Friday, July 19, 2019

Truth, Lies, and Will Van Spronsen

I have lost track of the number of times in the past few days that I have been told by openly fascist YouTube viewers that I deserve a bullet in my head for writing my most recent song.

It's been a pretty busy week. It's always a busy week when you have a small child, much more so if you have two of them. And then along with my wife and teenage daughter I've been attempting to keep a small cafe going, with all the multitude of little tasks this entails for all of us, it becomes much busier. So this four-day visit to Sweden on my own that I'm currently in the midst of, although it involves two five-hour drives and two concerts, actually feels like a vacation.

My two days in between gigs here at an all-ages communist summer camp north of Gothenburg have allowed me a little time not only to spend an evening puttering around the fjord in a boat with my friend Bo, a retired dockworker and dedicated red from Gothenburg, and to hang out with a great bunch of Swedish bluegrass musicians, one of whom writes for the communist newspaper, Proletarian (interview with me coming up in the next edition), but to catch up on the death threats on YouTube.

Nobody here talks about it, at least no one has brought it up with me, but the massacre in Norway occurred at a leftwing summer camp very much like this one, only a few hundred kilometers away, only eight years ago. I was in Oslo only a couple weeks after that, and I wrote a song about it. Probably because I named the song after the killer, the video got seen by a lot of the killer's fans who had been searching online for other like-minded people, and they were horrified by the content of the song, once they discovered it was not in support of mass murder, and there were many comments from people who made it clear they thought I and all others like me should meet the same fate as all those people on the island of Utoya.

So something about being at another leftwing summer camp in Scandinavia and receiving multiple death threats on YouTube is unnerving. But of course, they're not really death threats. Or are they? That I deserve a bullet in my head is the popular refrain among a certain crowd. This is the preferred imagery of the week, as opposed to a gas chamber or a firing squad, because of what happened last weekend, and the song I wrote about it.

In the scheme of things, the song is pretty irrelevant to the overall debate, having been heard by not more than a few thousand people. But it's enough of a sample to glean a few things from, anyway.

It began when I saw an Associated Press report about a man being killed outside of an ICE detention center in Tacoma, Washington. Hours after I saw this report, I started getting messages from friends, acquaintances and comrades of the deceased from Washington State, mostly saying they didn't know exactly what happened, but that the police report was probably inaccurate, as they often are. Several people wrote to tell me I needed to write a song about what happened, and others just tagged me on Twitter, saying that they expected I'd be writing one soon.

I had already been working on the song after reading the AP report, or at least working on the initial stages in the process, which in this case is the same basic process as for journalists, gathering more information. I found and read Will Van Spronsen's moving statement that he sent to friends before he did what he did, and I listened to much of his music, as he was, I learned, a songwriter. His last album was recorded at the studio of a mutual friend in Olympia.

I'm sure I was in the same place at the same time as Will on multiple occasions over the course of decades, but I don't recall whether we ever had a conversation. We had many of the same friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. What Will did was what so many anti-fascists over the generations have talked about doing, and that many have also in fact done, in so many different scenarios, such as in and around Germany during the Third Reich. He may have had multiple reasons for doing what he did aside from the obvious one, but that doesn't matter. What he did was he sacrificed his life in order to at least symbolically throw his body into the gears of the machine, to maybe stop it from running for at least a few minutes. His intent seems clearly to have been to destroy as many buses as possible before he would be killed. The buses were those used to deport unwanted refugees. Many of these refugees, as we all should know, will be deported to their deaths, as have so many others, since they were actually fleeing in many cases because they found themselves on a hit list of one sort or another, in their native countries.

These sorts of deportations are happening all the time, of course, but what was a bit different about last weekend was Trump's announcement of the raids. We all knew they were coming, and Will acted one day before they were to commence (if ICE had followed through with their plans as announced).

I am personally not about to go do something like what Will did last weekend, for a whole lot of different reasons. But it's obvious that the action he took falls into the category of an attempt to sabotage the machinery of deportation, at least temporarily. The consequences of this kind of sabotage are often death. Such as when Dutch munitions workers left the gunpowder out of the bullets that were going to the front lines of the Nazi war effort in Russia. They were all deported to death camps once their righteous act of sabotage was discovered. I'm sure these Dutch workers were also called terrorists – it was a popular term back then, too, because the western media had coined the phrase “the Nazi Terror” at the time, to describe the atmosphere of fear that Nazi rule had instilled in anyone who wasn't a rabid supporter of fascism.

Of course, there were many rabid supporters of fascism back then, too. Many people who thought those munition workers were, in fact, terrorists who should be sent to death camps for their crimes. If munitions workers in the US sabotaged things at Honeywell like that and US soldiers ended up dying in Afghanistan as a result, you can be sure there would be many people saying the same sorts of things, and the workers might even meet a similar fate – if not death camps, probably death row. But of course, the US isn't Nazi Germany. Or is it?

“Send her back,” chant the crowds. Pretty much exactly the same chant from the fascist throngs across America that Nazis like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford spoke to, saying exactly the same things, at a time when my own European relatives were being prevented from coming to the US by xenophobic laws aimed specifically at eastern and southern Europeans – the undesirable Europeans. Xenophobic laws passed and enforced over decades mainly by Democrats, incidentally.

We are rapidly moving towards an overtly fascist state. If Trump is elected again, perhaps it's time to get the family out while there's still the chance. But I think it's so important to recognize that the reason we are in this situation is because of generations of mis-rule by both parties, generations of corruption, generations of the basic needs of the people being ignored or used for political games, without ever being addressed. And now a whole generation that is poorer and dying younger than their parents, a skyrocketing housing crisis to add to so many other very real crises.

Part of the mis-rule has been in the form of mis-education, or what the Marxists call false consciousness. That the Trump supporters believe Will Van Spronsen was a terrorist and that I should also be killed for being an anti-fascist, along with all other anti-fascists, doesn't come from nowhere. It comes from people who have been told, for generations, by not just the rightwing media but by the mainstream media and by their teachers in school and in so many other ways, that America is a welcoming land for immigrants, the land of opportunity, if people play by the rules they can achieve anything, and those who don't play by the rules deserve to be punished and they're up to no good. We are never told about refugees or about the consequences of our country's foreign policy. In fact, we are consistently lied to from most quarters, told our country helps other countries around the world with its foreign aid and its foreign wars, and we're generally not appreciated for it. Why they chant “death to America” all over the world every day is never explained. The sources of the resentment are never made clear, but a smokescreen of nonsense about people resenting our supposed prosperity, freedom and democracy is on constant display, coming from both parties' incessantly flag-waving leaderships, and most corners of the media and educational systems, public and private.

A friend once said in his opinion, ten minutes of truth can counteract 24 hours of lies. I believe that that ratio is accurate. But ten minutes of truth cannot counteract 48 hours of lies. The ratio needs to be there, it's not magic, truth isn't infinitely more powerful than lies. It's much, much more powerful, but not infinitely. Reading one book by Howard Zinn can cure an entire year of mis-education in high school, but to cure you of another year of it, you still have to read yet more books, to continually seek out knowledge, or you will fall victim to the constant disinformation campaigns we are all being assaulted by on a daily basis, from so many corners that it can be very overwhelming and confusing for a whole lot of people.

I remain convinced that most of these people who say I should have a bullet in my head are not bad people, but are victims of generations of misinformation, bad education, and propaganda. They seem to think I'm a Democrat, for Pete's sake. They don't know the difference between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Fidel Castro, and most of them, in addition to being profoundly ignorant, are also deeply homophobic. I believe if these people listened to my podcast every week, I could change most of them. But they're not going to be doing that, it doesn't work that way.

Many of the minority of viewers who posted these sorts of comments had handles that made their adherence to Adolf Hitler clear to anyone who knows what kinds of names fascists like to use online. When it comes to fascists, as you may or may not already know, “88” does not refer to the number of keys on a piano, for example. Of course, I don't know which of them are real people, the same people, intelligence operatives for one country or another, or most likely all of the above.

However, for those of you YouTube commenters of any political persuasion who are real people and want to have an actual conversation about politics, history or Will Van Spronsen's motivations, where we listen to each other and refrain from using adjectives or making references to each other's imminent and violent demise, my phone number is in the book. And I won't call you a Nazi if you don't call me a liberal.

My fellow Americans and all you other people, too, this is David Rovics, signing out for this week. In the podcast version of this missive, the song I wrote about Will, the Time to Act, should start playing momentarily.

This machine burns buses.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Embargoes and Other Acts of War

The war between the United States and Japan began with a US-enforced oil embargo against the Japanese Empire.

Right now, in the United States, huge detention camps are being constructed for the increasingly criminalized refugee and migrant population, a campaign of government-sponsored domestic terror run by a supposedly temporary, "acting" head of the department created by the ever-Orwellian 9/11-era Bush administration, Homeland Security.  Abroad, an oil embargo is being enforced by the US and British Navies against Iranian ships worldwide, strangling the Iranian economy, immiserating millions, with many unpredictable, destabilizing effects on the horizon.  These policies are being spearheaded by another sort of "acting" head, the infamously empire-loving sadist, John Bolton.

You can be sure, however, that if there is any sort of retaliatory action taken against these policies, this is where the mainstream narrative will start.  "Iran's unprovoked, sneak attack," or some variation thereof, will be the headline.  They'll tell us about how much these totalitarian Iranians hate our freedom and democracy.  That the entire story between Iran and the west began with British and US support for a dictatorship, and a US- and UK-led overthrow of a thriving democracy will be facts relegated to the obscurity of the history books read by specialists in the region.  That the current oil embargo is an effort to strangle the Iranian economy and provoke a military response will rarely be mentioned, especially once the military response happens, if indeed it does, whether it's in a form recognized as such by what they call "the international community" or not, whether it's a response fabricated by John Bolton, that actually only exists in his warped brain, or if it's a real one.

There are crippling embargoes the US has enforced on other countries for extremely long periods of time, without eliciting a military response.  But as economically damaging as it has been, the US never ratcheted up the blockade against Cuba to the extent that it is enforcing this blockade against Iranian trade -- at least, to my knowledge, not since 1962 or so, when what we now call the Cuban Missile Crisis almost brought the world to nuclear holocaust.  (Prevented only by a very clear-thinking, cautious submarine commander named Vasili Arkhipov, incidentally.)

What has already been relegated to the dustbin of historical obscurity, of interest mainly to military historians and few others, as far as I can tell, is the fact that it was an oil embargo against Japan that was unequivocally and directly the provocation for the Japanese Empire's bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii.  The bombing raid was retaliation against the embargo that had been preventing Japan from importing oil.  First the US stopped selling oil or anything else to Japan.  This is not what provoked Japanese retaliation, however.  It was after the US Navy imposed a blockade between Indonesia and Japan, preventing Japan from importing oil from anywhere else, that the Japanese Empire was put into a position where they could either surrender or fight back.  After the US imposed its embargo, the more militarist among the Japanese leadership rose to the top, and retaliation was ensured.  Hopefully we all know what came next -- four years of massive bloodshed and destruction, ending with all of the islands of Japan in smoking ruins, including two cities and hundreds of thousands of children and senior citizens annihilated by the world's first use of atomic weapons.

Although no two countries have the same histories, there are historically dynamics between powers like the US and the UK and other countries these governments and their corporations interact with, that tend to produce a lot of similar patterns.  While I may be just another voice shouting in the wilderness here, there are many reasons why the history of modern Japan is more than a little worth recalling -- especially certain salient aspects of it.

Prior to its encounters with the western colonial powers (a group which has long included among its ranks the United States, contrary to popular mythology), Japan was, relative to Europe, a prosperous country with a strong and well-organized government, that had been at peace within its borders and with its neighbors for centuries.  This period was known as the Edo Era.

The Edo Era ended when Edo, what we now know as Tokyo, was bombarded by the US Navy in 1856.  In our history books we call this the "opening" of the "isolationist" nation of Japan.  Japan did not need to be "opened," and it wasn't "isolationist" either.  But if you don't want to trade with the US, that apparently makes you isolationist, and in need of a thorough bombing.  In short, it is the US Navy that set Japan on its course of rapid industrialization and militarization, which culminated in the Japanese Empire's desperate effort to beat back the United States and maintain its own brutal empire in East Asia.  The Japanese leadership that took power in the period after the US attack in 1856 believed that if Japan didn't become a regional power capable of defending itself against the greatest military powers of the world, it would become a colony, like China had been.  The Japanese leadership looked across the sea at the opium-addicted, impoverished nation of China, and knew exactly the fate they wanted to avoid.  Britain and the US, among other colonial powers, had used their military might to force the Chinese Emperor to allow the import of the deadly drug, though the Emperor had repeatedly tried to ban the trade -- clearly "isolationist" behavior that required severe punishment in the forms of a "trade war" that ended the lives of tens of thousands of Chinese people, and destroyed two cities, in two different military campaigns that took place both before and after Admiral Perry's bombardment of Japan.

Pearl Harbor was not unexpected, nor was it a "sneak attack."  The only reason some in the Roosevelt administration believed it wouldn't happen was because they thought it would be an irrational move on the part of the Japanese Empire, when the US had just made sure that it was their only option besides surrender.  Historical differences aside, this is exactly, precisely the situation the Trump administration and its imperial British allies are putting Iran in, right now.  Retaliate or surrender.  Either way, the outcome will be immeasurable human suffering.  And probably the only ones who could potentially prevent this outcome would be an activated US population, organized into a massive, militant social movement that finally puts an end to the imperial madness that has characterized US foreign policy since long before the revolution of 1776, through both Republican and Democratic governments, up until the present moment, the current precipice we are all standing on now.

Friday, July 5, 2019

So This Is What It's Like

Living among the concentration camps of America.

Concentration camps in the United States are nothing new.  As has been widely reported, one of the many new, austere, prison camps for dividing up and indefinitely detaining families for the crime of being refugees that has recently opened up is one in Oklahoma that was previously used for the same purposes during the Second World War to imprison Japanese American families and to kidnap and abuse Native American children.  Concentration camps in America go back to the days when white people could supplement their farming income by being paid for each Indian scalp they turned in to the colonial authorities -- they go back to the reservations and the slave plantations, and they continue to this day with mass incarceration, mass torture through solitary confinement and by many other means.

What's different now, as opposed to how it has been in anyone's living memory up til the present, is the authorities are bragging about their concentration camps, very openly expanding them, openly flouting court judgement after court judgement telling them to return the children to their parents, and the government departments ignoring the courts and committing crimes against humanity that flagrantly violate US and international law are being led by what is known as "acting" heads -- these are mostly people that have not even been vetted by any Congressional procedures, and just appointed, as blatantly political appointments, with no sign that the administration is ever going to submit to the normal appointment process, that involves a bit of Congressional oversight.

What's different now is there are no more dogwhistles, there are no more fig leaves, there's just completely open, naked racism, xenophobia, sexism; and then, plans for a new world war, beginning with an impossibly draconian embargo on global trade with Iran, that is designed to provoke some kind of desperate response from an increasingly cornered political leadership of an increasingly hungry, angry nation full of young people whose dreams are currently being crushed by Uncle Sam.

And you can hear how the corporate media suddenly then talks of "the US government" when it comes to the potential war with Iran.  It's no longer the crazy, arrogant Trump, but now it's "the State Department" -- as if said department weren't actually being led by a totally deranged ideologue bent on nuclear war.

So they increasingly put this veneer of respectability on this administration that they have for years now been describing in overwhelmingly negative terms.  The corporate media doesn't use the word, but much of the population increasingly realizes, either with glee or with horror, that they are living in an nascent sort of fascist country, where ultimately the future is very unknown and, for many, far more terrifying than the present.

Both in person, before I left the US to spend the summer in Denmark, and of course online, I encounter more and more people saying things like, "my country is kidnapping, imprisoning and torturing refugee children.  We have concentration camps.  I don't know what to do."

Of course people may go protest, and come home, and they -- we all -- know this isn't going to change anything.  To one degree or another, most people realize that challenging what is becoming an entrenched fascist sort of regime will require far more than some protest rallies.  People know you have to shut down the country, stop business as usual, like in other recent examples on planet Earth where popular movements have caused governments to fall.  But one person can't just start being a movement.

So we wait for that massive, militant movement to form that we can join, and we wait, and we wait.  We all had that conversation when we were kids about how if we could go back in time and shoot Hitler, even though we'd be sacrificing our lives in the process, we'd do it, but we probably wouldn't, and we don't.  The overwhelming majority of humanity, quite sensibly, according to the historical record, don't stick their necks out like that unless they think there's at least some remote chance of coming out the other end with their heads intact, along with a victorious social movement and an end to the fascist dictator they're trying to get rid of in the first place.  Social movements are based on optimism, and this isn't an optimistic moment in America.  So this is what it's like.

Linda Wiener's Echo

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