Category Archives: Anniversary

Cases of character assassination: Vidal and Strindberg

When establishment intellectuals are disturbed by progressives and have to deal with factual, intelligent and witty individuals to whom they have no substantive rebuttals, they far from seldom react by attacking character. That’s what happens when Jennifer Senior reviews a biography of Gore Vidal (1925-2012), written by Jay Parini. And she starts right on in the opening paragraph:

“By virtually any metric, Gore Vidal was a difficult man. He had a skyscraping ego. On a clear day, you could see his grudges forever. He had an almost fathomless capacity for envy; he could be gratuitously cruel even to friends; a vein of paranoia pulsed through his politics.”

The review is printed in New York Times (Oct. 18, 2015), a paper with which Vidal had an old history. When he published The City and the Pillar in 1948 the entire decent intelligentsia almost got a collective stroke. The reason: he presented a male homosexual relationship in a novel, something no one had dared until then. The New York Times’ literary editor promised not to read any more books by Vidal, let alone review one. This blockade by the Times and others ultimately forced Vidal to put the novels aside and start writing movie scripts for Hollywood, just for a living (this “mishap” not mentioned by Ms. Senior, naturally).

One would think that the Times had something to beg Vidal of forgiveness for, given that the future (as usual) proved the progressive part in the conflict right. But no way! The flagship among newspapers must stand tall! Vidal for his part was pouring fuel on the flames by regularly saying about the Times in interviews: “It’s a very bad paper!”.

The review in NYT reminded me of other character assassinations, that insidious and craven habit among reactionaries. In Sweden we have a monumental example in the treatment of our – without comparison – greatest author, August Strindberg. Though now being dead for a century his plays appear continually on stages all over the world. To the 100y commemoration of his death last year our right-wing government contributed only a pittance to the many arrangements carried out (to compare with the many millions the Norwegian government spent for the celebration of their literary giant Henrik Ibsen).

Strindberg, like Vidal, was a progressive, and his satirical wit left the bourgeoisie fuming. Early in his career he literally had to escape his country with his family to live for a long time on the continent. After years abroad he was charged with blasphemy for joking about the profane origin of the wine and wafer for Communion. The charge was allegedly instigated by the queen and blasphemy considered a pretext for the real crime: the mild (and not chargeable) eroticism in the edition of short stories in which it was to find. Strindberg was forced home to appear in court, but fresh winds had blown in his country and he was greeted as a hero by the young generation, and quickly acquitted by the jury.

About the book on trial Strindberg said that it would be read in elementary schools in the future. In that, and in almost everything bad and atrocious he was accused of in his days, the future has exonerated him. Eventually progressives are mostly proven right because their thinking is directed forwards, into the future. Conservatives, on the other hand, are people who intensively work to preserve the same things that their fellow believers in previous generations just as intensively worked to prevent. Thus in the long run, they are mostly wrong.

My collected reader’s comments to NYT articles

Follows a collection of commentaries I’ve made in the New York Times Reader’s Comments section on different articles (mostly for me keeping track of them myself). They’ll be accessible as long as NYT keeps the links alive, I suppose.

31 January 2015. A comment on the vaccine debate that followed the recent outbreak of measles in U.S.:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/as-measles-spreads-in-us-so-does-anxiety.html?comments#permid=13989276
-.-.-.-

25 March 2015. On signs of increasing poverty albeit growing wealth in the society (Sweden) as a whole:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/25/opinion/how-poor-are-the-poor.html?comments#permid=14521337
-.-.-.-

30 March 2015. On the horrific number of deaths in China during the Mao era, which we constantly are reminded of, compared to the even larger mortality caused by capitalism in India – which we very seldom hear of:

http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/30/cambodian-historians-call-for-china-to-confront-its-own-past/?comments#permid=14562852:14581199
-.-.-.-

3 April 2015. Another complete imbalance in our fields of interest: our laser-like scrutiny of terrorism carried out by others, compared to the forbearance with our own, much graver and deadlier terrorist activities:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/03/world/africa/garissa-university-college-shooting-in-kenya.html?comments#permid=14598017:14604023
-.-.-.-

9 May 2015. This article appeared simultaneously in NYT and Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), not surprisingly. It’s that kind of text our propaganda model loves: a Russian author who more or less regrets that his country defeated Nazi Germany in WWII. He just thinks that one oppression was replaces by another, obviously unaware of the Nazi’s Generalplan Ost which aimed at exterminating most people in Russia and enslaving the rest. This was not some high-flying Nazi plan or empty threat, it was implemented from day one of the German invasion. The existence of the special Sonderkommando with the explicit task to exterminate Jews, Communists and other unwanted humans was the terrible evidence of that reality.

One could have hoped that NYT and DN had been kind enough to save the poor ignorant (or just propagandistic) author from his embarrassment, but the temptation to publish his sentimental excesses was maybe to overwhelming. As some Readers’ Comments point out, the article was also a slap in the face on Putin and Russia, on the very day, sacred for Russians, of commemorating the death of 27 million people which Russia had to sacrifice to defeat the most atrocious and inhuman ideology in all history: Nazism.

An interesting difference: Dagens Nyheter didn’t open its comment section on this article, as opposed to New York Times. This is one reflection on the difference in effective freedom of expression which is taken much more seriously in the U.S. than in Europe. My comment, like some other critical ones, was listed as “NYT Pick” by the editor, another sign of openness for critique. But on the other hand: the propaganda gain was taken home by the printed article. (I suppose that the reader’s comments are mostly read by the commentators themselves.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/opinion/mikhail-shishkin-how-russians-lost-the-war.html?comments#permid=14915384
-.-.-.-

11 May 2015. A comment on one of Paul Krugman’s many enlightened columns in NYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/opinion/paul-krugman-wall-street-vampires.html#permid=14932711
-.-.-

17 May 2015. An article on the prospects for western economy after the last collapse, with discussions about singularities, neglecting the overall picture.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/upshot/dont-be-so-sure-the-economy-will-return-to-normal.html?comments#permid=14975427

Circle of violence – is it eternal?

One week in 1988 I happened to be in New York. This was the year of the 350th anniversary of the first Swedish colonizers landing in Wilmington, Delaware. As part of the celebrations the Swedish Royal Couple held a luncheon in Waldorf Astoria for prominent Americans with some connections to Sweden.

By coincidence I stayed at the same hotel that day, now waiting in the lobby for a friend who had attended the Royal lunch. When the doors opened a stream of celebrities walked by, among them Henry Kissinger with a newspaper stuck under his arm. He walked in a relaxed manner straight on to Park Avenue, catching a regular yellow cab. No lifeguards, no company whatsoever.

My first reflection was how things can change in politics. Kissinger was a key player in Nixon’s administration when the tensions with Sweden were the gravest ever. Olof Palme had expressed intense critique of USA regarding the Vietnam War, and had gained support from people all around the world. Now Kissinger had become a guest of honor to a country once treated almost like an enemy.

My second reflection was naturally how this man could move around without protection; he was after all by many considered one of the most culpable war criminals alive. One could expect there to be millions of people in Indochina with a fair reason to revenge the death of innocent relatives or friends. All it would take had been for a single one of those to be on Park Avenue with a gun at the right time.

Naturally this came to mind again after 9/11. USA had challenged countries and people for decades, relying on its strength for protection. At the same time it had been an open society vulnerable for all kinds of attacks. The question was rather why it had taken so many years for an atrocity like 9/11 to happen, than why it had happened at all.

Since 2001 security has been upgraded considerably in the West, but there is no ultimate protection in societies like ours. We are reminded of this by an article in New York Times yesterday, reporting about an online threat by the Islamic State to kill 100 US service members whose names, photos and purported addresses are posted on its website. Knowing that ISIS is recruiting fighters in countries all around the world, also in the West, threats like these are obviously not to take easily.

If one wants a definition of a vicious circle it must be this: Imperialist violence created violent resistance, generating even more repressive violence, boosting more counter violence etc., on an ever growing scale. When will we ever learn that the only way to break this circle is to cut it off? And that we are the once obliged to initiate the peaceful way? (Provided the masters of mankind really want the violence stopped, which regrettably can be put in question.)

 

Not just Auschwitz but Holocaust in its entirety mainly ended by the Russians

27 January, the day in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, is also instituted by the United Nations as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The fact that Vladimir Putin wasn’t invited to the 70 year commemoration of the liberation has attracted some attention, as we saw. But no greater interest in main media has been shown for the Soviet (mainly Russian) role in terminating the Nazi Holocaust altogether.

More important than discovering Auschwitz was to stop the Nazi murder machine that otherwise could have exterminated millions more. For this the Soviet Union had the overwhelmingly most important role by grinding down the up till then strongest military machinery in history, thus sacrificing around 25 million of its people, in addition to unbelievable destruction of half the country.

It would have been most appropriate to give Russia some recognition on a day like that. Not so in Sweden, although the day was commemorated with a prestigious ceremony in Stockholm’s largest synagogue in the presence of the Swedish King and Queen, the Prime minister, the US ambassador and a number of other dignitaries. Russia is expelled from the “international community” for reacting logical to a Nazi infected coup d’état in a neighboring country, while an ambassador representing a power responsible for major war crimes, the last ones most recently, is treated with outmost respect. Well, Jonathan Smith, you know how it is!

When Dagens Nyheter’s editor in chief Peter Wolodarski acknowledged this Stockholm ceremony in a lead article he did it with dedication and compassion. He described the anti-Semitism of today, and concluded: “The mechanisms of Holocaust must be recognized as latent dangers in all civilized societies. They require perpetual vigilance and resistance”. It’s all admirable, except that his statement challenges his own position on the contemporary Ukraine issue.

Wolodarski’s newspaper is blatantly propagandistic, blaming Russia for every evil event and for being the aggressor (no proof given), while keeping almost totally silent about everything that could cast a shadow on the Ukrainian actions. Among the neglected topics is the key role that Nazism plays in that country’s present and history, a main reason for the revolt in Donbas, where people know what it’s all about, many having lost parents and other relatives murdered by Nazis.

Wolodarski describes how ordinary people in the Holocaust era could be transformed into rapists and murderers, “prepared to shove the city’s Jewish citizens into a barn and set it on fire”. The military historian Anthony Beevor describes in fact this method as a Ukrainian specialty in his book on WWII, adding that Ukraine stood out as the country in which people most willingly and in largest numbers assisted the German Nazis in exterminating Jews, Communists, Poles and other unwanted creatures.

This “Ukrainian specialty” was duplicated in Odessa in 2014, where a group of pro-Russian Odessa inhabitants were captured in a building which was set on fire by pro-Nazi elements that then killed some who tried to flee. This mass murder of more than 40 people took place without DN paying any attention to the historical parallel which could be called ironic had it not been so outrageous. Instead Wolodarski naively writes about the same method of extermination months later, ignorant of its horrible implications.

Ukrainian Nazism has a long and ugly history, dating back to at least the 1930s when the so called Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) “began a campaign of assassinating and otherwise terrorizing people who didn’t agree with them”, according to Russ Bellant, interviewed in The Nation, March 2014. In his book Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party Bellant reveals astonishing facts about the collaboration between revered politicians and pure Nazi elements in USA.

At the end of WWII Eastern Europe was swarming with Nazi collaborators guilty of all kinds of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Looking forward to hard punishment by the Soviet justice system, not known for its humanity, their best option was to flee westwards, and many of them ended up in USA and Canada. There they were kindly taken care of and soon reached some prominence as anti-Soviets. Bellant deals in detail with their connections with the Republican Party and some of the Presidents from that party. His findings are too many to fit in this short blog post, but are very much worth reading (thenation.com).

My country had the “honor” of receiving a number of war criminals from the Baltic States, perpetrators guilty of killing Jews and other “unworthy” humans. They mixed with entirely decent refugees and were never hunted down by Swedish police. For this Sweden has received harsh criticism from the Simon Wiesenthal Center (so much for that civilized country).

The Ukrainian connection is interestingly reflected in a recent vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution that condemned the glorification of Nazism, brought by Russia, undeniably in response to the raise of neofascism in Ukraine. Three countries voted against the resolution: USA, Canada and Ukraine! 155 voted for and 55 abstained, among them the European countries. A fact to consider: Israel voted for the resolution.

A column like this has no punch line, these battlefields will no doubt be revisited.

Celebrating a liberation without the liberator

Today we read about Putin and the 70th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. I find two main versions of the story, the first one saying that Putin “Won’t attend…” (NYT) or “won’t go to…” (rt.com) the ceremonies in Poland. The main reason is claimed to be that no formal invitation has been sent to Russia. On the other hand, according to this version, no personal invitation has been sent to anyone, just notices to all embassies of EU nations and other countries that have contributed to the museum, among them Russia.

The other version is found in the usually very Russophobe Dagens Nyheter saying that Putin “is debarred from” the event. DN refers to a source in the Polish Foreign Office telling Reuters that formal invitations to specific countries have been sent by the authority responsible for the museum, together with the International Auschwitz Council. Countries not receiving a formal invitation, among them Russia, have just got an informal message, a so called nota verbale. The reason, according to the source, would be that Polish leaders didn’t want to formally invite Putin given the Ukraine conflict.

If the second version is the correct one, we will probably never hear about it again. In any case the commemoration of the liberation will take place with several heads of states and other distinguished officials, but in the absence of the proper representative of the liberator. It’s more remarkable than the US president being absent from a D-day 70 year commemoration. Russia had after all sacrificed millions and millions of lives before Auschwitz could be liberated, while their western allies had fought poorly motivated Germans on the west front for slightly more than half a year, during which time the Nazi army repeatedly had sent divisions from the west front to support the more important eastern front.

When they gather on January 27 it must feel odd for any of the highly distinguished guests attending – who happen to have some knowledge and scruples – that the highest representative for the nation in focus of the celebrations is not present. But on the other hand, our propaganda has worked persistently through the years, and the day will come when we are completely unaware of Russia’s role in WWII. Some are already there, like Hillary Clinton (at Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show) asserting that United States defeated the Nazis.