I used to think we fought the Civil War to End Slavery

I grew up with that version of history, and I never thought to question it until I was well into my sixth decade.

Forty years before our Civil War, Spain abolished slavery, at home and in all its colonies.  France followed a few years later  Twenty years before our Civil War, England abolished slavery, and it didn’t require a war.  Canada was under British rule, and also gave up slavery in 1834.  Portugal, the Netherlands, and Sweden had all ended slavery before the American Civil War.

Chronology of the Slave Trade

Lincoln declared war on the Confederacy to restore the Union, as he told us at Gettysburg.  It was explicitly not to abolish slavery, because states that fought for the Union were exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation.

Later, Brazil and Cuba ended slavery.  All of these places in Europe and the Americas have better race relations today than the US.  Only in the US does bitterness remain between North and South, left over from a war that ended 154 years ago.

Ending slavery is a noble idea.  Endling slavery with armies and cannons and barbary and rape and theft and devastation of war was a madness for which we are still paying today.

I thought we fought the Nazis to rescue Jews from genocide

But the story falls apart when we look at the details.  We blockaded food shipments to Germany at the end of The Great War, coercing them to agree to The Treaty of Versailles.  The terms of the treaty imposed impossible “reparations” that further enriched the bankers who had financed both sides of the War, but led to economic and social chaos in Germany.  No wonder they hated us.  No wonder they hated the bankers.  Hitler managed to twist resentment of the bankers into a vendetta against the Jews.

When Jews fled Germany after Kristallnacht, the US and Britain refused to take them in, turning them back to Germany to face extermination.

The Nazis built their war machine financed by British and American banks, and with the full cooperation of IBM, Ford, General Motors, and other American companies.  Meanwhile, American companies were selling scrap steel to Japan, dismantling our rail transportation network and turning it into battleships for Hirohito.

Hitler assiduously avoided attacking the US, though we were sending arms and aid to Britain, because he had his hands full in Europe. Japan also avoided war with the US, and Roosevelt worked hard to lure them into an attack on Pearl Harbor, which he used as an excuse to declare war on Germany as well as Japan.

Profitable arms sales to Germany and Japan only stopped after the declaration of war, and even then our Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) was secretly supporting Germany against the Soviet Union, via the secret diplomacy of Allen Dulles.

We are still paying for this madness today with the wars over oil in the Middle East, with the pervasive fear that is the War on Terror, with the genocide of Palestinians by Israel today.

There never was a good war or a bad peace.
— Benjamin Franklin

Every war is justified by leaders on both sides who invoke patriotism, freedom, justice, and every other noble sentiment.  This superstructure of noble lies is built on a foundation of fear, prepared for a generation or more beforehand.

Cui bono?  War is good for corporate profits in general.  Commodity prices create profit opportunities galore.  We may think that munitions companies and defense contractors head the list of war profiteers, but surprisingly they are second to the bankers.  In 1935, Major General Smedley Butler taught us that War is a Racket.  Seventy years earlier, General Sherman had told us that war is hell.

War will end when we demand it.  In America, our first idea about how to solve a problem is to fighta war.  Our second idea is to pass a new law.  But war is already illegal.  All contemporary American wars are fought in defiance of the Constitution (which demands a declaration of war by Congress) and the War Powers Act of 1973 (which limits the President’s authority to deploy troops without a declaration of war).  The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 was passed after a decade-long campaign by people the world over who had been hoodwinked into one World War, and vowed ‘never again”.


Night comes, an angel stands
Measuring out the time of stars,
Still are the winds, and still the hours.

It would be peace to lie
Still in the still hours at the angel’s feet,
Upon a star hung in a starry sky,
But hearts another measure beat.

Each body, wingless as it lies,
Sends out its butterfly of night
With delicate wings, and jewelled eyes.

And some upon day’s shores are cast,
And some in darkness lost
In waves beyond the world, where float
Somewhere the islands of the blest.

— Kathleen Raine

We shall not cease from exploration

I’ve planned a great adventure in meticulous detail
I’ve anticipated all, no stone unturned, it cannot fail.
The source of all my gladness is (or so I do believe)
That I know my destination—it’s a place I can’t conceive!

The voyage started badly, not a detail but went wrong.
My spirits were deflated, and I sang a doleful song.
Excitement turned to dread, I felt bewildered and adrift.
’Til a friend appeared from nowhere, and he gave my hopes a lift.

A glimpse of sweet salvation!, I am rescued! I am found!
As I live, I vow I’ll ne’er again depart familiar ground.
Though the home I now return to is the one from whence I came,
’Tis myself that is transfigured—I can never be the same.

Slow each day slips through my fingers, yet the flow of years is swift.
From a distance, I’ll look back upon the time I was adrift
Though I shudder to remember I was lost without a clue
Yet I harbor no regrets—this misadventure brought me you!

It’s natural to seek stasis, as to dread what we can’t see.
We’d fain pre-view the future, know ahead our destiny.
Though we’re loathe to venture forth from our effete, familiar dives,
Exploration is the only thing breathes life into our lives.

— Josh Mitteldorf

In certain moods, we eat our lives away

In certain moods, we eat our lives away
In fast successive greed; we must have more
Although that more depletes our little stock
Of time and peace remaining. We are driven
By endings as by hunger. We must know
How it comes out, the shape o’ the whole, the thread
Whose links are weak or solid, intricate
Or boldly welded in great clumsy loops
Of primitive workmanship. We feel our way
Along the links and we cannot let go
Of this bright chain of curiosity
Which is become our fetter. So it drags
Us through our time—“And then, and then and then,”
Toward our figured consummation.

And we must have the knife, the dart, the noose,
The last embrace, the golden wedding ring
The trump of battle or the deathbed rasp
Although we know and must know, they’re all
Finis, The end, the one consummate shock
That ends all shocks and us. Do we desire
We prancing, cogitating, nervous lives
Movement’s cessation or a maw crammed full
Of sweetest certainty, though with that bliss
We cease as in his thrilling bridal dance
The male wasp finds the bliss and swift surcease
Of his small time i’ the air.

A. S. Byatt, writing as her fictional poet, Randolph Henry Ash


Outlook on the globe from 1922

Our Western civilization is built upon assumptions, which, to a psychologist, are rationalizings of excessive energy. Our industrialism, our militarism, our love of progress, our missionary zeal, our imperialism, our passion for dominating and organizing, all spring from a superflux of the itch for activity. The creed of efficiency for its own sake, without regard for the ends to which it is directed, has become somewhat discredited in Europe since the war, which would have never taken place if the Western nations had been slightly more indolent. But in America this creed is still almost universally accepted; so it is in Japan, and so it is by the Bolsheviks, who have been aiming fundamentally at the Americanization of Russia. Russia, like China, may be described as an artist nation; but unlike China it has been governed, since the time of Peter the Great, by men who wished to introduce all the good and evil of the West. In former days, I might have had no doubt that such men were in the right. Some (though not many) of the Chinese returned students resemble them in the belief that Western push and hustle are the most desirable things on earth. I cannot now take this view. The evils produced in China by indolence seem to me far less disastrous, from the point of view of mankind at large, than those produced throughout the world by the domineering cocksureness of Europe and America. The Great War showed that something is wrong with our civilization; experience of Russia and China has made me believe that those countries can help to show us what it is that is wrong. The Chinese have discovered, and have practised for many centuries, a way of life which, if it could be adopted by all the world, would make all the world happy. We Europeans have not. Our way of life demands strife, exploitation, restless change, discontent and destruction. Efficiency directed to destruction can only end in annihilation, and it is to this consummation that our civilization is tending, if it cannot learn some of that wisdom for which it despises the East.

— Bertrand Russell (The Problem of China, 1922)

Image result for confucius

The Truest Adventure

Do you remember what it was like to poke your head out of the womb?  Let me remind you…

Sound bombing your ears.  Temperature that freezes your skin.  Blinding light with incomprehensible patterns spread through the brain.  A bewildering freedom to stretch head and torso and limbs in all directions, but without any skill to control or coordinate movement.  Gravity resists every muscular effort.  The air around feels like icy sandpaper, and when someone tries to wrap you in a blanket it, it’s a hundred times more painful yet.

Why screaming babies are so hard to ignore

The truest adventure is to open oneself to the coming moment free of expectation that it will be like anything you have known before.


Mátyás Seiber

Mátyás Seiber was born in Budapest, 4 May 1905.  He moved to England as a young man to escape the Nazis.  He studied with Kodaly, as you can no doubt hear in this music.  He expanded from there to compose in many different styles, but he was most comfortable and most engaging when he embraced his native East European folk music tradition.

    Jazzolet, a youthful work               Permutationi, a serial composition for wind quintet

Disheartened, he raised his eyes towards the slow-drifting clouds, dappled and seaborne. They were voyaging across the deserts of the sky, a host of nomads on the march, voyaging high over Ireland, westward bound. The Europe they had come from lay out there beyond the Irish Sea, Europe of strange tongues and valleyed and woodbegirt and citadelled and of entrenched and marshalled races. He heard a confused music within him as of memories and names which he was almost conscious of but could not capture even for an instant; then the music seemed to recede, to recede, to recede, and from each receding trail of nebulous music there fell always one longdrawn calling note, piercing like a star the dusk of silence. Again! Again! Again! A voice from beyond the world was calling.

— words of James Joyce, set to music in Three Fragments “atmospheric”

Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.