In 1964 Thomas Berger published Little Big Man. Filmed later as an anti-war parody by director Arthur Penn, the satirical novel recounts the exploits of 111-year-old Jack Crabb, as he wanders through the history of nineteenth-century western America. Along the way his life intersects with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, and Custer. Through it all he has a front row seat to the so-called “winning of the West”— and he doesn’t like what he sees.
Crabb was a fictional character but each era seems to have its real life Jack Crabbs– people whose long lives spanned critical historical events, and whose actions, usually associated with their work, influenced events behind the scenes. One such real life character is John G. Morris (1916 – ). Quietly Morris became a key figure in the story of the 20th-century through his photo editing. He was on the scene in downtown Los Angeles early in 1942 to photograph the first wave of Japanese men, women and children being packed off to internment camps in the high desert. He then went to London as Life magazine’s lead photo editor in Europe during World War II and was in charge of coordinating the visual coverage of the Western Front. It was Morris who managed to save a handful of historic images shot by Robert Capa at D-Day when it was feared the entire set had been lost when damaged in development. Morris went to Normandy himself shortly after the invasion and snapped some memorable photos of his own. After the war, while at Ladies Home Journal, Morris published Women and Children of the Soviet Union with photos taken by Robert Capa. The photos provided Americans with a rare glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the onset of the Cold War.
His career spans tenures with Life magazine, the Magnum photo agency, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the National Geographic magazine. He knew and worked with the most celebrated war chroniclers of the times– Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Ernest Hemingway and David Duncan to name just a few. While he was the photo editor for The New York Times during the Vietnam War, Morris put Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl” and Eddie Adams’ Saigon execution and John Filo’s student crying at Kent State on the front page — photos that greatly affected public perception of the Vietnam War. Morris is passionately anti-war, and much like Jack Crabb, it becomes abundantly clear upon listening to him speak that he doesn’t like what he sees. View an excellent documentary about John G. Morris called Get The Picture.
Daily Maroon (The Chicago Maroon), University of Chicago student newspaper, 1933-37
Pulse, University of Chicago student magazine, Editor, 1937-38
LIFE (magazine), Editorial Staff, 1939-46 : New York, Los Angeles, Washington, London, Chicago, Paris
Ladies’ Home Journal, Associate Editor (Pictures), 1946-52
Magnum News Service, Editor, 1952-63
The Washington Post, Assistant Managing Editor (Graphics), 1964-65
Time/Life Books, editor, 1966-67
The New York Times, Picture Editor, 1967-74; Editor, NYT Pictures, 1975-76
Quest/77-79, Contributing Editor, 1977-79
National Geographic, European Correspondent, 1983-89
44 years ago, on August 29, 1970, Ruben Salazar was killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy during a peace march against the Vietnam War in Los Angeles. His death is the lasting legacy of a pivotal moment in the Chicano-American civil rights movement. The antiwar march, known as the Chicano Moratorium, was nearly 30,000 strong and thus the largest Mexican-American rally to date. Along the way an “incident” sparked chaos giving sheriff’s deputies the pretext to move in with force, rushing the crowd with billy clubs and tear gas. It soon became the biggest and bloodiest riot in L.A. since the Watts riot in 1965.
Salazar had worked for years at the Los Angeles Times but by the time of his death he had moved on to KMEX, where he felt he had more freedom to report on issues important the Chicano community. By August 1970 he had become the most influential Latino journalist of his day and over the years his criticism of the authorities’ treatment of the Latino community had grown increasingly strident. While covering the march, Ruben took refuge in a nearby cafe when things got too hot in the streets. The cafe was quickly surrounded by the police. What happened next has been the subject of heated arguments ever since. The only certainty is that Ruben Salazar never made it out alive. The LA County Coroner ruled the killing a homicide but the deputy who’s gun fired the fatal shot was never charged. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department held out until 2012 before releasing its records of the case, and then only to settle under the pressure of a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. That information has broadened our understanding of the events but by no stretch has the controversy been cleared up. As reported earlier this year by the LA Times the “legacy of Ruben Salazar has reached folklore heights since the journalist’s suspicious death in 1970 at 42.”
Check out these Ruben Salazar resources on the Web:
Watch The PBS Documentary Here:
Einstein famously said: “God does not play dice with the universe.” Centuries earlier the christian philosopher Blaise Pascal similarly ruminated on God’s connection to gambling. Pascal’s Wager simply put says:
|God exists||God does not exist|
|Believe in God||Infinite gain in heaven||Insignificant loss|
|Disbelieve in God||Infinite loss in hell||Insignificant gain|
(Above is from From Rationalwiki.org)
Pascal (1623 – 1662) was reacting primarily to the essays of Montaigne, the most popular skeptic of the day. Medieval theology was by then fading almost entirely from vogue, crushed on the shoals of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. For the religious set the trend was certainly in the wrong direction. In response Pascal crafted an apologetic for Christianity which is basically an exercise in managing on the margins of reason. Based on probability theory and game theory his Wager attempted to show that it is a no-brainer for someone to believe that God exists, even though this cannot be proved or disproved through reason. If one is willing to “bet” on the existence of God, even without certainty or proof, with no guarantee of winning the bet, that option still far outweighs the alternative with regard to potential gains. Makes sense…
But this assumes that God has taken the bet. After all, the Wager appeals to a base, some would say biological, instinct for self-preservation rather than to an ideal faith in some cosmic omniscient being. In fact, if God does exist, and is indeed a gambler, might not a person who is willing to take a big risk for his/her belief (or disbelief as the case may be) rate higher in God’s estimation than one who is just defaulting to the safest position to cover his bet (or rear-end)? Should one spend a lifetime collecting silver bullets on the off chance that there are werewolves bent on killing him? Or take a risk and ignore the wager? The answer: who knows?
The National Endowment for the Humanities has funded the creation of a publicly accessible digital archive which will stream nearly 5,000 oral history interviews conducted by the great Studs Terkel from his 45 years on Chicago radio. The site is active but currently only a fraction of the material is up. Much more to come. Check it out here:
Listen to a sample: Studs interviews Alfred McCoy in 1971 about his book on the drug trade in Southeast Asia and it’s effect on American soldiers in Vietnam.
Watched “Freedom Summer” on TV the other night. It was based on Bruce Watson’s excellent book that came out a few years ago. Although the documentary didn’t break any new ground it is nevertheless a worthy treatment of a watershed moment in American history. And there was some footage that I had not seen before, from the personal collection of Richard Beymer, an actor from Hollywood who went to Mississippi with the students and filmed.* But like many other treatments of the civil rights movement, it left out a discussion of the many previous attempts to pass civil rights legislation in the US over the years, attempts that were always squashed by the southern dominated Senate. No civil rights legislation was passed into law in this country between 1875 and 1957! In fact, did you know that LBJ voted against civil rights legislation many times early in his career?
Arguably the most important early event in the chain that ultimately led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, now largely forgotten, occurred at the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. A young Hubert Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis and relatively unknown nationally, gave an impassioned and eloquent speech in support of a civil rights plank. He was pressured by the Democratic establishment not to give it, they said it would alienate the south and hurt Truman’s chances. But he was forward-looking and realized that, in addition to being the morally right thing to do, African Americans would soon be a powerful constituency in the north, and one day everywhere, and needed to be brought in to the Democratic tent. So he stood up and gave the speech. It is only 10 minutes long, but one of the great speeches I have ever heard. Much of the South walked-out, they formed the Dixiecrat Party under Strom Thurmond. But it turned out that they couldn’t stop the tide, they did carry a few southern states but not enough to save their cause, and Truman won. It was a turning point as the speech inspired many northern and western legislators who heard it. When Truman won the election, many realized that they could support civil rights and still survive politically.
“The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights”
Read the text and listen to the speech here:
* In addition to being a film maker, Richard Beymer was an actor of some renown. Among his credits are major roles in West Side Story and The Diary of Anne Frank, and a significant part in The Longest Day. He also starred in the television serial, “Twin Peaks.”
During the Vietnam War nothing got under the skin of the war managers– LBJ, Nixon, their generals, top cops and political cronies — more than public criticism from liberal, and sometimes moderate, members of the intelligentsia, college campuses and the media. The war pushers tried every dirty trick in the book, and then some, to shut these voices down– they labeled dissenters as traitors, commies and un-American; used the FBI to spy on them (Cointelpro) and the IRS to audit them; created laws to throw them in jail for protesting, or sent in ringers and police to start riots during peace marches; and in some cases even shot them dead.
But these tactics ultimately failed. Over time the chorus of voices demanding peace steadily grew in strength and in retrospect history has shown that the opposition interpretation of the war was not only more informed, but also much more honest, than that of the establishment. In fact, we know now that, from Tonkin to Cambodia, there was no lie too big for LBJ and Nixon if it served their purposes of continuing a failed policy in the hopes of pulling off a hail Mary pass late in the game–which of course did not happen.
A true turning point in modern American politics, the shady events of the war years marked the beginning of a damaging turn toward cynicism by the American public regarding the honesty and integrity of their government. Prior to Vietnam, people may have disagreed about politics, but they essentially believed their leaders were, for the most part, honest people, public administrators with honorable intentions. But the Vietnam War– with its phony after battle briefings, trumped up body counts, constant false optimism, secret bombing campaigns and duplicitous foreign diplomacy– shattered that glossy veneer. The trend was accelerated by Watergate and then officially codified into right-wing ideology by Ronald Reagan. The fallout from the war, the war at home, started the nation on the path that has left us deeply divided, and apparently paralyzed politically.
Listen to archival broadcasts from the period featuring those who stood up against the war:
IF Stone – Vietnam Day Protest UC Berkeley 1965:
Writers Against The War 1967:
MLK Santa Rita Jail and Los Angeles 1968:
UC Berkeley Sproul Hall Sit-in 1968:
Columbia University Student Strike 1968:
Soldiers Against the War 1968:
Noam Chomsky on Draft Resistance 1968:
Dr Benjamin Spock – UC Berkeley 1968:
Seymour Hersh Exposes My Lai Massacre 1969:
Note: with the most recent national military debacle – the Iraq War – flaming out of control again, and the hawks circling above calling for US involvement, these recordings take on a renewed significance, if for nothing else than to remind ourselves that it is possible to speak out and influence events– it’s one of the only real powers “we the people” have.
Went to Dodger Stadium a few weeks ago for a ballgame. It’s a beautiful park in a beautiful setting. Had a great time with my mom. We had Dodger Dogs, heard Vin Scully and rooted for the home team. But I couldn’t help thinking about what had happened there in the years leading up to the team’s move from Brooklyn. I first learned of the struggle for what is now the “Home of the Dodgers” from the musician Ry Cooder when he put out his “Chavez Ravine” record about ten years ago. The music is excellent. The story….