History With A Grain Of Salt   (2016Dec03)

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Saturday, December 03, 2016                                           1:41 PM

I’ve just watched the first five episodes of Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” on Netflix. The thrust of his re-telling of our modern history begins with an analysis of Russia’s virtually lone struggle against Germany, transforming what we think of as the main events of World War II into relatively minor clashes—in terms of land-area fought over, scale of destruction, length of time, and number of lives lost and persons wounded—and the stats certainly make that much plain. The Western Front was smaller, shorter, and less bloody in many respects—even with the Pacific War thrown in, ‘our’ War involved about a tenth of the size and horror of the struggle between Hitler and Stalin.

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As he continues to explore the question of Truman’s decision to use the bomb, he frames it as more a demonstration for the Soviets than a body-blow to Japan. Stone suggests that the end of the Nazis enabled Russia to turn and join the US, as agreed, in fighting Japan, months afterward—and that their announcement of their intent to do so—came at about the same time as the two nuclear blasts—and was a great shock to an already-battered Japan. Thus, he presents the possibility that Russia, and not our new A-bomb, was responsible for Japan’s surrender, as well as Germany’s.

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His revisionism also puts America squarely in the docket, to blame for nuclear proliferation, the military-industrial complex, and the entire Cold War that followed—and we must admit that the USA, being suddenly omnipotent (and not having their country reduced to rubble by the fighting, as was the case almost everywhere else) became the prime superpower—and had all the problems and corruptions that absolute power is known to herald.

Oliver Stone does have a habit of mentioning Stalin’s atrocities in asides, often, as if afraid someone will accuse him of glossing over them (which the asides almost accomplish, ironically). But while Stone presents a new perspective and a clarification of several old false assumptions—and highlights some overlooked or hidden aspects that radically change the context of certain events—he is still dealing with the problem of ‘history as general summary’.

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His review, for example, leaves out the details of China’s suffering and transformation, its revolution and great famine. The British role in the man-made starvation in India during World War II, resulting in a genocide greater than the Nazis’, was overlooked as well (see Howard Fast’s “The Pledge”). An historical review, by its nature, leaves out more than it puts in.

His view of the last seventy years may be clearer-eyed, less American-centric—but it is still an impossible task to pick and choose the stand-out events of world history over so large a span of time, without putting one’s own ‘centrism’ into the picking. Still, Stone’s gruesome view of modern American history is, unfortunately, solidly-grounded in facts and records, shorn of the ‘spin’ which events are often given in their own time, and which tend to continue to stand as fact, absent an Oliver Stone.

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The show, ultimately, is a flat statement to Americans that being ‘the world’s greatest superpower’ and being ‘the good guys’ are, almost by definition, mutually exclusive concepts. He almost makes us embarrassed that we don’t see something so obvious. Our laser focus on the high-points of American History, and our brushing aside of all the many sins: the original genocide of the natives, the kidnapping and slavery of the Africans, the dehumanization of ethnic and racial minorities, the industrialism that spawned sweat shops, child labor, tenements, and all the rapacity of Capitalism—we wave these things aside and point to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t look over there—look here—o, pretty!

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Most of history is a horror—and American history no exception. If you think about our greatest moments—the Bill of Rights, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, etc.—they are all merely points at which those in power finally conceded, for this specific case, for that specific group, that people should not be used and abused like farm animals. Points on the Timeline when those in authority declare, “Oh, did that hurt? I’ll stop now.” It’s almost funny that we have these tremendous struggles, usually over the question, “Why should I treat you like a human being?” It’s as if, when someone gets a little power, the rest of us have to turn as one and shout at them, “Hey, right and wrong still apply, douchebag!”

I suppose the great lesson of history is that victory is a sort of lobotomy—it convinces the victor that force is effective. And with force must come control. And with too much control comes the need for struggles anew, and a new victor, and on it goes.

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In sum, I was reluctant to watch another rehash of the last seventy years of world conflict—but I was not disappointed in my hope that Oliver Stone wouldn’t have bothered to make this series without some surprising and new information—and observations that really change the context for lay-historians like myself. I love this sort of thing, because you can’t really change the accepted view of history without adding in some new data—and this series exposes many overlooked, obscured, and newly-discovered bits of information, and makes connections that seem obvious once made—making one wonder why Oliver Stone had to do it, all this time later. But I’m glad he did.

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The subject guarantees that viewing will be somewhat daunting, and hardly inspiring—but looking ourselves straight in the mirror is ultimately a very healthy thing, if uncomfortable. I can’t help reflecting, however, that if Oliver Stone can take the old story and re-tell it as something almost unrecognizable—then I suppose someone else could do the same to his. When studying history, one must never neglect the grain of salt.

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Personal   (2016Nov29)

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Sunday, November 27, 2016                                            6:47 PM

Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?

It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.

I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.

That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….

Monday, November 28, 2016                                           5:45 PM

I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.

That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.

I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….

I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.

I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016                                           3:28 PM

Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.

But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.

 

ttfn.