking and analysis) he had learned in business school. The executives were credit-grabbers and tooted their own horns. In the Postwar Era, they and their families needed to keep up with the Joneses.

But, when asked by JFK what he could do for his country, McNamara made a snap decision to become defense secretary in December 1960. His sole goal was clearly only amassing power, because he had just been promoted to president at Ford– so he was relinquishing outsized compensation by becoming a public servant– and unlike in recent times, actually (ethically) put his assets in a blind trust.

Cold-War hysteria was rampant, fueled by propaganda put out by the Kennedy administration. The public-relations lies McNamara told about the missile gap with the Soviets were comparable to those told by George W. Bush on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq after 9/11. Ordinary Americans were building fallout shelters, convinced that the Soviets could unexpectedly launch a nuclear attack against the U.S. at any time.

McNamara then whipped up anger against himself when he aggravated inter-service rivalry between the Air Force and Navy, on project-contracts. The American intelligence services failed to anticipate that the Soviets would build a Wall in Berlin in August 1961. America’s leaders changed their tune about using nuclear weapons if provoked– but only as a last resort. Twenty years later, McNamara flip-flopped like Jeanne Kirkpatrick on many political issues, including nukes.

In the early 1960’s, however, he whipped up anger against himself again (from England and France) when he spoke for his country’s government, saying the United States needed to centrally control nuclear weapons because the Soviets wouldn’t be deterred from committing aggression if inventories in other nuclear nations of NATO were fragmented and complex. McNamara also needed to explain to Soviet leader Khrushchev that the United States had a plan to avoid vaporizing the entire world ten times over by (graciously) avoiding attacking major Soviet cities and using conventional weapons instead.

By early 1963, McNamara had amassed a bloated staff of bureaucratic, numerical-data-oriented paper-pushers, who had no clue what was really going on in Vietnam. The Americans were supplying weaponry and military consulting, but South-Vietnam-leader Ngo Dinh Diem’s soldiers took care of their own, in only pretending to fight. Newsflash– “Using napalm and herbicides didn’t win the hearts and minds of the peasants, who disdained Diem.”

American journalists physically present at the conflict-site, such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan truthfully described what they saw. McNamara didn’t want to believe them, but for his own purposes, chose to believe reports (that said America was making great progress) from consultants he controlled. Nevertheless, in spring 1968, McNamara became head of the World Bank, apparently to salve his conscience through saving the world (by eliminating hunger) for getting his own country into a quagmire.

Over the course of more than a dozen years, he radically changed the organization– for the good in some ways, and bad in others.
After about a decade, however, the negative aspects of his leadership style proved detrimental more often than not, to the Bank. McNamara was shown to be a hypocrite, like so many other alpha males whose hubris syndrome leads them to believe they are allowed to preach, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

In 1972, McNamara claimed the Bank’s projects would be environmentally friendly. But in 1981, he approved road-building in the Amazon region in Brazil that destroyed the rain forest and the way of life of the native tribes there. He left at the end of that year because his wife was ill, so conveniently, he wasn’t there to answer questions about the Bank’s serious problems when it hit the fan.

Incidentally, three other American contemporary figures come to mind on the environmental front, who were like McNamara: Al Gore, John Kerry and Michael Bloomberg– telling ordinary Americans to save energy while their ginormous carbon-footprints grow every day, traveling around to their various mansions through the use of exclusive flights and gas-guzzling vehicles. Note to current president: Arrogant hypocrisy makes American voters mad.

Read the book to learn of additional ways McNamara’s head eventually got too big for the team everywhere he went, prompting him and his colleagues to engage in disastrous military action in Vietnam, causing needless deaths and ruined lives; and the major historical events in which he had a role, that ruined his own and others’ reputations.