Archive for the ‘1950’s’ Category

Puff and Jackie Paper

June 5, 2018

For many, many years I have wondered about Peter Yarrow’s mention of “a land called Honah Lee,” in that silly old song he wrote about a dragon named Puff.

Just yesterday I was wondering as I wandered along the shoreline of Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.

While vacationing on the north shore of Kauai I had been feeling a little constricted by the touristy setup there. It was obstructing my sense of adventure.

So, busting out of conventionality, so stealthily did I violate the boundaries of tourist propriety by launching into an unauthorized jungle trek.

Jungle2

Past the condos and the pool and the shuffleboard court and the boats-for-rent and the obligatory paraphenalia of predictable recreation, I stepped stealthily into a kapu area of overgrown, untended wild Hawaiian hoohah!

Through broadleaf wild flora damp with recent rain I did venture, stooping beneath gangly trees, tromping around some ancient black volcanic boulders and fearlessly bounding over others, I hazarded the uncharted course I had serendipitously set for myself, plodding along the secret shore, and footprinting wet brown sand, I splashed forth  through shallow wavelets along the neglected eastern edge of Hanalei Bay.  This untamed pocket of Hawaiian paradise has somehow proliferated between two resortified developments of American flimflam.

’T’was then the dragon entered my mind:

“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea,

and frolicked in the autumn mists of a land called Hanah Lee.”

Here was I, perchance, sauntering adventurously through the last wild boundary of Hanalei Bay, maybe a little like the legendary Puff in that old classic Peter, Paul and Mary song:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z15pxWUXvLY

Within the deep recesses of Baby Boomer recall, Puff the Magic Dragon still yet  blows through, across an ocean of imagination. Can you hear the tale?

“Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff

and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail;

Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.”

Once upon a time, when there was as yet no jet-plane, no cruise-boat, no trans-Pacific ocean liner. . . long, long ago while approaching an island far, far away, during an age in which the only transport to these remote islands of Hawaii was by sailing ship. . .

“Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,

and brought him (from highly developed, civilized countries far, far away) “strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.”

Do kids these days even know about strings and sealing wax? This is ancient legend stuff. I mean, who uses strings and ceiling wax these days? Who folds an envelope and closes it and then affixes the back flap with a buttoned string and a blob of richly-colored wax impressed with a regal insignia?

Nobody I know of. You?

These were communicative implements of a by-gone age, when persons of certain authority or rank used strings and ceiling wax to assure a remote recipient that the letter or parcel being hand-delivered had originated with the accredited sender.

Such strings and sealing wax were used in centuries long gone, when mighty sailing ships voyaged halfway around the globe from London or Lisbon or Boston or some such port of great commerce.

Those majestic ocean-going vessels would arrive with pomp and fanfare at many  an exotic destination along the way, where fabled creatures inhabited magical shores, places where a fast-industrializing world had only recently managed to  impose  its rigid demands of productivity, efficiency and conformity on clueless, unsuspecting noble savages such as Hawaiians were when all this commercializing globalization had only just begun.

Puff the Dragon was the quintessential  wild uncivilized creature of old; he held sway over that formerly vast, untamed region where primeval legends prevailed, as yet unspoiled by modern mediocrity, a time and place where magic and myth, not capitalizing pragmatism, still reigned supreme.

So, in the 1950’s-60’s televised commercialized USA where young Baby Boomer imaginations ran wild with the likes of Mickey and Minnie and Davy Crockett and the Jetsons and the Flintstones . . .

Little Jackie Paper, the nascent civilized child, found Puff among his privileged playthings. And letting his imagination run wild, he frolicked with Puff in the autumn mists of a land called Honah Lee.

For a few years, he made play of Puff— until young Jackie decided to move on to bigger and better pursuits . . . baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, Elvis and the Beatles, Mustangs and Volkswagens,  Lost in Space and lost in purple haze,  caught up in fantasy and privileged college days, gathered up in protests and rockfests and counterculture forays, and eventually outgrowing even all that stuff and finally picking up the better “toys” of governments and companies and  corporations . . .

“A dragon lives forever; not so little boys.

painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.

One grey night it happened; Jackie Paper came no more,

and Puff that magic dragon ceased his fearless roar.”

Surely we now understand this about Peter Yarrow’s classic song of forsaken childhood innocence: In the end, Puff ceased his roar because . . .

Jackie ceased his playing. The roaring voice that had bellowed was not Puff’s at all; it was young Jackie’s intonation of Puff’s imagined roar.

Remembering this old tune while trudging along Hanalei bay. . . dredges up old memories.  My feeling is that the quaint longevity of this simple song slips up from beneath the surface of a sea deeper  than mere child’s play.

It is a longing for the past; it is a vague recollection from our collective vault of  wishes and dreams; it is a pining away for a former age of mankind, a time when the people who were in charge of things were benevolent and empathetic, a Camelot time before the brouhaha of democracy, a Shangri-La time before the anarchy of revolutions, before the abuses of communism. . . a simpler, Arcadia time before everything got so complicated and leaders were not so self-infatuated, a time when . . .

“Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came;

pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.”

  King of Soul

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The Justice/Righteousness Struggle

April 9, 2018

Maybe it’s because I studied philosophy in college many years ago. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the deep south in the 1950’s-60’s. Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic and then, at the age of 27 turned to the “born again” approach to spiritually.

Maybe it’s because I, like Jacob of old, have had to wrestle with God before I could let him into my way of thinking and doing. Maybe it’s because of Moses, or Paul, or Jesus himself that I had this wrestling session yesterday. For whatever reason, I spent yesterday, Sunday, wrestling with God.

Not literally, of course, but mentally, spiritually.

Let me try to explain this.

On Saturday evening, my wife and I shared an evening meal, and several hours,  with a small group of friends whom we have known and loved for a long time, since the early 1980’s. We are, as they say, Christians.

These are people with whom we have, on a regular basis, gathered, prayed, worked, laughed and cried, for most of our adult life. We have all raised our now-adult children together and released them into the great wild world.

My struggle yesterday was precipitated by an ethical dilemma. The problem was working through my mind all day because our host friend had shown us a video link. The half-hour online presentation introduced to us—and to the world, generally— a work of ministry that is being carried out by our hosts’ son-in-law, whose life and struggle is being worked out in his chosen hometown, Ferguson, Missouri.

In the video, Jonathan “JT” Tremaine presents some historical information along with some gospel enlightenment, and he then goes on to explain his vision for justice that is linked to a Christian call to righteousness.

As I ruminated all yesterday (Sunday) on what Jonathan had said, and the images he displayed, I became perplexed while wondering about this thorny question:

Just what the hell is justice anyway?

Is it equality instead of inequality? Is it income redistribution? How does this monumental concept of justice really play out in history, American history?

For many blacks, that idea of “justice” is defined largely by what color of skin a cop sees on the face of some citizen that he is trying to protect, or . . . protect himself against.

And how does justice relate to this “righteousness” thing that we so-called evangelicals like to claim for ourselves?

These are the two primary points—justice and righteousness—that JT raises in his podcast, and in his ministry in Ferguson, Missouri, which he calls “Meet me in Ferguson.”

For many people, especially honkies, neither of these issues is any big deal. Yet that unawareness—that insensitivity— is part of the problem.

The bottom line I’m working toward here is this. Both of these issues—justice and righteousness—are very important issues that we Americans must address if we are going to move forward in our great, historical experiment with democracy.

As the Hebrew prophet of old, Amos, presented a challenge to his people—and to all people throughout history. . .

“Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!”

This is a message of many prophets of old, and many modern prophets as well, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks . . .

And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK1

And Dr. Billy Graham.

BillyG

Say what? Billy Graham? What’s he got to do with social justice?

You probably didn’t know that back in the 1950’s, Billy Graham insisted that the ropes be removed—the ropes separating blacks and whites at his very own gospel crusades. And when racist ushers of that day refused to do it, Billy himself did remove the damned things. So that blacks and whites could, together, participate in the work of bringing in not only righteousness, but also justice.

And we are, y’all, still working on it.

Let Jonathan JT explain. This thing goes way back . . .

  https://www.facebook.com/meetmeinferguson/videos/618272528508148/UzpfSTE3ODQxMTQ5ODg1Njc2NDoxODI4MzQ4NjE3MTk2MzY5/

I’ll finish this struggle session with a song:

Mountaintop

Boomers’ Choice (reprise)

February 17, 2018

Is this world screwed up or what?

Tell me about it.

Nevertheless, there may be reason enough to find happiness,

contentment fulfillment and all that stuff

in the silver lining that highlights those dark clouds.

We baby boomers do have a choice, you know,

about whether to cry in our beer

or find cause enough to rejoice while

we’re here on planet earth.

Have a listen:

Boomers’ Choice:

Well, the boys came marching home from Germany and France

and the bomb had made a blast in in Hiroshima.

We were driving brand new cars; we were waving

stars and bars

and everywhere was another factory.

Back in 1953,

cruising with Dwight E.,

Elvis sang the whiteboy blues,

McCarthy looking under every bush.

In the home of the brave and the free

rolling on prosperity

and all the kids were going off to school.

57ChevF

Ten years down the road

another dream had come and gone

and the power of one gun had made itself known.

Back in 1964

big Lyndon opened the door

for civil rights and a bloody Asian war—

LBJ&McNa

young men on porkchop hill

young women on the pill.

At home they said don’t kill;

get a psychedelic thrill.

But the dreams of a woodstock nation

were just an imagination

when the boys came trudging home in ’73.

So it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home

and its hie hie hey, seeking light in the night of day:

the dreams of a woodstock nation

were just an imagination

when the boys came trudging home in ’73.

Well, it just don’t pay to sob;

guess I’ll get myself a job

selling leisure suits, maybe real estate.

I’m not moving very fast,

just waiting in line for gas

and Johnny Carson gives me all my news.

Back in 1976,

overcoming dirty tricks,

some were moving back to the sticks;

some were looking for a fix.

Ayatollahs on the rise

sulfur dioxide in the skies

and the system makes the man that’s got his own.

They say an elephant won’t forget;

let’s play another set.

There’s always another ghost on pac-man’s tail.

Don’t let this boom go stale.

Let’s find an airline for sale

or pop another tape in the VCR.

Back in 1989,

we’re living on borrowed time

getting lost in subtle sin

eating oat bran at the gym.

But there’s an empty place inside

and I was wondering why

these vanities don’t suit.

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

And it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home

and it’s hie hie hey, seeking light in the night of day;

There’s an empty place inside and I was wondering why.

These vanities don’t suit;

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

Put on your Sarejevo, Mogadishu, Kalishnikov and Columbine shoes,

for the way is treacherous with ruts and rocks.

Yeah, we figured out digits out

before that Y2K could spoil our rout,

but that 9/11 call was in the cards.

Did you consider the question of heaven

before the wreck of ’07?

EdselOld

Will you hear the trumpet call

from the Ancient of Days.

Our way is littered with freaks and fads

from Baghdad through our mouse pads

as the reaper swings his steely scythe

across our wicked ways.

And it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home?

And it’s hie hie hey, seeking light of day.

It’s a dangerous place outside

and I was wondering why.

This world don’t give a hoot;

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

  King of Soul

DeepState DeepThroat DeepSh*t

February 3, 2018

I suppose the concept of Deep State started with George Orwell. In his fictional explorations of early 20th-century dystopia, 1984 and Animal House, Uncle George presented the scenario of a so-called Big Brother government that wanted to control just about everything, including not only what people do, but also what they think.

Orwell’s real world of the 1930’s certainly presented a dramatic scenario of escalating DeepState dysfunction. Two gargantuan opposing dictatorships were challenging each other over the question of which one would control the world.

The Nazis, who had wrested control of the German gov. machine, had effectively set up a dictatorship of one man, Hitler. He turned out to be a personification of DeepMad. In other words, he was so mad at the world that he desperately wanted to find someone to blame for all the DeepSh*t. He blamed it all on the Jews and the Communists.

The truth is, however, this. We have found the enemy, and he is us.

All of us. But as I was sayin’. . .

Meanwhile, back at the northern climes, the Soviets were setting up a dictatorship of the proletariat, even though their founding dictator was dead; Karl Marx had dictated the idea that working folks could manhandle the world away from all the rich fuddyduddy lords and ladies who had been running it for so long, and everybody knew that certainly the proletariat could do a better job of running the show.

Now that’s an idea whose time has come, the arc of history and all that. Or so they thought . . .

In the ’30’s the whole damned world was torn apart when the Dictatorship of Hitler tangled with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Oh, and there was a third one—the Dictatorship of an Emperor—Hirohito in Japan, not to mention Mussolini and his goons. Between these four, they pretty much dragged the whole damned world down into a fricking apocalypse preview. Unlike wars of old, such as was conducted by the ancient Greeks v Persians, or David v Goliath, or old dusty militarized monarchs of Europe sending their clueless vassals out to perish, the 20th-century version of warfare was exponentially more destructive than the carnage inflicted by men of old, wielding their legendary sabres and muskets and cannons and those old-school versions of techno-destruction.

Well, by ‘n by, we Allies managed, through much blood and toil and sweat, to put an end to all that dictatorial bullsh*t.

IwoJima

It was no easy job, but we collectively mopped it up in the late ‘40s, ’50s and thereafter.

StalnDown2

But that was just one small historical step, as it turned out, in all the blood, sweat and tears that was yet to come.

CastrNixn

Now understand this: there’s always a lot more deep stuff going on than we, in our pea-brains, can fathom. That said . . .

By ’n by, a new generation comes along and now all these kids still wet behind the ears are growing up with a TV in the living room, and they’re watching the world through the lens of Edward R. Murrow and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Cronkite et al, and by the time the baby boomers get out and about where they don’t have the restraints of mom and dad tellin’ them what to do all the time—in other words, college—by that time, they had figured out that they knew enough about the world to change it—the world, that is—(haha!). And so they got out in the streets and made a big mess of things until finally Nixon got the message and brought the boys home.

Well, by the time the boys came marchin’ home again hoorah hoorah—this was early ’70’s—the DeepState had gotten the idea that Nixon was a brick or two shy of a load, and so they set out to show him a thing or two by pressing the delete button on his power trip.

And this is how it happened:

That whole protest wave that so confounded Johnson and Nixon—it wasn’t just about the war. No, it was about much more than that. It was supposedly about free love and maybe some free pot and maybe even free food, as the diggers had been trying to do out in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was a lot going on in America behind the scenes.

That free love thing, you see,  wasn’t really so simple as just shackin’ up; it was also about getting kinky. So when  the reporters who broke the DeepState Watergate dam—Woodward and Bernstein— devised a pseudonym for their DeepState informant, they came up with the nomen DeepThroat.

This development, which attempted to document the infernal workings of unbridled unjustified politics in the white house, was thereby associated in the public mind with the kinky side of the sexual revolution, as represented by the porno movie of the same name which was inspired by a nymph who had turned kinky because she used her mouth for sexual purposes and they called it DeepThroat.

Hence, DeepState, DeepThroat. There’s always a lot more deep stuff going on than we, in our pea-brains, can fathom.

What the Americans did not understand was that the whole DeepState, DeepThroat thing was slowly devolving us into a pit of moral, political and economic depth beyond our ability to rectify all the deep troubles associated with same.

Now since that time, our preoccupation with all this dysfunctional politics and sex has sunk us deeper into political and sexual irresponsibility. This dystrophy has, along the way, blinded us to authentic responsibility, and ultimately imprisoned us in a yet another very deep quagmire. Yeah, I say unto thee, ’tis yet another pothole of even deeper dysfunctional distress:

DeepDebt, trillions and trillions of it.

Nevertheless, in spite of all that, ya gotta find a ray of hope somewhere. I don’t know about you, but my prescription for our dystopian dillemma is quite simple, maybe even simpleminded:

God bless America.

And if you believe that, I’ve got some deep canyon real estate in Arizona I’ll tell you.

What’s better is: In God we Trust. But with all the deep sh*t that’s going on, such blessing and trusting could require a higher power for the fulfillment part of it, and maybe even some DeepFaith.

  King of Soul

Consummation to Coitus to Coercion

December 6, 2017

I was born in 1951 and so I have seen a few changes in my lifetime. One major change is the difference between how we thought about sex back in those rose-colored 1950’s and how we think about it nowadays.

Back in the day, a man and a women would marry and and try to make a go of it— a lifetime of extreme one-on-one intimacy and— if they were good at it and lucky enough— parenthood.

Nowadays, not so much.

Seems now everybody’s hung up on the sex part of it. Who’s screwing whom, whether he was raping her, who’s consenting, or not, to whom. And who’s coercing whom into sexual acts. Socialmedia world is all about what he did to her, or he did to him. Whereas it used to be about mama and daddy retiring to the same bed every night, then something mystical happening between them, which would result in a new human  entering into this wonderful life.

But now that long-lost world of lifetime love and fidelity is going the way of the buffalo— which is to say. . . near extinction.

Mom and Pop are hardly even a part of it any more. The public obsession that’s been drummed up is all about what Harvey whoever did to so-and-so how many times on his studio couch, or about Roy’s groping the girls, or Kevin’s coercing the boys or even Prez pants-down Bill’s spurting on a blue dress in the very shadow of his privileged oval office hegemony.

Now some of us ole geezers are wondering how the hell did we get here. What happened? Funny thing happened on our way to the millennium, we lost something along the way.

We lost some healthy constraint somewhere; we forsook some beneficial bonds on our way to tearing down all those old taboos, pushed the envelope beyond beneficence.

It seems we Boomers overdid it in our campaign for Free Love.

As it turns out, free love is not much more than cheap lust.

And mere rape, be it sardonic, sadistic, or sodomic.

I think it’s time we blaze a path back to where we were before we lost our way in the wilderness of wantonness.

Christmas'17

King of Sou

 

Birgitta’s Historic Book

November 22, 2017

If you’re an early baby boomer like me you grew up with a sinister presence in the background of our American life—the threat of nuclear war with the USSR. On the distant edges of all that fear we could almost hear the low rumble of a Cold War; it was perpetually being waged somewhere in the world between “us’ and “them.”

We young Americans were told that those Russians over there in the Far East were perpetrators of terrible, repressive political system called Communism.

In 1956, the Premier of the USSR, Nikita Khruschev, began to talk about the widespread abuses that were heaped upon the a Russian people through Josef Stalin’s cruel network of surveillance and prisons.

It was said that many, many citizens, perhaps millions, of  Soviet citizens were unjustly persecuted, arrested, imprisoned and executed without due process of law. American paranoia about the threat of Russian aggression and enslavement grew more and more intense through the 1950’s and ’60’s. We generally heard and believed reports from our Western news-gatherers, both military and journalistic,  warning us about the nefarious presence of a horrific Communist empire on the other side of the world.

In 1973, Alecksandr Solzhenitsyn managed to publish to the world his voluminous report on the Soviet system of imprisonment. His book, Gulag Archipelago, was written from personal experience. Its IronCurtain-busting contents became for the world generally, but also for the Soviets, a basis for a widespread re-evaluation of the Soviet Union and its immense network of prisons and slave camps.

In 1989, the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fomented a revolution in which they overthrew the old communist system and began to replace it with something new and far more democratic than Russians had ever known. The great thrust of this revolution was powered by the people being sick and tired of communist oppression and cruelty.

In 2017, I learned that a woman in my hometown is daughter of a man who survived eleven years in the Soviet gulag, in a slave camp in Siberia, above the Arctic Circle.

Having heard about this stuff all my life, I was amazed to meet someone whose life had been directly affected by that infamous gulag archipelago.

In her historic book, Years Stolen,  Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard releases to the world her father’s own written account of his enslaved life, which was imposed on him by Russian soldiers in Bulgaria in 1944. That long imprisonment included months of miserable train transports, years in Lefortovo and Lubyanka prisons in Moscow, and ultimately Arctic imprisonment at Vorkuta slave labor camp in the faraway, frozen Siberian north.

YearsStoln

Yes, Virginia, there really was a Siberia. And it was absolutely as bad as anything you ever heard about it. This terrible tale was not made up by yankee Red-baiters.

Birgitta’s account, obtained and documented meticulously from her own father’s memoirs, is a truly amazing testimony of his survival saga through unimaginably cruel, cold conditions. Roland Gottlieb wrote and spoke of his real life experience there after his release in 1955. Birgitta’s writing about his ordeal is laced with the tenderness of a daughter’s love; it is also strengthened with a visceral thoroughness that painstakingly communicates the immensity of Roland’s achievement in surviving eleven years in the gulag.

If you have ever doubted all those post-WWII reports of Soviet oppression and cruelty, this book will dispel your doubts. Thank God the people of the former USSR have seen, since 1989, the light of freedom and are now following that hopeful star of democratic reforms instead of the old Red Star of communist enslavement. One reason that beacon burns brightly in our world today is because of the testimony of survivors like Roland Gottlieb, as reported by his daughter, Birgitta.

The book is, as they say, a good read. Buy it now and you will be much the wiser after this textual journey into the hell of suffering that some humans have historically imposed on other humans.

Glass half-Full

Sundown

October 15, 2017

 

The golden years

Are not filled with tears,

But with reflections on the times gone by

When America was young and spry,

and we sprung sprouted through the roots of time.

Purchases were made with nickel and dime.

Goodbye, goodbye,

We’ll see you by ’n bye.

Prague

June 21, 2017

A decade and a half ago, I took a few post-baccalaureate courses at our local university, Appalachian State. I had some educational strategies in mind. Those plans didn’t really pan out. Nevertheless, what I learned at that time sharpened some research skills that had been dormant in me since I had become a worker bee many years prior, in 1977.

In one education course that I took, we learned about a strategy called Compare and Contrast.

In the  years since that phase of life I have found Compare and Contrast to be a helpful idea when describing any two things.

In this case, I apply the method to two periods of time that are described in a book that I am presently reading. Under A Cruel Star, A life in Prague 1941-1968 was written by Heda Margolius Kovaly, and published in 1986 by Plunkett Lake Press of Cambridge MA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_a_Cruel_Star

HedaPrag

The book is biographical; its focus is on one period in Heda’s life in post-war Prague, after we Allies had run the Nazis back into their holes.

Heda Margolius Kovaly was so fortunate to be a survivor–an escapee, no less– of the Nazi concentration camps;  Her book of which I write, Under a Cruel Star, begins with a harrowing account of her ordeal in sneaking out of the concentration camp at a time when the war was not yet over  then laying low as she slinked through Poland into the Czech lands and at last managed to sneak into  into her home city of Prague.

When she got to the city, Heda found the whole place bound up with Nazi paranoia. Which is to say: the Nazis were paranoid of losing what they thought they had conquered. At the same time, the locals–the Czechs and Slovaks–were still paranoid because that’s all they had known for the last six years.

After a while, the the Russians came in and “liberated” the place. Thank God.

But they had big plans for eastern Europe–Communist plans.

In the late 1940’s, the Soviets moved all their control-freak gear and Party personnel into the eastern European nations, including Czechoslovakia, Heda’s home country. In Soviet-controlled Prague, Czechoslovakia, the bossy Russians and their local Czech lackeys slowly and insidiously came to  dominate every aspect of life, with an intent to show the world how Communism, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin et al, could be be accomplished.

Long story short, they made a big frickin’ mess of it.

Heda Margolius Kovaly and her husband were right there in the middle of all of it in the early days of Czech communism. Rudolf, her husband was appointed to an important job, a real plum of a job, as a project chief in the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

In her personal story, Heda gives an account of how Russian hegemony became more and more secretive, abusive, and cruel after the Communist coup in ’48. People were desperate for some kind of rebuilding of life, and they paid dearly for their willingness to accept the Soviet prescription for a better life. But it did not work out that way. 

The flaws in Communist ideology drove Czech life into a real dead end. Instead of life getting better for all the good comrades, life in Prague got worse and worse under the enforced Soviet regime. Heda  raises the question of how. How could the Czechs and others in eastern Europe have been so gullible and vulnerable to the force-fed communism?

The main reason these people had been rendered so vulnerable to Russian control and abuse is this: they had been extremely traumatized and debilitated by the incredibly oppressive, cruel Nazi occupation from which they had been liberated. Furthermore, on that side of Europe, the Russians were the liberators; they ran Hitler’s armies back into their holes. In that first  year of occupation, 1945, they were heroes.

After the war and all that life-shattering chain of events, the people of eastern Europe were worn out, broke, busted and disgusted. For the Russians, these people were easy pickin’s, with their hands stretched out, desperately seeking help and some resources to rebuild their cities and infrastructures.

And looking for somebody to tell them what to do, since they were still in a kind of wartime shell-shock.

But Russians came in with an agenda. It’s called communism. And the Ruskies did not have a lot of trouble getting these desperate people cranked up on a little Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination. Power pounces on  a void.

Tank

Why were the people of eastern Europe so vulnerable to Soviet hegemony?

Part of Heda’s postwar explanation goes this way:

“Usually, the reasoning went something like this: if for purposes of building a new society, it is necessary to give up my freedom for a time, to subsume something I cherish to a cause in which I strongly believe, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. In any case, we are a lost generation. We all might have died uselessly in the camps. Since we did survive, we want to dedicate what is left of our lives to the future.

“This streak of martyrdom was stronger that was generally understood. People felt chosen by destiny to sacrifice themselves, a feeling that was reinforced by a strong sense of guilt that characterized many who had survived the camps. Why was I alive and not my father, my mother, my friend? I owed them something. They had died in place of me. For their sake I had to build a world in which this could never happen again.

“This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who today would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

“The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism . . .”

A couple of pages later, Heda arrives at this assessment:

“It was an insidious process and as old as the world. Had it not been for the war and the overwhelming need for change, we would have seen through it easily.”

Now here is where the Compare and Contrast (that I mentioned earlier) comes in.

That naive willingness to accept the communist game plan was in 1945, immediately after the trauma and desperation of the war.

Let’s fast-forward to 1952, after the Communist Party had been been running their postwar recovery show in eastern Europe for about seven years, and after Heda’s husband, Rudolf, a dedicated, very intelligent, workaholic apparatchik of the State had suddenly been arrested and imprisoned without explanation, without trial, and without any indication of where he was being held, or how long he would be detained, or when he might be released.

In her darkest days of disillusionment with the dysfunctional state of the State, in the grip of despair over the unsure fate of her imprisoned husband, Heda begins a chapter of the book by providing this description of what Czech life had become:

“Life in Prague. . . had acquired a totally negative character. People no longer aspired toward things but away from them. All they wanted was to avoid trouble. They tried not to be seen anywhere, not to talk to anyone, not to attract any attention. Their greatest satisfaction would be that nothing happened, that no one had been fired or arrested or questioned or followed by the secret police. Some fifty thousand people had so far been jailed in our small country. More were disappearing every day.”

Compare Heda’s postwar description of the the Czechs’ willingness to accept Russian hegemony– when the liberated people were compliant to help bring in the communist agenda for rebuilding the nations– Compare it to her description of how things actually turned out seven years later.

You’ll find a big difference there, a huge contrast, like the difference between day and night.

But here’s the good news. In 1989, the peoples of eastern Europe–Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs and others, cast off the chains of Soviet domination, and the light of liberty began to shine again.

We need to help them strengthen the good that was gained in 1989.

Smoke

A deer in the Hungarian headlights

June 18, 2017

Imre Nagy was a politician in post-World War II, Soviet-controlled Hungary. He was a leader in the Communist party, but his interest was not so much in schmoozing within the inner circle of power. Rather, his hope was to provide an impulse for public discussion about the issues that needed to be dealt with in the development of a uniquely Hungarian socialism. Imre advocated a path to collective economic activity that would build upon societal remnants of Hungarian feudal traditions. The retention of certain traditional values and practices could provide an impetus for gradual progress instead of the forced cruelties of the Russian Soviet program. Nagy’s socialism “with a human face” could possibly eliminate, or at least minimize, the violence that would be doubtlessly be imposed  to enforce the dictates of Soviet administration.

The story of Nagy is a tragic saga of a man who tried to steer a safe course between Soviet cruelties and a dangerous impulse toward democratic socialism among the people of his own country.

Nagy

Imre Nagy’s sensitivity to the demands of his people endeared him to the people. They paid attention to him, respected him, actively supported him in a way that was not typical in a communist country.

But his story is a tragedy, because there was a moment in time when Imre Nagy suddenly saw, clearly, the impossibility of his moderate socialist gradualism. Suddenly, in one moment of high drama, his strategies were exposed as being in opposition to the people’s Revolution, even though he was a good Communist.  The revolutionary impulse in Hungary in 1956 was not, you see, the revolution of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It was a Revolution to dispose of the revolution of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It was counter-revolution.

But for the diehard hardline Soviet leadership, counter-revolution was NOT a thing to be tolerated. In fact, it must be stopped, by tanks and guns if necessary.

So Nagy’s unexpected reality-check came at a very dangerous point in time. The realization came at a moment when thousands of his fellow Hungarians were gathered at Kossuth Square in Budapest to hear him speak. He had just been appointed Prime Minister by the leaders of the Communist party. The big wheels of the Party were giving him a chance to do the “right thing”–take this populist bull by the horns and wrestle it down into Communist Party compliance.

On that Tuesday night in 1956, the Soviet head honchos, supported by the local Hungarian Party apparatchiks, were hastily putting together a plan to put down the gathering of the people outside of Parliament. They were planning to send in the heavy guns, the tanks, the Soviet soldiers. This huge populist crowd was gathering steam in Budapest; that very same uprising had been inspired, partly, by Imre Nagy’s leadership style and his tolerant message  of democratic socialism. At that moment, thousands of Hungarians were suddenly expecting to receive Nagy’s signal for a New Course from their new, reform-minded Prime Minister.

Janos M. Rainer describes the scene in his 2009 biography of Imre Nagy. With the thronging crowds gathered in from of him, Nagy stood in an open window ready to deliver a message to the people. It was about 9 p.m. The crowd was so large that some people could not hear him, even with the loudspeakers. Rainer writes:

“As Nagy approached the open window, he saw himself confronted with a completely unfamiliar force. (Nagy later said): ‘Only when I perceived the mood in the square did it become clear to me that what was called for was quite different from what I had prepared.’ “

“Comrades!” he began.

Some answered, “We are not comrades!” and “No more comrades!”

Someone said “All of Budapest is here!” “The nation is here.”

The people had gathered there to receive the leadership of a new, fearless Prime Minister to guide their movement into its destiny. They were seriously ready for a change. They were fed up with those guys from Moscow and their lackeys. As far as they could see, Imre Nagy, who stood ready to address them, could be their man of destiny. He had the courage and the independent spirit to rise to the challenge.

But Imre was unable to accept the mantle. He was too good a Communist Party man. According to Soviet doctrine, the Revolution could not happen here and now because the Revolution had already happened.

In 1917, In Russia. According to Communist doctrine, that Bolshevik event would be the model and the inspiration for all revolutions heretofore.

So the next morning the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and put an end to those Hungarian upstarts thinking they could do something without the Communist Party’s approval. Nagy did nothing to stop it because he knew he couldn’t stop it. He was a realist.

But he was an inspired realist.

And certainly it would not be the people of Hungary (or so the Party leaders thought) who would change the course of the working-out of the worldwide Communist revolution.

Hngr56

But ultimately, in the long run, in the big picture, it was the Hungarian people who did  release the spark that would change communist  history.  As subsequent decades rolled by, the Hungarians’ initiation of resistance did get the job done, with a little help from the Poles and the Czechs, and the Germans.

In 1989, it happened. The people of the European Communist lands overthrew the Soviets, and they did it without a violent revolution.

So maybe Imre Nagy was onto to something all along.

He was, when push came to shove, no revolutionary. He passed the baton on that opportunity. But he did have his place in history.

What a moment that must have been in October 1956 when the people demanded a revolutionary leader, but he was like a deer in their headlights. So he just did what he felt he had to do. He stepped into the background. He took the middle path of moderation. Ultimately, though, the people of Eastern Europe did get the freedom that the Hungarians had been demanding on that fateful night in October of 1956. It just took awhile.

Nagy, their brand new Prime Minister, passed up his chance to become a revolutionary leader like Lenin or Mao.

I probably would have done the same thing.

King of Soul 

A simple act of kindness goes a long way

June 12, 2017

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

These words were spoken by a man who had spent eleven years imprisoned in a Stalin-era Russian gulag. The act of kindness of which he speaks was something very small, but very important. In 1953, a young woman doctor who was working in the prison smuggled in a blank postcard, then passed it secretly to a prisoner, Roland Gottlieb, so that he could send a message beyond the prison walls to his wife and three daughters.

By that time in 1953, Roland’s wife, Ruth, had already spent more than eight years waiting for her husband to be released from the political prison. During those years she didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. It was a very long period of terrible anguish for her and for their  three daughters, as they lived from day to day wondering where the hell  Poppa was, or if they’d ever see him again.

Hell on earth it must have been for them, and for him.

For Poppa, who endured not only cruelties, near starvation, physical abuse and the frigid Siberian weather, the worst part was not knowing anything about his family, not knowing where they had ended up after he was taken prisoner by the Russian army in Bulgaria, not knowing if the girls even knew what had become of him, not knowing if he would live to ever see them again, not knowing anything except the day-to-day hell-on-earth of captivity in Stalin’s gulag.

Then one day a brave doctor’s willingness to risk her own career and safety made it possible for Roland to at least send a few words–a long-overdue update– about his location and condition (alive) to his loved ones.

Here’s a cover pic of Ruth, to whom the secret postcard was addressed, and to whom the card was delivered, four months after it was mailed.

LivesDiv

  https://www.amazon.com/Lives-Divided-family-apart-Russian/dp/1490404236

You can read more about this long ordeal of separation in Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard’s autobiographical memoir, Lives Damaged. It’s a good book about the first eleven years of her life, which happened to be the same eleven years that her father was in prison, simply because he was (doing his duty as a German diplomat protecting war refugees)  in the wrong place (Sofia, Hungary) at the wrong time (when the Russian army took over the place) in 1944.

Birgitta was born a few months after her father was hauled to a Soviet prison in Siberia. She never even saw her father, never even touched him, until she was eleven years old. And when she did finally see him, and hug him, and at last get to talk to him and get to know him, she asked him some questions about the bad people he had encountered  in prison. And he spoke to her and to the family about the bad people there, some of them prisoners and some who were staffers. But then he said:

“Just as these blatnois were bad, I found equally many if not more ‘good’ Russians, like the young female doctor who took pity on me when I was in the punishment camp after the Vorkuta Revolt in 1953, where writing was strictly prohibited. She smuggled a postcard to me so that I could write home. She could have been severely punished if she hand been caught. If it hadn’t been for her kindness, you never would have received that first postcard from me.”

That “first postcard,” when it finally was delivered, was a major milestone, a turning point in the life of their family.

That major milestone was made possible by a very small, seemingly insignificant act of smuggling a postcard in and out of the prison, and yet . . .

Later, after his release in 1954, looking back on it and trying to capture an explanation of it all for his daughters, Roland Gottlieb said:

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

Kindness stands out. Its effects go far beyond the pale.

The milk of human kindness–it goes a long way toward the healing of the nations, and the healing of people whose suffering is a consequence of the injustice and evil that men do to each other throughout history. A brave doctor’s small act of postcard benevolence, along with a few other small deeds like it, is what  enabled the prisoner to hang on to a thin thread of hope. It’s what he remembered more vividly than anything else about what happened in his eleven-year gulag nightmare: Kindness from a brave soul whose courage to act enabled him to cross a bridge from perpetual discouragement to newfound hope.

It’s no wonder that Paul, the 1st-century itinerant Christian messenger, included kindness in his lists of the “fruits” of our Creator’s Holy Spirit.

Kindness. You can beat it, but you can’t defeat it.

Smoke