Tag Archives: History

Too much.

I think the idiot in the white house has stepped over the line with his latest comments about “shit-hole” countries.

Even though there is no longer a line, or at least we thought there was no longer a line to step over because he had obliterated all expectation of decency or even rationality from the person who supposedly represents our country.

But, for me there is a line. He has stepped over my line.

I can no longer sit and remain silent in the presence of anyone — anyone — who countenances him as worthy of respect or even as worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt. I will say, and repeat, to anyone who may still be in that state of delusion — are there still people that stupid and deluded? — I will say to them, he is an idiot and a crass, ignorant asshole of the highest degree.

I suppose this is particularly offensive to me because I have friends from Haiti, wonderful people who I know are hurt by such ignorant comments.

I think it may be over lots of people’s lines as well, since several mainstream commentators are calling him on it.

For one, Anderson Cooper said, “Not racial. Not racially charged. Racist… The sentiment the President expressed today is a racist sentiment.”

Cooper also called the president “woefully ignorant” about the contributions of Haitians and Africans and other non-white countries of the world.

Esquire’s Jack Holmes also sees the comment as “a crystalizing moment for observers.” He laments the “continued damage this disgrace of a presidency is doing to the image and reputation of the United States…” and points to comments from other world leaders to support this.

Cooper also quotes my recent favorite writer, James Baldwin, as saying that “ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

And Holmes says this quote has never been more prescient.

Yes, Mr. Holmes, Baldwin is our most profound critic and prophet.

Holmes also indicts the president for his idiocy.

Holmes said, “The president is profoundly ignorant in any number of ways. He is almost completely incurious about the world. He has no real knowledge or expertise, and often disdains those who do. He does not read books—or newspapers, or much of anything else—and before he became president, he rarely traveled abroad despite his substantial means. He is wary of the world outside of own properties, and possibly afraid of it.”

Which sums it up nicely. In fact, perhaps too nicely.

There’s ignorant and there’s willfully ignorant.

I think the president falls into the latter group.

As Holmes says, it’s the president’s racism that leads him to these conclusions and allows him to “dismiss the contributions of people who come to America from these countries and their children. Just take Haiti: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roxane Gay, Wyclef Jean, and Mia Love (the first black female Republican elected to Congress) are all Haitian-Americans. Do their stories and accomplishments count for nothing because we have elected a president who simply doesn’t know anything, and cares less?”

In an even more detailed and explicit exposure of the extent of the ignorance of the president and his defenders, Jonathan Katz, who has written a book about Haiti, lays out the history and the complicity of the “white” nations in creating the poverty that plagues Haiti today.

Katz, who tweets as #KatzOnEarth, laid it out in a thread Jan. 11:

“In order to do a victory lap around the GDP difference between, say, Norway and Haiti, you have to know nothing about the history of the world. That includes, especially, knowing nothing real about the history of the United States.

You have to not understand anything about the systematic theft of African bodies and lives. And you have to not understand how that theft built the wealth we have today in Europe and the US.

You’d have to not know that the French colony that became Haiti provided the wealth that fueled the French Empire — and 2/3 of the sugar and 3/4 of the coffee that Europe consumed.

You’d have to not know how rich slave traders got off their system of kidnapping, rape, and murder.

You’d have to not realize that Haiti was founded in a revolution against that system, and that European countries and the United States punished them for their temerity by refusing to recognize or trade with them for decades.

You’d have to not know that Haiti got recognition by agreeing to pay 150 million gold francs to French landowners in compensation for their own freedom.

You’d have to not know that Haiti paid it, and that it took them almost all of the 19th century to do so.

You’d then have to not know that Haiti was forced to borrow some money to pay back that ridiculous debt, some of it from banks in the United States. And you’d have to not know that in 1914 those banks got President Wilson to send the US Marines to empty the Haitian gold reserve.

.@RichLowry would have to not know about the chaos that ensued, and the 19-year US military occupation of Haiti that followed (at a time when the US was invading and occupying much of Central America and the Caribbean).

He and others have to not know about the rest of the 20th century either—the systematic theft and oppression, US support for dictators and coups, the US invasions of Haiti in 1994-95 and 2004 … the use of the IMF and World Bank to impose new loans and destructive trade policies, including the now-famous rice tariff gutting that Bill Clinton apologized for but had been a policy since Reagan, and on and on …

And you’d have to understand nothing about why the US (under George W. Bush) pushed for and paid a quarter of the UN “stabilization mission” that did little but keep Haiti’s presidents from being overthrown and kill 10,000 people by dumping cholera in its rivers. Etc.

In short, you’d have to know nothing about WHY Haiti is poor (or El Salvador in kind), and WHY the United States (and Norway) are wealthy. But far worse than that, you’d have to not even be interested in asking the question.

And that’s where they really tell on themselves …

Because what they are showing is that they ASSUME that Haiti is just naturally poor, that it’s an inherent state borne of the corruption of the people there, in all senses of the word.  And let’s just say out loud why that is: It’s because Haitians are black.”

I think this pretty well indicts as racist anyone who defends the president to any degree.

Katz nails the argument:

“If Haiti is a shithole, then they can say that black freedom and sovereignty are bad. They can hold it up as proof that white countries—and what’s whiter than Norway—are better, because white people are better.

They wanted that in 1804, and in 1915, and they want it now.

So if anyone tonight tries to trap you in a contest of “where would you rather live”—or “what about cholera” or “yeah but isn’t poverty bad?”—ask them what they know about how things got that way.

And then ask them why they’re ok with it.

Which is what I’m committing to do.

Amelia Abadoned

Now you have heard my story of that awful tragedy;

We pray that she might fly home safe again.

Oh, in years to come though others blaze a trail across the seas,

We’ll ne’er forget Amelia and her plane.

—Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight

—by Red River Dave McEnery

It certainly seems that Red River Dave was right about America remembering Amelia.

It’s been eighty years since the July 2, 1937 disappearance of “America’s Sweetheart” Amelia Earhart, and the debate over her fate goes on. A History (formerly The History Channel) docudrama a few weeks ago and a current expedition sponsored by National Geographic testify to the continuing interest in the story.

July 7 articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post discussed the controversial subject. The internet is rife with competing theories, most of which can be boiled down to three primary ending points: 1. the Pacific Ocean, 2. the Marshall Islands/Saipan and 3. the island of Nikumuroro.

It’s been a subject of interest to me ever since I learned the song from college friends who formed “The Amelia Earhart Memorial Bluegrass Band.” Oddly enough, on this last July 2, I was flipping through my old song sheets looking for things I might learn to play on the mandolin, which I have lately taken up, when I came across McEnery’s 1939 song about Amelia. I was just into the first verse when I realized that as I sang “onthe second of July” it was the second of July! Then I looked at the year and realized I was singing this song on exactly the 80th anniversary of her disappearance. I was so moved that I noted this on social media with a first-ever recording of myself singing and playing. ( I won’t go into how that went.)

And then all the media hype about Amelia began to pop up. It felt like the universe was speaking to me about her. I got more interested; I watched the History program; I read articles; I did a salon presentation on her.

I now know more about Amelia Earhart than I ever imagined there was to know.

The official story, the one produced by the U.S. Navy about a week after her disappearance, is that she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed in the ocean. No evidence, other than a lack of any evidence to the contrary, has ever been found to support that theory. It was widely disbelieved at the time, as Dave’s line “we pray that she might fly home safe again” shows, and has been labeled everything from convenient to coverup.

Possibly the most-favored theory, the one propounded by the History docudrama and the one that seems to me to have the most evidence, is that she landed on an atoll in the Marshall Islands and was taken to Saipan where she died a prisoner.

The third major strain of investigation is the one currently being followed by a National Geographic-supported team, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). This theory holds that she wandered far to the south and crashed on or near Gardner Island, now called Nikumuroro, where she lived for some time and died a castaway.

The details of all these notions fill countless volumes. Books, articles, movies, documentaries, websites, talk shows and more recount the stories of supposed eyewitnesses, the material evidence —including, perhaps most intriguingly, a jar of freckle cream!—and maps and charts depicting how the plane managed to miss Howland Island and arrive somewhere else.

The whole affair is certainly an extreme exercise in historical epistemology: How do we know what we know?

Of course, history is nothing more than what historians say it is, and our best efforts will always be only rough approximations, but this one is intriguing.

It also has some deep social and political implications, especially the theory I favor: that Amelia ended up in a Japanese prison on Saipan, via Milli Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

THE MARSHALL ISLANDS

The thing I like about the Marshall Islands/Saipan version is that it offers a pretty good rationale for the persistent claims around the fringes that this whole thing was a huge government coverup from early on. The thing that makes me tend to believe it is that there are at least five eyewitnesses whose independently recorded stories mesh with this version. The History program includes video, some of it original, some recorded by the researchers, of witnesses and second-hand reports of witnesses accounts. These recordings all have that ring of truth that is hard to falsify.

The photograph that History claims is new evidence has already been pretty well discredited, but in fact did not add anything of substance to the theory. Just drama. The story works just as well without it.

While I readily admit that much of this would not likely meet the standards of evidence, here’s the version of what happened that, to me, makes the most sense and seems to have the most corroborating evidence:

On account of navigational errors (possibly because of faulty or poorly understood equipment installed just before takeoff from Lae headed for Howland) Earhart and her Electra angled slightly to the north, ending up quite far north of Howland. Realizing that they should be at Howland, she and Noonan turned back, thinking to either cross Howland or return to Lae.

Instead, on account of the more northerly position, she came across the Marshalls, and either decided it looked like a suitable place to land or was forced down by the Japanese. Realize, this was just months before the outbreak of World War II and the Japanese were already in a highly militarized posture in the Pacific.

It’s also possible that Earhart, who was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and other high officials in the U.S., had agreed to do some low-level spy work under the cover of her ‘round-the-world flight attempt. So the Japanese may well have been suspicious, and the deviation in course over the Marshalls could have been intentional.

Both physical evidence and accounts from Marshall Islanders indicate a plane similar to the Lockheed Electra was dragged to a port on Milli Atoll and loaded onto a barge, which theoretically could have taken plane and crew to nearby Saipan.

Several witnesses attest to the presence of a short-haired American woman wearing pants (which was notable in 1937) who was held prisoner in a Japanese facility on Saipan, and two U.S. Marines have said they were sent to Saipan to recover her remains from a graveyard near the prison.

The level of detail one would need to sort through to ascertain the truth about all this is pretty daunting, but this evidence fits well with another long-touted piece of the story: the U.S. Navy intercepted Japanese transmissions stating that Amelia had been captured, and thus U.S. military officials knew that she was being held prisoner, but refused to admit it because they didn’t want the Japanese to know that they could de-code their messages.

In addition, with the war looming, U.S. leaders would not risk sparking conflicts with the Japanese to actually search for or even request return of the Americans. And of course, it even fits the scenario that the massive search for Amelia and her plane gave the entire U.S. Pacific fleet good reason to wander all over the Japanese-controlled areas, unobtrusively gathering military intelligence.

Amelia and Fred it seems, like many Americans before and since, were abandoned by their country because their lives were an inconvenient obstacle to the pursuit of a global war.