Category Archives: History

Remembering the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the East Bay

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It was  thirty years ago, May 1985, when Bishop Tutu spoke so eloquently at the Greek Theater, I was there. When students took over Sproul Plaza, leading to UC Berkeley’s divestment of $1.7 billion from South Africa, I was there. When Nelson Mandela came to the Oakland Coliseum in 1990 to thank us after decades in South African jails, I was there. Divestment movements and boycotts can and do work.

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Lost San Francisco: Embarcadero and Central Freeways

As a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake the city lost two iconic freeways– the Embarcadero freeway, aka California route 480,  ran along the eastern edge of the city from Broadway to the Bay Bridge; the Central Freeway still exists but has changed significantly since the earthquake, with the northern extension that ran beyond Fell street up to Turk demolished shortly after the quake. Further extensive modifications since have produced a very different structure and route. Here is what they used to look like (note that the folks on the Embarcadero trip have KALX on the radio):

Embarcadero Freeway:

Central Freeway:

Drive Around SF in 1955 (nothing about the Embarcadero or Central, just fun to watch):

 

Forward Into The Past: Utah Governor Signs Bill Allowing Firing Squad

BatistaFireSquadA notable philosopher once wrote: “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice… the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

The tragedy: occurred in November 1915 when labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill was convicted on uncorroborated circumstantial evidence and executed by a Utah firing squad. Hill’s case, appearing to be clearly rigged against him, became a national cause célèbre, with many personalities of the day weighing-in on his behalf. President Woodrow Wilson even tried to intervene to stay the execution. But in the grand tradition of states rights Utah would have none of it. After all, the after-party was set and invitations already printed. For his part, Joe Hill had already come to the conclusion (correctly as it turned out) that he was more valuable to the labor movement dead than alive. In a last letter to labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, Hill asked to be buried across the state line, indicating that he wouldn’t want to be caught dead in Utah.  His last word, shouted while standing blindfolded, was “Fire!”  

The farce: who better to relay the story than America’s most trusted purveyors of farce, Fox News?:

Watch Fox and Friends Report

Let’s bring the execution process into the 21st century. Why not just put the prisoner’s name on the Military’s High Value Target (HVT) hit list and send a drone to kill him one day while out exercising in the prison yard?

Listen to Ohio State’s own rebel songwriter Phil Ochs sing “The Ballad of Joe Hill”:

SOUTHCOM chief: Sequestration will bring ‘defeat’

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From MilitaryTimes.com March 12.2015:

The offensive launched by defense leaders against the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration continued Thursday, with the four-star chief of U.S. Southern Command predicting “defeat” in his missions if the budget trims go into effect later this year….Read entire article

In response to the article the following:

ParallelNarratives: This is the same tired line used by our proxies against us for decades– Rhee, Diem, Thieu, Karzai etc…”If you don’t continue to escalate $$ and weapons we’ll fall like a house of cards.” Basically extortion. Our generals haven’t learned (or have just plain ignored) many lessons over the years from these wars, but they have grasped, and in fact have embraced, this one.

Some may counter that ultimately Congress and the President drive the agenda, it’s their call on what we do and how we do it. And the General’s complaint in the article is merely a reflection back at national leadership – if  you want to bid at Christie’s then you have to pay the price, and sequestration will cause failure, just laying out the facts….

In theory of course this is true. It’s supposedly a hallmark of our democracy, civilian control of the military. Congress and the Executive do have the ability to drill down into the most minute matters of how the military operates. And yes they can fire military leadership (Truman for example) and they can make changes to the very fundamentals about how the military operates (Goldwater-Nichols for example). And by doing so they are reflecting the will of the government over the desires of the armed forces. According to the theory it’s the politicians who set the foreign and military policy and the Generals just dutifully carry out orders. And they can’t do that unless they get what they need/want. After all, they are the experts in war craft, right?

In practice the lines aren’t quite so tidy, in fact it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to state that the fix is in for the military elites….

Korea: There is a strong argument that the military desperately needed the Korean War after years of reduced funding, especially in Asia, in the post war period. When the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel the elites were presented with an opportunity to revive the Pacific force, and escalate funding for it to massive levels. And maybe, they might even get a chance to invade China and resurrect their beloved Chiang.

They got the funding, but the second part of the equation was shattered in the passes and along the roads of the snow covered mountains of North Korea when repeated warnings by Mao to turn back were ignored, primarily on the advice of MacArthur. Truman was forced to fire MacArthur. But only after he lost the nerve to stop him at Pyongyang, leading to a major military and political disaster at the Yalu. Even with that Truman backed down to MacArthur’s flagrant disregard for his leadership for a period of time after the debacle. It wasn’t until Mac’s public rhetoric about invading (and possibly nuking) China became unbearable for his standing as Commander in Chief that Truman took the ultimate action. But one can easily argue that MacArthur’s actions had a greater influence than did Truman’s on the outcome of not only that war, but also on escalating the Cold War and the resultant decades of massive funding for the military industrial complex.

Indochina/Vietnam: FDR had made it clear via the Atlantic Charter and comments at Yalta that he in no way supported France’s claim to Vietnam after the war, but alas he died a year too soon and a green Truman was led by his fervent anti-Communist advisors, civilian and military, to support the French reconquest in Indochina. The chickens came home to roost at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

At the time, the US Joint Chief Chairman Admiral Radford was advocating for operation Vulture, which had a nuclear component, to save the French and inject the US in to the war. Thankfully that was indirectly stopped by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the behest of his deputy Anthony Eden, because Congress would not go along without British support. Eisenhower was largely on board with Radford and was disappointed in the outcome. This can be extrapolated by the fact that he sent Dulles on a whirlwind world tour to try to pressure the British to sign-on, and to drum up support from other nations for American intervention. This set the stage for American involvement in Vietnam.

It was Eisenhower (the most famous former General in the world) who began the doomed relationship with South Vietnam by helping bring Diem to power at Geneva, then by assisting him in holding power in his first major challenge against his rivals in Saigon in 1955. The primary American surrogate in the drama was Air Force officer Edward Lansdale. There was steady flow of American money and military expertise to Vietnam thereafter.

In the early 1960s, it was generals Maxwell Taylor (also a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) and Earl Wheeler (another Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) who made the early pushes for escalation of US involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy, and LBJ after him, could not abandon Vietnam to the Communists, that would have been political suicide. So the military and their right wing benefactors had them by the balls. Clearly the Americans, civilian and military alike, had not learned much from the French experience. As Bernard Fall famously said: “The Americans are dreaming different dreams than the French, but they walk in the same footsteps.” And of course, there was a massive funding escalation in it for the military.

Goldwater-Nichols basically increased substantially the powers of the Joint Chiefs Chairman, thus concentrating power in one person. As we have seen already maybe not such a good idea. MacArthur and Radford were itching for a fight with the ChiComs and both were ready to use nukes to that end. Taylor and Wheeler were vocal cheerleaders for what turned out to be America’s greatest political and military failure. And to add insult to injury, it was Colin Powell, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who led the famous dog and pony show on WMDs to legitimize the invasion of Iraq…

So it’s not so cut and dried as firing rogues and shifting the concentrations of power to “reflect the will of the government over the desires of the armed forces.” It’s a much closer thing than that. Whether overt, covert or implicit, the military establishment has a great deal of influence over national agenda setting. And they have strong incentive to keep the $$ pouring in. Remember what happened when Truman fired MacArthur, some say it’s the closest the country ever came to a military coup in the aftermath. Don’t think every president since doesn’t know it.

Further Reading: Truth Stranger Than Strangelove

Note: almost invariably it’s the nation’s establishment news media outlets that provide some of the best cover for these double dealings. The New York Times was one of the most vocal advocates for the Iraq War and its current ISIS coverage frequently refers to the existential threat it somehow poses. This Op-Ed piece appeared at the Washington Post yesterday :

War With Iran Is Probably Our Best Option

NBC has a portion of it’s website devoted to “ISIS Terror” that keeps a count of the number of stories in the archive boldly displayed on the header. The tally stands at 788 stories at this writing. Here’s a new story introducing chemical weapons use for the first time:

ISIS Used Chemical Weapons in Suicide Attack, Kurds Say

And lets not forget the CIA:

CIA Director Calls Fight Against ISIL Long-Term Struggle

This just in:

US To Abandon Plan For Troop Reduction In Afghanistan

Doesn’t sound like they are bracing for big budget cuts. Maybe they know something we don’t? The best line from this article: “military officials want to maintain troops in order to protect America’s investment” I bet they do. America’s investment in them.

Notice how this announcement comes on a Saturday night, outside of the prime news cycle. Are we to believe that they didn’t know this during the week? But you can be sure they have mobilized the army of TV Generals, who are likely waiting at their phones right now, eager to accept those last minute requests to appear on the Sunday talk shows.

Momentous Days: March 7-8, 1965

Yesterday we remembered the bloody Sunday march on Selma (March 7, 1965). By Monday morning LBJ was knee-deep in a political confrontation of epic proportions. His recorded phone conversations that day show that he was more upset with MLK than with Wallace. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, with much less fanfare, his Marines were landing on Red Beach 2 near Da Nang in South Vietnam, marking the beginning of what the Vietnamese call the “American War.” That was March 8, 1965. The next day LBJ authorized the use of Napalm. Before the year was out he would be “waist deep in the big muddy.” Quite a weekend.

Note: six years later, on March 8, 1971, anti-war protesters broke into a Media, Pennsylvania FBI office and stole a trove of classified documents that revealed the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). The covert program was aimed at spying on, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations, primarily the anti-Vietnam War movement. One of the principal players in the COINTELPRO story was one Mark Felt, later revealed as “Deep Throat” in the Watergate Scandal:

http://www.monitor.net/monitor/0506a/feltcointelpro.html

Neon: the 20th Century’s Sign of the Times

“…a city that was to live by night after the wilderness had passed. A city that was to forge out of steel and blood-red neon its own peculiar wilderness.” – Nelson Algren

Click Here For Many More Examples of Classic Neon

John G. Morris – 20th Century Little Big Man

Capa,_D-Day1In 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 JournalThe 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.

Career:

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

The Mysterious Death of Ruben Salazar

RubenSalazar44 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:

The LA Times Ruben Salazar Files

Watch The PBS Documentary Here:

Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle

Trailer: