Turkey Day

23 Nov

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In addition to Halloween and Columbus Day, I find Thanksgiving an abhorrent holiday, a celebration of the false notions that Europeans and Native Americans could and would live in harmony and comity ever after. We know better. Or some of us do.

Genocide by Other Means: U.S. Army Slaughtered Buffalo in Plains Indian Wars .

Genocide by Other Means: U.S. Army Slaughtered Buffalo in Plains Indian Wars .

So while the refugee population (330 million) of that exceptional nation its inhabitants like to call the United States of America (I prefer Gore Vidal and Emminem’s The United States of Amnesia) gobbles down the traditional high caloric deluge (one of such would probably would be sufficient to feed a village in Haiti or MesoAmerica) and watch young men and felons (check out the SEC football team rosters)beat out each others brains, all the while preparing for the hysteria and mania of the ineptly named Black Friday,let me offer a different path—perhaps one on the way to enlightenment.

I remain hopeful.

I am sending notice of three books that have found their way to me because of that hope

War is Beautiful by David Shields

War is Beautiful by David Shields

I have been following David Shields’s work* a good, long while now —his transmogrification from novelist to literary zealot**(see Reality Hunger and Fakes) has been an engaging development. His new opus is a riveting and unsettling look at one of the pillars of US main stream media,
War Is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict*** Shield’s explains

David Hickey introduces the book:

…Shields analyzed over a decade’s worth of front-page war photographs from the New York Times and came to a shocking conclusion: the photo-editing process of the “paper of record,” by way of pretty, heroic, and lavishly aesthetic image selection, pulls the wool over the eyes of we its readers; with this discovery Shields forces us to face not only the media’s complicity in dubious and catastrophic military campaigns but our own as well. This powerful media mouthpiece, the mighty Times, far from being a check on governmental power, is in reality a massive amplifier for its dark forces by virtue of the way it aestheticizes warfare. Anyone baffled by the willful American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t help but see in this book how eagerly and invariably the Times led the way in making the case for these wars through the manipulation of its visuals. Shields forces the reader to weigh the consequences of our own passivity in the face of these images’ opiatic numbing…

For decades, upon opening the New York Times every morning and contemplating the front page, I was entranced by the war photographs. My attraction to the photographs evolved into a mixture of rapture, bafflement, and repulsion. Over time I realized that these photos glorified war through an unrelenting parade of beautiful images whose function is to sanctify the accompanying descriptions of battle, death, destruction, and displacement. I didn’t completely trust my intuition, so over the last year I went back and reviewed New York Times front pages from the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 until the present. When I gathered together hundreds and hundreds of images, I found my original take corroborated: the governing ethos was unmistakably one that glamorized war and the sacrifices made in the service of war.

Juan Cole observes

After U.S. troops left Iraq, former Times Baghdad bureau chief John F. Burns wrote in a Times war blog: “America, for all its mistakes—- including, as so many believe, the decision to invade in the first place—- will at least have the comfort of knowing that it did pretty much all it could do, within the limits of popular acceptance in blood and treasure, to open the way for a better Iraqi future.” President Lyndon Johnson said about Viet Nam, “I can’t fight this war without the support of the New York Times.” A Times war photograph is worth a thousand mirrors.

Art is an ordering of nature and artifact. The Times uses its front-page war photographs to convey that a chaotic world is ultimately under control, encased within amber. In so doing, the paper of record promotes its institutional power as protector of death-dealing democracy and curator of Western civilization. Who is culpable? We all are; our collective psyche and memory are inscribed in these photographs. Behind these sublime, destructive, illuminated images are hundreds of thousands of unobserved, anonymous war deaths; this book is witness to a graveyard of horrendous beauty.

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You may be unaware of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, a collection of more than 10,000 contemptible collectible. David Pilgrim’s Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice corrects that gap in our cultural literacy:

The items are offensive and they were meant to be offensive. The items in the Jim Crow Museum served to dehumanize Blacks and legitimized patterns of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation. Using racist objects as teaching tools seems counterintuitive—and, quite frankly, needlessly risky. Many Americans are already apprehensive discussing race relations, especially in settings where their ideas are challenged. The museum and this book exist to help overcome our collective trepidation and reluctance to talk about race

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Historian Paul Buhle’s ouevre is impressive and he adds to it with his editing hand of Kate Evans’s Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg a revolutionary socialist theorist and activist was a German Jew who opposed the the First World War (as many others on the left did not) and thus was imprisoned and eventually murdered in 1919. There is not a lot of attention paid in our brave new free market, globalist world (there was a 1986 film Rosa Luxemburg by Margarethe von Trotta)

to dissident thinkers and activists which makes this wonderful tome all the more valuable. Here is a more complete sample from Red Rosa

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Now if you are especially ambitious and concerned you might go to the fountain head of revisionist US History , Howard Zinn’s The People’s History.

 

 

 

* 2002 Identitytheory conversation with David Shields

**my most recent conversation with David at the LA Review of Books

***in which the author explains why he no longer reads The New York Times

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