In 1947, as Jews leaving Europe were working toward establishing their independent state of Israel in Palestine, an anti-communist scare was gaining momentum in the United States, leading President Harry Truman to sign an executive order requiring loyalty oaths from federal workers suspected of communist sympathies and possibly conflicted allegiance. Over 70 years later, the state of Israel is well established with economic and military help from the United States, and the idea of a loyalty oath as an assurance that a government employee owes allegiance to America only, and not to any foreign power, has been turned on its head by state and federal laws assuring loyalty to Israel as well, or at least not to engage in criticism of that nation’s increasingly aggressive policies toward Palestinians within and without its disputed borders.
2015 release of the 100 dollar bill, showing the design measures taken to foil counterfeiting. The portrait of Benjamin Franklin remains. Presentation by Sar Maroof.
These laws, which require a state employee or government contractor to sign a pledge not to engage in Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) actions against Israel, are so blatantly unconstitutional that it beggars belief they have not been challenged and struck down in the courts already. They are a return to the old days of anti-communist loyalty oaths, but with a bizarre twist. And it’s that twist which complicates matters, because any criticism of the pledges or of Israel bypasses reason and plain reading of the Constitution and goes straight to emotional howls of anti-Semitism. Most people know that’s coming, and since they don’t want to withstand it, they don’t speak up in the first place. The lobbyists for Israel then have their own way.
What has also complicated the relationship between the United States and Israel since the late 1940s is how support for Israel has taken on a polyglot nature in the intervening years, particularly with the rise of white evangelical Christians in American politics since the 1980s. In the 1940s, American support for Israel came largely from American Jews and from the large numbers of people who sympathized with the plight of European Jews after the tragedy of the Holocaust. There are other reasons having to do with the labyrinth of Middle Eastern politics and, of course, oil, but those are beyond the scope of this post.
Since the 1980s, as support for Israel’s increasingly hard line toward Palestinians and relations with its Arab neighbors dwindled among some American Jews, the slack was taken up by white evangelical Christians who looked at the modern state of Israel and saw the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They cared little about the multitude of practical complications, and they had an interested ear in the White House with Ronald Reagan. By the 1990s, a litmus test for election to political office in some parts of the country was support for Israel, right or wrong, and the test was administered not by American Jews, but by white evangelical Christians and, increasingly, by lobbying groups supported by the right wing in Israeli politics.
Lobbying in Congress by foreign powers is supposedly regulated by law, though in practice it goes on mostly unimpeded. In the 1980s, when Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime gained steam in this country and around the world, the South African government did not have anywhere near the lobbying clout in American politics of the Israeli lobby then, and certainly not as powerful as it has become since. South Africa did not have millions of Christian soldiers in this country who were willing to go onward for it no matter what. About all South Africa had were diamonds, and it turned out they were not enough to resist pressure from the rest of the world to reform its immoral system.
A scene early in the 1960 film Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger, with Sal Mineo and Jill Haworth arguing their different world views in 1947 aboard a refugee ship from Europe bound for Palestine. Paul Newman looks on. Indeed, those were the days.
Now times have changed for Israel, and it’s no longer the plucky underdog deserving sympathy; its policies of the last 40 to 50 years have tainted that image, turning it into a kind of South African apartheid regime, and if people in this country want to criticize it for that, or for anything else, then it’s none of this government’s business, no matter how many “Benjamins” change hands in the halls of Congress, or how many white evangelical Christians with fever dreams of a picturesque Holy Land as they imagine it from their family Bibles, a place for fulfillment of the Gospel that they probably suppose would be nicer if it weren’t inhabited by all those dusky modern Jews, no matter how many of those people angrily pull away their support from any politician who dares criticize Israel, and with it their fantasy.
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”
— Ezekiel 33:7, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Amid all the furiously backpedaling confusion promulgated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over whether he was in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook picture of two male party goers, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) outfit, there appears to be no acknowledgment from the governor or his staff of why they seem to think blackface is less racist than wearing KKK garb. They appear to assume that it is racism lite, and therefore perhaps excusable, choosing to ignore that even in 1984 such behavior was not acceptable in general society, and certainly not seen as good clean fun. The governor professes confusion over whether he was one of the two men in the photo, but nowhere does he allow the possibility he could have been the one in the KKK outfit. He claims he was either the one in blackface or he was not in the picture at all.
This song and dance is understandable given the feelings of the greater society about the KKK. Apparently Northam feels if he needs to equivocate about his participation in racist costuming, he is safer with blackface than with the utterly out of the fold KKK. But why? Besides the ludicrous assertion that he somehow doesn’t remember participating in the activity depicted in the photo, why does he hide behind blackface as the lesser of two evils? Is ridiculing, mocking, and denigrating black people any less evil than intimidating and threatening them? They are two sides of the same coin. And no, taking the good ol’ frat boy defense that he personally meant no harm doesn’t fly.
Ralph Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo showing his nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman”.
Lost in the national coverage of Northam’s foolish, insensitive, and casually hateful youthful behavior is reporting about his less foolish, equally insensitive, and more consciously hateful behavior regarding the Dominion Energy natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As always with things like pipelines, the planned route took it through less populous countryside, avoiding the estates of rich folks, of which there are many in Virginia’s horse country surrounding Charlottesville in central Virginia. Instead the route is planned to take it well south of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, through far poorer and far blacker Buckingham County, with a compressor station near Union Hill, a community noted historically for its population of freed black slaves.
View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia, into rural Buckingham County. Photo by Famartin. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would roughly parallel Route 56, intersecting several miles down the road at Union Hill for the compressor station.
Late last year, Governor Northam dismissed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who disagreed about the pipeline route and placement of the compressor station, thereby assuring a yea vote from the Board. In Virginia, it should be noted, the biggest utility player, Dominion Energy, is also the largest single donor from the energy sector to political campaigns, regardless of party affiliation. Dominion Energy is pushing the pipeline through Buckingham County and its compressor station in Union Hill. Just north of Buckingham County is Albemarle County and its plethora of country estates owned by wealthy white people. South of Buckingham County would apparently be too far out of the way, making the pipeline more expensive.
In lightly populated Buckingham County,Dominion Energy could expect easily overpowered opposition to its pipeline and compressor station from poor, mostly black communities. The only remaining obstacle was two obstinate members of the state Air Pollution Control Board, and with the help of their man in the Governor’s office, they were removed. Like the 1984 yearbook photo, Governor Northam and his friends thought they could dismiss the racism implicit in it all by taking the position that he didn’t mean it that way. How insulting! It matters not at all how these people intend their actions, as if that somehow magically exonerates them, but how their actions ultimately affect the people on the receiving end, and professed ignorance of the effects on those on the receiving end is no excuse, any more than it was for the German people when their leaders packed Jews into cattle cars and sent them to concentration camps.
This Memorial Day marks the 150th anniversary of the holiday. When it was first formally celebrated, the holiday was a remembrance of Civil War dead and was called Decoration Day. Since 1868, Americans on Memorial Day have taken to visiting the graves of not just fallen soldiers, sailors, and marines, but those of their friends and relatives regardless of whether or not they died in military service to the country. Officially Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring the country’s war dead, but it has also become a day for remembering and honoring the near and dear, and most Americans usually do that by decorating the graves with flowers.
In western societies, placing flowers at grave sites goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and even before, to the stone age, as archaeologists discovered not long ago. Since then, as Jews and Muslims have asserted their own cultural and religious preferences for honoring the dead, the tradition of remembering with flowers has remained mostly a Christian one in the west. There is an entire symbolism of flowers dating from the ancient Greek and Roman mythologists and carried on by Christians, but it’s a safe bet to guess most people pay little attention to such subtleties when picking out a specific flower or an arrangement of flowers to place at the grave of their loved one. Most likely they pick out something they themselves enjoy, or that they know was a favorite of the departed.
Common poppies blooming in May 2015 in Guelma, a district in northeastern Algeria. Photo by Yaco24.
There is one flower symbol that remains widely understood, and it is the red poppy originating from the battlefields of Flanders in World War I, which has come to specifically memorialize military members dead from service in all wars since the so-called War to End All Wars. “In Flanders Fields”, a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian who served in the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, noted the red poppies growing among the graves of soldiers buried after the Second Battle of Ypres. The fame of McCrae’s poem established the common red poppy, Papaver rhoeas, a tough plant long known in the region as a colonizer of disturbed ground, as the Remembrance Poppy thereafter.
It is worth noting that the opium poppy,Papaver somniferum, is native to the Mediterranean region and the Near East and yields opiates such as morphine, named for Morpheus, the god of dreams. Opium poppies were well known to the ancients for their anesthetic properties, a blessed relief for those wounded in battle or near death. It’s flower is not a symbolic reminder like the red poppy of those lost to the violence of war, but its value in easing suffering and bringing on the forgetfulness of sleep to those maimed and agonized by that violence makes it more important to those poor unfortunates, and certainly more useful. Rest in peace.
There’s a movie out recently starring Hugh Jackman as the 19th century impresario P.T. Barnum, and it’s called The Greatest Showman. The script appears to play fast and loose with history, for one thing imposing a modern sensibility about sideshow freaks on people like Barnum perhaps, and on many in Barnum’s audiences certainly, who would have found modern ideas about respect for diversity bizarre and laughable. We, of course, have come around to feeling the sensibilities of people in the past regarding respect for diversity and individual rights were bizarre and cruel. It’s not clear from a review alone if the movie takes the same anachronistic approach to respect for animal rights.
In the last year, after many years of criticism of it’s inclusion of animal entertainment acts in its circus, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus folded its tents for good and went out of business. The criticism led to steadily declining ticket sales as well as loss of revenue from being shut out entirely from some localities where legislation had been enacted to ban the kind of animal entertainment acts that had long been part of circuses, even before P.T. Barnum came along with his great showmanship.
Jacko and Bess, two mandrill monkeys with the Olympia Circus in December 1931. Some people find this sort of thing entertaining. Note the leashes.
An African elephant at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Photo by Ronincmc.
Zoos may start closing in large numbers soon, after several of them around the world closed in the past decade, citing the hypocrisy of pretending zoos provided means for animal conservation and public education, when really they represent a more staid form of the entertainment seen in circus animal acts. Zoos have always dressed themselves up in a veneer of respectable science, often with little evidence to back it up. Zoos have played Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde played by the rest of humankind in its voracious appetite for resources and habitats, displacing and killing wildlife at will. It’s past time to go beyond trying to conserve wildlife from the rapaciousness of Mr. Hyde and to stand up to him and then relegate him to irrelevancy. Meanwhile, no one asked the animals what they wanted, but it’s clear from the more expressive of them that they are miserable in their zoo enclosures, however well disguised those are from steel cages.
These are steps in the right direction, and naturally it will take some time to redress the other wrongs against animals that people have perpetrated through malevolence, neglect, and a misguided sense of divinely bestowed dominion. At the same time that many people treat their pets, mostly dogs or cats, very well indeed, there is a whole revolting system of inhumane factory farming of animals for meat and other animal products that goes on largely ignored by the general public. Out of sight, out of mind. People will sometimes wonder how the Germans and the Poles could have turned blind eyes to the shipment by trains through their villages of millions of Jews bound for the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Surely they had to have noticed, and the claims by some of them that didn’t are self-serving lies. Maybe so; but then look what goes on across the United States and, increasingly, other parts of the world every day in order to feed the rising demand for meat with every meal. Or don’t look.
A lion at the Milwaukee County Zoo in June 2010. Photo by Antigrandiose.
Companionship with a pet is a fine thing, beneficial to human and animal alike when the animal is welcomed as part of the family. From that point on there is a sliding scale measuring the relationship of animals to humans, continuing past domesticated animal likes cows and pigs to partnerships like that with honey bees, and on to the last type of relationship, that with wildlife, which in its ideal state would be one of mutual respect and staying out of each others’ way. There used to be a television program sponsored by an insurance company called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, in which the host and his trusty assistant were forever tranquilizing wild animals and then affixing a radio collar to them before letting them go. The people troubling the animals in this manner meant well, and they were doing it all in the interests of science and of the animals themselves, but another concept seems to have never come up, namely leaving the animals be. There have been many other nature shows since, and thankfully some of them have grasped that concept: How about if we just back off, let these animals have the space any of us have a right to, and leave them the hell alone?
Right wing media has its knickers in a twist the past week over the findings by a Boston University theater history professor of some racist performances of “Jingle Bells” from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. The professor, Kyna Hill, was researching the origins of the song and trying to settle whether it was written by James Lord Pierpont in Medford, Massachusetts, or in Savannah, Georgia. Ultimately the song’s point of origin remained unclear, but during the course of her research Professor Hill discovered that the first performance was in 1857 at a theater in Boston, and the white performers wore blackface.
Sleigh Ride in Winter, a painting by Rudolf Frentz the Elder (1831-1918).
Professor Hill never claimed that the song as it is performed today is racist, but that did not deter some right wing media outlets such as Breitbart News from attributing that and other claims to her in an effort to paint her as an advocate of political correctness run amok. Right wing media enjoys fanning the flames of anger among its adherents, and since anger is the fuel of authoritarians, the readers and consumers of Breitbart News and other such outlets are always ready to flame up from a slow burn to a white hot conflagration. If there are not enough true stories available to fan their outrage, then the right wing will have to invent some false stories. The trendy term for that is “fake news”.
All this anger over ginned up controversies surrounding Christmas has been going on for a century, ever since the industrialist Henry Ford began muttering vaguely anti-Semitic remarks about a “War on Christmas”, as the right wing has since dubbed it. Ford thought Jewish owners of department stores were engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the Christianity of Christmas, all while lining their pockets by turning it into a largely secular, mercantile holiday. Never mind that no one twisted the arms of white Christians to engage in an orgy of spending for Christmas. The important thing was to direct right wing anger at an Other as American society turned away from the Currier and Ives mid-nineteenth century vision of Christmas (the same time as the early performances of “Jingle Bells”) to a more cosmopolitan, polyglot vision brought by the waves of immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In Henry Ford’s day, Jews could be openly cast as the Other. After World War II and the Holocaust, that was no longer acceptable, and vilification of the Other settled on Communists, or Reds. The latest target of right wing objectification of an ideological and cultural Other is political correctness, a movement that started in the 1980s and has at times veered into ludicrously priggish stifling of dissenting opinion and alternative behavior, making it easy for the right wing to get outraged about it. Some people mock the excesses of political correctness, while right wingers alternate between mockery and spitting rage. Since political correctness is neither a religion, like Judaism, nor an entire political system, like Communism, the casting of its adherents as the Other by the right wing does not follow the same strand of unalloyed hatred.
Viewed by the right wing, and by some in the rest of society, advocates of political correctness are sociological scolds who are bent on taking away every last bit of cultural heritage of white European culture in America. The Nanny State description sums up the right wing view of the political correctness movement. When a story like the “Jingle Bells” one comes along then, right wingers are primed to pounce on it and vent their anger by putting words into Professor Hill’s mouth, making her a cipher for opinions she never expressed. In the “War on Christmas”, the right wingers proclaim “you are either with us or against us”. As a reward for her scholarship, poor Professor Hill got caught up in the culture war and got set up and knocked down as the right wing’s straw woman of the moment.
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” ― Jesus Christ, quoted in Matthew 22:21 (King James Version).
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “
― excerpt from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The two quotes above seem straightforward in their meaning, even if some people with self-serving agendas insist there is room for interpretation in both. Some religious groups, but by no means the majority, chafe at the straightforward interpretations and would rather see the federal government allow them to get involved in partisan politics while maintaining their tax exempt status. They applaud any effort to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code, which forbids charitable or non-profit organizations with tax exemptions from directly endorsing political candidates. In May, the current president signed an executive order relaxing those restrictions, essentially directing the IRS to use discretion in enforcing the Johnson Amendment. Since the law would have to be changed by Congress, court challenges to the executive order will probably crop up, though none have as of yet.
The simple solution for religious groups who want to submerge themselves in the American political process is to forgo tax exempt status. That appears not to be an option they care to consider. They want their cake, and to eat it, too. The Johnson Amendment, added to the IRS code in 1954 by Lyndon Johnson, at the time a Democratic senator from Texas, has always been laxly enforced by the IRS, revoking the tax exemptions of only the most egregious violators. That’s not good enough for some people. They want the wall separating church and state torn down.
President Lyndon B. Johnson hosts the President of Mexico, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, at his Texas Ranch in 1964; photo by Yoichi Okamoto.
But not necessarily torn down completely. Muslims, in the view of the Christian Right, should probably not be included in a law respecting an establishment of religion by allowing them to funnel their congregants’ money to chosen political leaders, just like their Christian counterparts. Not so sure about the Jews, either. Catholics? We’ll have to think about that one. Once we start making exemptions for the exemption, we have to decide who gets it and who doesn’t. What would Jerry Falwell do? His son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Liberty University President and leader of the evangelical Christian Right, believes the Johnson Amendment has to go because it infringes on the free speech rights of religious leaders.
In this scene from the 1980 film Caddyshack, Bishop Pickerling, played by Henry Wilcoxon, plays golf during a thunderstorm, with groundskeeper Carl Spackler, played by Bill Murray, serving as his caddy. The Bishop exercises his free speech rights at the end, with consequences. Note that the music quotes the score from the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.
That argument ignores the reality of religious leaders already expressing themselves freely, just not being allowed to funnel money to candidates while maintaining their own tax exempt status. What religious leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., really appear to mean is that the Johnson Amendment is an infringement on their free speech rights in the sense that was addressed by the Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which found that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) was violating the free speech rights of corporations, both for profit and non-profit, when they limited campaign contributions. Money talks. Now some religious groups, such as Mr. Falwell’s, want the same kind of special dispensation, while also maintaining their exemption from paying taxes. That’s called the Sweet Deal!
George Carlin, a man who really did “tell it like it is”, in a bit from his 1988 performance What Am I Doing in New Jersey? Warning: foul language.
For the week beginning August 21, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is organizing what they call Hometown Congressional Visits to express support for the Johnson Amendment. This is a country of many faiths and to allow one vocal minority – regardless of it’s billing of itself as “The Moral Majority” – to usurp the voices of the many would be not only wrong now, but unconstitutional from the founding of the republic.
It seems it is human nature to need someone or some group to look down on and cast as the reason for one’s misfortunes. From vilification of Jews and now Muslims, to hatred of black people and now brown people, a lot of folks are always looking for a scapegoat. The rich and powerful know this as well as anyone, and are quick to take advantage of this tendency when it serves to turn away the attention of the masses from the true source of their economic stagnation, which is to say the kleptocracy of the rich and powerful.
Hadrian’s Wall; photo by Mark Burnett. People have always built walls, with varying degrees of effectiveness. This one was built by the Romans in the reign of the emperor Hadrian on the border of England and Scotland, to keep the Scots out of England. It turns out the Scots had more to fear from the English, just ask any Scot.
While it is no longer acceptable in open civil discourse to rant about the evils of the Jews and the blacks, and that sort of talk has been relegated to private conversations among like-minded peers, feelings of xenophobia and revulsion at The Other have found their outlet in public condemnation of Muslims and brown people as long as it is couched in terms of protection from terrorists or crackdowns on illegal immigration. There is probably just as much racism and visceral need for scapegoats as ever, it’s just that now, at least in public, peddlers of base emotional venting know to use code words and dog whistles. Everyone knows what the peddlers mean, but everyone can maintain deniability, whether plausible or not is a matter left to an individual’s tolerance for hypocrisy.
Regarding illegal immigration specifically, the facts are not as scary as the current administration cynically pretends they are, and there is a decent compromise solution called “permanent non-citizen resident status”, which the political science scholar Peter Skerry explains at length in a 2103 article in National Affairs. It’s interesting to note that since many Hispanic illegal immigrants are young men away from home and family and view their presence in the United States as a temporary employment situation only, they tend to be insular and not always on their best behavior, two characteristics which contribute to a poor view of them by the resident, mostly Anglo population.
The workers were “settlers in fact but sojourners in attitude.” . . . Not surprisingly, such transience is not confined to the workplace. Young people detached from the constraints as well as the supports of families back home exhibit what one sociologist refers to as “instrumental sociability,” characterized by transitory friendships, casual sexual encounters, and excessive drinking to a degree uncommon back home.
― Excerpted from “Splitting the Difference on Illegal Immigration” by Peter Skerry.
The phrase “instrumental sociability”, when referring to Hispanics, can conjure up a tinge of Tortilla Flat stereotyping, but the more accurate similarity in reference is to another subgroup in our culture, the military. The military also is composed of mostly young men who are away from home and family in what they view as a temporary situation, and they maintain an insularity from the community at large where they are based out of what amounts to a mutual, tacit agreement with the locals. The analogy doesn’t go far before breaking down, such as in discussions of the presence or lack of strong leadership and policing within the subgroup, but still it is ironic that many of the people in the larger culture who adulate the military with nearly onanistic devotion are the same ones who most loudly berate brown-skinned “illegals”.
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard together sang the most famous version of “Pancho and Lefty”, a song written by Townes Van Zandt. Here, at a tribute to Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash sings a stirring version.
Before people with middle class and higher incomes, with college or higher educations, and with supposedly refined ethics, start congratulating themselves over how they are above looking down on people and scapegoating one group or another, they might reflect on the rhetoric following the 2016 presidential election when people just like them, and perhaps they themselves, were quick to berate stupid, bigoted rednecks for the disastrous outcome. The caricature that emerged of the typical voter for the Republican winner was of an Anglo male, middle-aged and older, working class and possibly unemployed, and an uneducated bigot as well. While that demographic did make up a significant part of the winner’s constituency, it was not the majority. The picture that has emerged of the majority is of people with middle class and higher incomes, with college or higher educations, possibly with refined ethics, and a great many of them were female. It is simpler and more satisfying, however, to berate the stupid, bigoted rednecks living in the trailer park on the other side of the railroad tracks than it is to grapple with how it is that your neighbor on your suburban cul-de-sac, the nice one you’ve known for thirty years and who looks after your place while you’re away on vacation, how that kindly neighbor could have voted that way and done that to you.
This is meant as no defense for being a redneck, because unlike other personal characteristics it is not intrinsic and immutable, but rather the culmination of a number of repugnant beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. People confuse rednecks with good ol’ boys. They are not the same. The protagonists in Deliverance were good ol’ boys; the moronic backwoodsmen they tangled with were rednecks. All this appears to stray far from the discussion of scapegoating illegal immigrants, but not really, because the outcome is ugly whatever the source, high or low, and whether the people at the receiving end are “bad hombres” or “deplorables”.
The award for Malaprop of the Year goes to Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump supporter, who criticized a video by the rapper Jay Z which, according to her, depicted members of a crowd “throwing mazel tov cocktails at the police.” Presumably the police needed congratulating for a job well done. A suggestion for ingredients in the new cocktail would be two parts Manischewitz and one part gin over ice, a splash of seltzer, and a slice of lime for garnish.
Some time back another Scott was similarly confused over this Hebrew phrase meaning congratulations, or blessings. Wisconsin Governor Scott “What, me worry?” Walker signed off a letter to a Jewish constituent by writing “Thank you again and Molotov.”
The fireworks in this video are from the “Phoenix” section of the Nagaoka Festival in Japan in early August, commemorating those lost to war and natural disasters. The festival is held every year over three days, with fireworks on the second and third nights. The display is world-renowned, and every year in a spirit of friendship and reconciliation the city of Nagaoka puts on a similar fireworks display in Honolulu at Pearl Harbor. The music in the video is by Ayaka Hirahara, singing her 2003 hit “Jupiter.” The melody is from Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” movement of The Planets suite.
The Weimar Republic in Germany was all but finished at the end of 1932. In September, Chancellor Franz von Papen had dissolved the parliament, or Reichstag, after a vote of no confidence. The government was in gridlock, and power splintered among a half dozen or more political parties with little inclination to compromise with each other. Von Papen found it impossible to assemble a ruling coalition, and he eventually resigned. On January 30, 1933, by appointment from President Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler took over as Chancellor.
Electioneering outside the Reichstag, July 1932; photo by Georg Pahl
At the end of 1932,six million people were unemployed in Germany, in a population of 65 million. The unemployment level was similar in the United States, where 12 million people were out of work, in a population of 125 million. Nonetheless, the Great Depression hit Germany even harder than the United States because at that time the U.S. was a creditor nation and Germany a debtor nation, with an economy propped up by loans from the Americans. As the effects of the Great Depression became clear around the world, nations moved to impose tariffs to protect their domestically produced goods, and Germany could no longer get export income. Germany had also been crippled by over a decade of reparations payments to the victors of World War I, until July of 1932, when it negotiated a suspension of payments.
In the July elections for seats in the Reichstag, the Nazi Party won 230 seats out of 608 available, giving them the largest representation of any of the parties. Hitler himself never was elected to power, having lost the presidential election to the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg, earlier in the year. As noted, it was Hindenburg who would appoint Hitler to power in 1933.
Electioneering in the countryside, July 1932; photo by Herbert Hoffmann
Amidst the political turmoil of the dissolution of the ineffectual Weimar Republic and the rise of the authoritarian Nazi Party, a singing group of six young men – three of them Jewish – came together in Germany in 1927 and rose to prominence there as well as internationally, until the death of Hindenburg in 1934 removed the last restraints on Hitler’s ambitions and dark dreams. With that the curtain came down and the singing group dissolved, the Jewish members eventually escaping Germany. They called themselves the Comedian Harmonists, and they recorded their version of “Silent Night, Holy Night” on December 9, 1932.