Originally postedin 2007
It actually started on June 5th. And it almost didn’t start then. The weather had turned bad. A great storm had blown in from the Atlantic. High wind and high seas had forced ships of all kinds back into bays and inlets. Low clouds made it impossible for aircraft to find landmarks. If the weather didn’t break, nothing would happen until at least July.
But the weather did break, and so, it began only a day later than planned.
There must have been about, oh, I don’t know, 15 of us there. Our two great men were there, Monty and Eisenhower. The poor weatherman had to talk first. Eisenhower asked Monty what he felt. ”Sure, I’ll do whatever you say, you know. We’re ready.” Then Eisenhower very calmly said, ”We’ll go.”
150,000 soldiers—American, British, Canadian, French, and many others—embarked on 5,000 ships, began moving towards places known today as St. Lô, Vierville-sur-Mer, Pouppeville, Arromanches, La Rivière-Saint-Sauveur, Pointe-du-hoc, Ouistreham.
The men on those ships, for the most part, didn’t know those names. They had simpler terms for the beaches where they would be spending the day—and for many, the rest of their lives. They called them Juno, Sword, Gold, Omaha, and Utah.
There were soldiers from many nations involved that day, all of whom deserve to be recognized and remembered. But as an American, it is the men from my country that I will write about.
Only about 15% of them had ever seen combat. But by this time, cold, wet, seasick, crammed into airless holds, or huddled on unprotected decks, many of them preferred combat to what they were going through on board ship.
Get us off these ships. I don’t care what’s waiting for us.
As it happened, though, it didn’t begin on the beaches, but in the air. On the night of June 5th, an armada of over 800 C-47 transport planes ferried the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions over the invasion fleet towards France. For them, the weather was still pretty bad. And it was dark.
It was going to be difficult. Everything depended on landing the pathfinders in the right place. Then the pathfinders had to light the dim beacons for the landing zones. The pilots carrying the airborne forces had to see the beacons, then they had to fly precisely, right over the landing zones.
And the Germans. Always the Germans, with searchlights and flares and the 88mm anti-aircraft cannon—the “flak” guns.
Getting everyone down alive, together, and ready to fight was going to be a chancy business. And the airborne troops knew it.
I lined up all the pilots. I says, ”I don’t give a damn what you do, but for one thing. If you’re going to drop us on a hill or if you’re going to drop us on our zone, drop us all in one place.”
But…they didn’t. The airborne forces were scattered. Almost no one landed on their programmed landing zone. Units from the two airborne divisions were scattered and intermixed, forcing officers and NCOs to create scratch units on the spot, with whomever they could find. The 101st Airborne Division commander, Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, found that his new “unit” consisted of himself, his deputy commander, a colonel, several captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels…and three enlisted men. He quipped, “Never have so few been commanded by so many.”
And still they fought. Gen. Taylor soon had gathered a force of 90 officers, clerks, MPs, and a smattering of infantrymen. With them, he liberated the town of Pouppeville. Elsewhere, American soldiers gathered into groups, and struck out for an objective. Even if it wasn’t their objective, it was someone’s, and they were going to take and hold it.
And when they took it from the Germans, the Germans tried to take it back. But the paratroopers held.
It was a terrible day for paratroopers, but they did terrible fighting in there and they really made their presence known.
By this time, the Germans knew something was going on, if not precisely what. Their responses were confused. Their commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had returned to Germany for a brief leave. He wasn’t the only one absent that night. The 21st Panzer Division’s commander, Lt. Gen. Edgar Feuchtinger, was spending the night in Paris with his mistress. Col. Gen. Freiderich Dollman, commander of the 7th Army, and many of his staff officers and commanders, were 90 miles away in Rennes, on a map exercise. Ironically, the scenario for that exercise was countering an airborne landing.
The Germans were surprised, yet subordinate commanders began to take the initiative, seeking out the paratroops and engaging them, trying to determine what was happening. Was it the invasion? A diversion from the expected landings in Calais? What was happening?
Then, as the black night gave way to the cold, gray dawn of June 6th, they began to find out. Looming out of the fog, a vast armada of haze gray ships and landing craft began to move ashore.
At 5:50am, the warships began shelling Utah and Omaha Beaches. In the exchange of fire with German artillery on Utah Beach, one of the landing control ships was sunk. As a result, when the first wave came ashore on Utah beach at 6:30am, they were 2,000 yards south of their designated landing point.
It was a blessing in disguise. There was almost no enemy opposition. Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. made a personal reconnaissance past Utah beach, and found the beach exits almost undefended. He returned to the beach to coordinate the push inland. By the end of the day, 197 Americans were dead around Utah Beach, but the landing force had pushed inland.
At Omaha Beach, the story was much bleaker.
At around 6:30am, 96 tanks, an Army-Navy special Engineer Task Force, and eight companies of assault infantry went ashore, right into the teeth of withering machine-gun fire. Despite heavy bombardment, the German defenses were intact. Because the landing was at low tide, the men had to cross 185 yards of flat, open beach, as the well-protected German gunners cut them down. Tanks were sunk in their landing ships, or blown up at the edge of the water.
Them poor guys, they died like sardines in a can, they did. They never had a chance.
The men from the 29th Division’s 116 Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and the 1st Division’s 16th RCT were pushed off course in their landing craft by strong currents, and landed with machine gun bullets spanging off the gunwhales of their LCT’s. When the bow ramp dropped, men were riddled with bullets before they could even move. Others, jumping off the sides of the ramp, burdened with their equipment, drowned as they landed in water over their heads. Many more died on the beach, at the water’s edge.
You couldn’t lay your hand down without you didn’t touch a body. You had to weave your way over top of the corpses.
The first instinct for many was to crouch behind the steel anti-tank obstacles, to take cover behind the bodies of fallen comrades, to try and scrape shallow trenches with their hands. And yet, they couldn’t. More assault waves were on the way, and the volume of fire was so great that to stay where they were meant certain death. The beach had to be cleared for the incoming waves of infantry, but to move across that open beach also seemed like a death sentence.
He started yelling, ”God damn it, get up. Move in. You’re going to die, anyway. Move in and die.”
And so they did. They crossed that empty expanse of beach to the only cover to be had, a narrow strip of rock shingle at the base of the cliffs, below a short, timber seawall.
Those who made it to the shingle in those first hours…just stopped. Behind them was a carpet of bodes, and a tide that ran red with blood, making the spray from the curling waves a sickly pink. Ahead of them were intact and well-armed German defenders. Those men cowering on the shingle behind the low seawall had seen their units decimated, watched successive waves being slaughtered as they hit the beach. Shocked and disorganized, they stayed beneath the seawall, in the only narrow strip of safety they could find.
Meanwhile, at Point-du-hoc, at 7:00am, the men of the 2nd Ranger battalion came ashore beneath the cliffs. Their mission was to climb the steep cliffs with grappling hooks and ropes, to capture the German heavy artillery threatening the Omaha and Utah landings.
Under heavy fire from the cliffs, they fired back with the small mortars that launched the grappling hooks. With their fellow rangers dying on the beach beside them, they grasped the ropes and climbed. They climbed until German riflemen picked them off. They climbed while they watched their buddies arch in pain, and then fall headlong to the rocky beach below. They climbed as the men above them plummeted into them while falling, threatening to tear their fragile grip from the rope. They climbed and climbed.
And when they got to the top, the Germans were ready for them. But the Rangers were ready, too. So they fought their way through the pillboxes and trenches surrounding the gun emplacements. Pushing through the Germans, killing them to capture the guns.
And when they did, they discovered that the guns weren’t there. The men of the 2nd Ranger battalion had captured empty concrete emplacements, at the cost of half their number.
Back on Omaha Beach, the carnage continued.
Confusion, total confusion. We were just being slaughtered.
And as for the men (Huh. “Men.” Most of them hadn’t yet seen their twentieth summer.) who had survived the holocaust on the beach, and who now hid behind the tiny cover of the shingle? Well, who could have blamed them if they had just quit? Decided that this one taste of violence and death was enough for a lifetime? Decided that they didn’t want to face what must have seemed like inevitable and horrible, painful death?
And yet…they didn’t. Somehow, they gathered whatever courage was left to them, and began to try and figure out how to get off that beach, and move inland.
We were recreating from this mass of twisted bodies a fighting unit again, and it was done by soldiers, not by the officers.
It was C Company of the 116th RCT, accompanied by men from the 5th Ranger Battalion, that began the push. At the top of the seawall was a narrow road, and on the other side of it, protecting a draw, was a mesh of barbed wire. Pvt. Ingram E. Lambert jumped over the wall, crossed the road, and set a Bangalore torpedo in the barbed wire obstacle. He pulled the igniter, but nothing happened. Caught in the open, Pvt. Lambert was cut down by machine gun fire.
His platoon leader, 2d Lt. Stanley M. Schwartz, crossed the road, fixed the igniter, and blew the torpedo. The men of C Company and 5th Rangers began crossing through the gap, some falling to enemy fire. As they left the beach, and assaulted through the draw, others followed. Those men shivering behind the seawall grabbed their rifles, stood up, and began leaving the beach, moving toward the Germans.
Other breaches in the German defenses followed. Company I of the 116th RCT breached the strongpoints defending les Moulins draw. The 1st Section of Company E, 16th RCT, who had come ashore in the first wave, along with elements of two other companies, blew their own gap in the wire, and moved inland. Company G, 16th RCT, needed four Bangalore torpedoes to cut a single lane in the wire and anti-personnel mines that were set up with trip wires.
The breaches were narrow, and tenuous. Follow-on waves still faced murderous fire from the bluffs overlooking the beaches, and there was still confusion as the timetable was set back by the initial fury of German defenses. The 18th RCT was originally scheduled to land at 10:30am, but didn’t get on the beach until 1:00pm. The 118th RCT was delayed even more.
By the end of the day 3393 Americans were dead or missing, 3184 wounded, and 26 captured. But the breaches in the German defenses had been made. The Americans were ashore, and they were moving inland. The “Atlantic Wall” had been broken, but at a heavy cost.
When I was relieved and I walked by, oh God, the guys that died that day — all those beautiful, wonderful friends of mine, the day before, the night before, kidding and joking.
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was the German Army’s Commander in Chief, West. He was a crusty old soldier who disdained the flashy accouterments of rank that a German field marshal usually wore. He was content to attach his batons to the shoulders of his old regimental colonel’s uniform. He was also a realist.
Knowing what D-Day meant, he called the Chief of Operations for the German Armed forces, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl. “What do you suggest we do now, Herr Feldmarschall?” Jodl asked.
“End the war, you fools! What else can you do?” replied the old warrior.
All quotes taken from the PBS documentary, D-Day.
I know – once again I’ve managed to shock you haven’t I?
All that’s really happened is there is now proof that is hard to ignore or deny. Communism (simply a brand of "totalitarianism") kills and China is – I was going to say "living proof" but that would be inappropriate – is proof.
Remember the Mao inspired "Great Leap Forward" launched in 1958 Communist China? It was the forced "communization" of the population which had resisted it up until then. I.e. the people were pushed into communes where, they were told, life would be infinitely better because, well, because Mao said so.
Now it appears some initial estimates may have been a little low about the number of lives that forced move cost.
Historians have known for some time that the Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the world’s worst famines. Demographers have used official census figures to estimate that some 20 to 30 million people died. But inside the archives is an abundance of evidence, from the minutes of emergency committees to secret police reports and public security investigations, that show these estimates to be woefully inadequate.
Yes, I agree, that’s criminal. It is monstrously criminal. Why? Well obviously the force used to make people do what the state decided to do makes it criminal. What makes it monstrously criminal? Well the number of people that died from it and this:
In all, the records I studied suggest that the Great Leap Forward was responsible for at least 45 million deaths.
Between 2 and 3 million of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hung and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement.
They were tortured to death or summarily executed because they disagreed with who should run their lives or for doing something that those who had assumed control of their lives (by force) decided was deserving of capital punishment.
One report dated Nov. 30, 1960, and circulated to the top leadership — most likely including Mao — tells how a man named Wang Ziyou had one of his ears chopped off, his legs tied up with iron wire and a 10-kilo stone dropped on his back before he was branded with a sizzling tool. His crime: digging up a potato.
When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot. The report of the investigative team sent by the provincial leadership in 1969 to interview survivors of the famine records that the man died of grief three weeks later.
Yes, these are the brutal and criminal acts of a ideology that holds the “rights” of the state far above any rights for individuals. An ideology that many collectivist fellow travelers right here in the US used to defend as the humane answer to capitalism and the “cult” of the individual. And make no mistake the USSR was no better. It too resorted to forced collectivization. In the Ukraine alone, it is estimated that 3.1 to 7 million died from the famine the forced collectivization induced. In the Soviet Union, almost 2 million kulaks – probably what we would describe as “middle class farmers” were transported to the Gulags or executed. All their land was confiscated and collectivized. It wasn’t hard to become an “enemy of the people” just by being born to the wrong people or having worked hard to get ahead.
And as the artificial shortage they call “famine” worsened, what do you suppose those who represented the state did in China (and most likely the USSR)? They used it to continue the oppression of the people and extend their control. It became of tool of dominance and it cost many, many people their lives:
Starvation was the punishment of first resort. As report after report shows, food was distributed by the spoonful according to merit and used to force people to obey the party. One inspector in Sichuan wrote that “commune members too sick to work are deprived of food. It hastens their death.”
Imagine that – purposely starving people to death if they wouldn’t cooperate or were too sick to work. Any guess as to what that drove some too?
One police investigation from Feb. 25, 1960, details some 50 cases in Yaohejia village in Gansu: “Name of culprit: Yang Zhongsheng. Name of victim: Yang Ecshun. Relationship with Culprit: Younger Brother. Manner of Crime: Killed and Eaten. Reason: Livelihood Issues.”
‘”Livelihood issues? Good lord. And what did the icon of the collectivist fellow travelers have to say about all of this?
At a secret meeting in Shanghai on March 25, 1959, he ordered the party to procure up to one-third of all the available grain — much more than ever before. The minutes of the meeting reveal a chairman [Mao] insensitive to human loss: “When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”
Freakin’ amazing. For those who continue to wear their Mao T’s there’s your hero and his accomplishments in spades. And he’s absolutely no different than Che or Fidel or any of the rest of the murdering scum that brought the collectivist, murderous totalitarian socialism known as communism to power.
They should forever be relegated to the same status as Adolf Hitler because in every way they were as bad, if not worse, than he was.
I really do try not to be pessimistic about the future, but this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night:
[W]ithout serious course correction, America is doomed. It starts with the money. For dominant powers, it always does – from the Roman Empire to the British Empire. “Declinism” is in the air these days, but for us full-time apocalyptics we’re already well past that stage. In the space of one generation, a nation of savers became the world’s largest debtors, and a nation of makers and doers became a cheap service economy. Everything that can be outsourced has been – manufacturing to by no means friendly nations overseas; and much of what’s left in agriculture and construction to the armies of the “undocumented”. At the lower end, Americans are educated at a higher cost per capita than any nation except Luxembourg in order to do minimal-skill checkout-line jobs about to be rendered obsolete by technology. At the upper end, America’s elite goes to school till early middle age in order to be credentialed for pseudo-employment as $350 grand-a-year diversity consultants (Michelle Obama) or in one of the many other phony-baloney makework schemes deriving from government micro-regulation of virtually every aspect of endeavor.
So we’re not facing “decline”. We’re already in it. What comes next is the “fall” – sudden, devastating, off the cliff. That’s why this election is consequential – because the Obama-Pelosi-Reid spending spree made what was vague and distant explicit and immediate. A lot of the debate about America’s date with destiny has an airy-fairy beyond-the-blue-horizon mid-century quality, all to do with long-term trends and other remote indicators. In reality, we’ll be lucky to make it through the short-term in sufficient shape to get finished off by the long-term. According to CBO projections, by 2055 interest payments on the debt will exceed federal revenues. But I don’t think we’ll need to worry about a “Government of the United States” at that stage. By 1788, Louis XVI’s government in France was spending a mere 60 per cent of revenues on debt service, and we all know how that worked out for the House of Bourbon the following year.
Oh, but wait, it gets worse, because we’re not just talking about the effect on the US. Our current path affects the whole world.
In 2009, the US spent about $665 billion on its military, the Chinese about $99 billion. If Beijing continues to buy American debt at the rate it has in recent times, then within a few years US interest payments on that debt will be covering the entire cost of the Chinese military. This summer, the Pentagon issued an alarming report to Congress on Beijing’s massive military build-up, including new missiles, upgraded bombers, and an aircraft-carrier R&D program intended to challenge US dominance in the Pacific. What the report didn’t mention is who’s paying for it.
Answer: Mr and Mrs America.
By 2015, the People’s Liberation Army, which is the largest employer on the planet, bigger even than the US Department of Community-Organizer Grant Applications, will be entirely funded by US taxpayers. When the Commies take Taiwan, suburban families in Connecticut and small businesses in Idaho will have paid for it.
When these kinds of crises hit, they often happen suddenly, without warning, often as the result of an event that is minor, in and of itself, but becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. When Gavrilo Princip popped a couple of slugs into Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, it seemed trivial. It was the kind of story that appeared on Page C-4 of Le Monde or the Times of London, and yet, weeks later, sparked a war that literally unmoored Western Civilization from everything that had gone before.
Let’s also be clear that this won’t be a European experience. The post-war European decline , if not painless, was at least very powerfully cushioned by the financial and political support of the United States. We won’t have that cushion.
In a two-party system, you have to work with what’s available. In America, one party is openly committed to driving the nation off the cliff, and the other party is full of guys content to go along for the ride as long as we shift down to third gear. That’s no longer enough of a choice.
Hard choices–very hard choices–are at hand. We will make those choices willingly, and try to maintain some control over our destiny, or reality will simply make those choices for us.
It is the annual Hiroshima remembrance in Japan and the usual cries of "outrage" and demands for an “apology” fill the air.
My father fought against the Japanese in WWII on Saipan, Leyte and Okinawa. I have studied the war in detail. I’ve been particularly interested in the planned invasion of Japan.
Okinawa was the first indicator of what that would have been like – it was and is considered a Japanese “home island”. My father was slated to be with the first wave of divisons landing on Kyushu. The technical description of their anticipated condition after a day or so was “combat ineffective”. That means those initial divisions would have been destroyed and unable to continue to fight.
The assumed number of casualties for that first big fight – and it wasn’t even on the main island – was about a million men on both sides. Don’t forget that they had a regular army home defense force of well over a million men and a home defense militia of 14 million. They had with held thousands of kamakazi aircraft and boats back for the expected invasion. And they planned to make a last stand and take as many invaders as possible with them.
Remember also how the territories the Japanese conquered were treated. Korean women forced into prostitution as “comfort women”. The rape of Nanking. Babies tossed around on bayonets.
So when I read things like this –
Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother’s friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye. “I just felt outraged,” she told my mother, weeping.
– I had difficulty summoning any outrage myself. The Japanese people supported the war, cheered the victories and reveled in the spoils it brought. They were brutal and murderous conquerers. And they refused to surrender.
After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Japanese war cabinet of 6 split in their vote, refusing to surrender. After Nagasaki, they still refused to surrender until, in an unprecedented move, the Emperor intervened and essentially ordered them to do so.
If those who survived the atomic bombings at Hiroshima feel “outrage”, they should look in the mirror. They enabled and supported a regime that “outraged” the world. They cheered and shared in the spoils of a war they started which devastated much of Asia. They supported a brutal, murderous and criminal militaristic war machine that raped and murdered at will. If anyone should be “outraged”, it is those who suffered under the horrific but thankfully short Japanese rule of that time. If anyone should be apologizing yearly, it is the Japanese.
UPDATE: Richard Fernandez also discusses the subject.
Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.
Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.
Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.
Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”
Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:
Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.
So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:
The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.
Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.
Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:
In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.
His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.
These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?
Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?
So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.
Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:
America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”
I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.
Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.
Why? Because history is what it is and resists attempts to rewrite it for political reasons.
A week or so ago, I pointed to an attempt by Ezra Klein to change the history of the Civil Rights bill of 1964 by claiming that the Democratic Senators in the South were a “third party” with which the real Democrats formed a coalition. Of course, as I pointed out, that’s pure nonsense.
Today we see an attempt to whitewash the same period in history. In an article in The Hill, J. Taylor Rushing discusses the latest attempt by the Senate majority (the Republicans talked about it when they were in the majority as well) to do away with the filibuster. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will introduce a bill to take away the minority’s power to filibuster. Of course, it takes 67 votes to change that rule, something highly unlikely to happen.
But within Rushing’s story where the history of the filibuster was being recounted, I noticed this sentence:
In the 20th century, Southern senators used it to block civil rights legislation supported by a majority of the Senate.
Here, let me fix that so it accurately reflects what happened:
In the 20th century, Southern Democratic senators used it to block civil rights legislation supported by a bi-partisan majority of the Senate.
Al Gore, Sr. Robert Byrd. Richard Russell. William Fullbright. Etc. All staunch Democrats – never anything else. All filibustered the Civil Rights act of 1964 as Democrats.
There is no chance that the Senate filibuster is going to be ended by Harkin’s bill. And there’s equally no chance that I’m going to let any attempts to whitewash this portion of history escape my attention. The conventional wisdom about which party is the friend of civil rights is a myth. And I intend to take every opportunity availed me to point to the actual history of that event, not the contrived one.
Ann Althouse is watching the propaganda so you don’t have to. Something in her review of the new Michael Moore agitprop, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, struck me as interesting:
The most striking thing in the movie was the religion. I think Moore is seriously motivated by Christianity. He says he is (and has been since he was a boy). And he presented various priests, Biblical quotations, and movie footage from “Jesus of Nazareth” to make the argument that Christianity requires socialism. With this theme, I found it unsettling that in attacking the banking system, Moore presented quite a parade of Jewish names and faces. He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.
Am I wrong to see Moore as an anti-Semite? I don’t know, but the movie worked as anti-Semitic propaganda. I had to struggle to fight off the idea the movie seemed to want to plant in my head.
I may be alone in this observation, but for quite some time I’ve viewed anti-semitism and anti-capitalism as basically one and the same. Said another way, hatred for Jews appears to me to be closely tied to their historical affiliation with capitalist enterprises.
Certainly the anti-semitism found in the Middle East is somewhat different, in that there are religious and historical factors mixed in to that particular bigotry. And Christian Europe was never terribly friendly to the Jews either, with religious rivalry and illogical scape-goating (i.e. holding Jews responsible for killing Jesus, even though it was the Romans who actually did it, and Jesus was supposed to die according to the scriptures) being played out in large part there as well. Even so, I think there is definitely an anti-capitalist element to anti-semitism.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were often forbidden from owning land, or entering certain professions, which relegated them to doing the work that the Christians wouldn’t do. Lending money for interest had long been considered to be an awful enterprise, so much so that it was forbidden for Christians to engage in it (much as it is still so for Muslims). Therefore the Jews, who had no strictures* against charging interest, settled into those roles (as well as tax collectors, accountants, rent collectors, and other money-centered jobs), and for quite some time were the only lenders around. During the Roman Empire they were both reviled and tolerated for the practice. Of course, being the only lenders in town meant that when defaults happened, it would be a Jew who would looking for his “pound of flesh” and that did not make them any more desirable. Maybe it was during this time that the capitalist enterprises of making a profit from the use of money became closely associated with Jews, or perhaps it occurred much earlier, but before the term “capitalism” even existed there were Jews performing those functions.
With the rise of socialism in the industrial age, especially during the Progressive Era, all those capitalistic endeavors in which Jewish families had staked their claims started to fall into disfavor (even as they were employed with great abandon). Charging interest for money, always historically suspect, and all other occupations concerned with amassing capital were looked upon with increasing scorn. These were anti-social behaviors engaged in by the “greedy” who placed money above all else, and especially human well-being. It wasn’t uncommon for Jews to be treated as the face of these unsympathetic capitalist sorts.
In the age of industrialization vast sums were risked in building factories and the like, and huge fortunes were made, while regular working stiffs found themselves displaced from their idyllic farms and shacked up in dirty tenements, teeming with poverty (or so the story goes). As in medieval times when the Lord came up short on his payments, and couldn’t provide for those who depended on him, the Jewish lenders made for an easy target when industrialists failed. Wealthy bankers such as the Rothschilds and the Warburgs often came under scrutiny (and still do today) because of their Jewish heritage and massive family fortunes, and many conspiracy theories concerning Jewish attempts to control the world through their financial houses flourished. Indeed, during this ironically anti-capitalist period (ironic because of capitalism’s rapid spread during this time, raising the living standards of millions upon millions of people), political parties and community groups were sometimes formed based quite openly on their antisemitism. As an acceptable social prejudice, anti-semitism was often found to be quite politically useful in Europe and here in the United States. At the same time, prevailing political winds were blowing strongly in the direction of scientific socialism, and decidedly against capitalism and individualism.
Again, I don’t know how or when anti-semitism and anti-capitalism became so intertwined, but for at least the last 150 years I think it’s safe to say they share common space. If you were to replace the words “multinational corporations” with “the Jews” in the popular anti-capitalist screeds of today, I don’t think one would see much of difference in coherence (be that as it may) or objection from purveyors of these conspiracy theories.
Bringing it full circle, I think that close connection between anti-semitism and anti-capitalism is why Althouse gets this feeling from Michael Moore’s film:
He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.
In some ways, the bigotries may be inseparable.
* To be sure, the Bible does prescribe certain regulations for lending, one of which has been interpreted as meaning that Jews were forbidden from charging interest to other Jews, while doing so for loans to gentiles was perfectly acceptable. As I understand it, however, these Biblical restrictions treat “lending” as a sort of charity (that may or may not be paid back), in which Jews were encouraged to be free with their money in the service of their tribe, while having no compunction to be so charitable with “outsiders” (although, there too, be charitable when possible is encouraged). In short, it is a “take care of you family” sort of restriction on lending and not a “screw anyone who’s not Jewish” policy that it is sometimes made out to be.