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The Game of Kings Meets a Prince of Death


Gamboling Amid Gamblers Indeed

The nature of narrative is to nurture the spin of everything in the cosmos so as to tell all the twists and torque and tension and torture that underlie even the most mundane and placid surfaces.  That said, when one steps back from certain stories, an honestly simple central message emerges, a notion that intersects with and helps to account for literally everything in the tale, even as the wacky hairpin turns and upsurges of brutality and mayhem seem to indicate intricacy and complication that would seem almost impossible to unravel.

ArtFightTo some extent, this prevalence of a predominant pattern is present in today’s telling, which concerns at the level of the basic plotline one of the most marvelous pastimes that humans have ever devised, albeit backgammon is less popular now than it has often been historically.  The core component of the yarn that the Spindoctor proffers here flows inherently from the nature of ‘the King of Games,’ to wit that managing risk will always confront those who take chances with precipices at which David Bromberg’s advice, in “Diamond Lil,” would be apt to keep uppermost in one’s mind: “A man should never gamble; a man should never gamble; a man should never gamble, more than he can stand to lose.”

Nonetheless, in some senses as a matter of course, every breath that we take is such a wager: whether in crossing the street or staying on the sidewalk, whether in diving in or jumping in or simply wading in little by little, whether in kissing and telling or hoping for discretion, no matter the conjunction that an actor confronts, issues of life and death can come to the fore whatever choices one makes.  Thus, the best that anyone can hope for is to manage the inherent dangers that the world dangles in front of us, with the allure of spun sugar to the hungry infant, so as to maximize one’s joy and potency, to optimize one’s interactions with oneself and others, and to minimize the likelihood of pain and carnage as the steps that make up every journey unfold as we perambulate along life’s highways.

Looking at the life of Marshall Beatty, as the Spindoctor has come to know it—not from God’s perspective, by any means, but with a measure of eyewitness and hearsay and circumstantial knowledge—one might suggest that this dear fellow, whose charm and looks and intellect and passion were lovely, if not legendary, to behold, may indeed have overstepped the bounds of balancing the maximizing and optimizing of the positive with the minimizing of the negative.  But such a judgment is not the purpose of conveying this account.

This rationale, quite frankly, is that the combination of event and context in the saga itself compels a richly detailed telling and an appropriately amazed consideration of ‘how the deal went down,’ as it were.  In the event, before readers consider the dark pass that this scion of significant wealth confronted in Southern France thirty-odd years ago, a setting of the stage seems apropos, itself in a series of interludes that provide first an overview of the game of backgammon, second a very partial but nonetheless indicative account of how the game has shown up in literature over the years, third a précis of Marshall’s life before he became a wandering gambler, and fourth how he and the Spindoctor spent an Aspen year together in which backgammon was a central organizing principle of their relations.

All of these factors, as observers may soon enough note, so constrained the course of events thereafter that one would find most other resolutions of this drama implausible, if not unsatisfactory.   Whatever the case may be, perhaps the witch of the west stated the case most reasonably: “All in good time, my pretties, all in good time.”


Two dice for each player; fifteen checkers arrayed on twenty-four slender triangular landing points; movement that happens along these points according to the pips on the dice, tossed from a cup; rules that permit blockade, capture, recirculation; and over all a race to the finish, which more or less beckons ineluctably as possible for either side to win under most circumstances: these elements, plus a doubling cube that both increases the cost and skill that the game requires, on the one hand, and speeds up action, on the other hand, constitute the game of backgammon.

An entry from the Eleventh Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica portrays a process that is remarkably similar to what transpires to this day, although the cube was still a decade away from its American inception.  “When a player so moves as to place two men on the same point, he is said to ‘make a point.’”  This building process was and remains fundamental to the contest, as does the following assessment.

The text continues, “When there is only a single man on a point, it is called a ‘blot.’  When a blot is left the man{or checker}there may be taken up(technically, the blot may be ‘hit’)by the adversary if he throws a number which will enable him to place a man on that point.  The man hit placed on the bar{that divides the board vertically into two sectors, out of play}, and has to begin again by entering the adversary’s home table again at the next throw should it result in a number that corresponds to an unblocked point.”

As an exercise in counting, pattern recognition, and strategy, backgammon is indubitably unsurpassed and arguably unparalleled among the ‘board-battles’ that mimic conflict and contention in the real world.  One could validate this fact through any number of research strategies: < backgammon strategy “pattern recognition” OR intelligence OR “conceptual ability” counting OR “empirical ability” OR “mathematical ability”> for example, elicits almost 100,000 useful links.

On the other hand, one could simply choose to trust the Spindoctor’s rectitude in this matter, based as it is on almost half a century of experience.  If one can keep the effort in perspective as both diversion and practice, few activities have a greater chance of delivering clarity in a wide range of strategic and conceptual capacities than does learning and grappling with as close to mastery of backgammon as proves possible in a given performer’s case.

Perhaps more critical to a clear-eyed understanding of the King of Games are the social issues that elicit any such activities among a wide section of every single populace that has ever existed.  For the entire term of the multiple historical records that dot the earth, and in most archeological and anthropological investigations of the previous tens of thousands of years of human evolution, people have competed playfully and yet so seriously as at times to bring forth lethal consequences.

PompeiA relatively intricate search demonstrates this well: < games OR gaming OR play competition OR conflict OR contention teaching OR learning OR instructing OR training history OR origins anthropology OR archaelogy study OR analysis> yields a flood of ‘hits.’  Almost fifty million results attend the entry of the terms in Google, for instance.

The meaning of this plethora and variety of interest and documentation is multifold.  It indicates that, whatever moralists may say, “You wanna bet?” is an ingrained piece of the human psyche.  It shows how learning and teaching inherently intermingle with fun and contests.  It proves beyond doubt that some people will avail themselves of superior strategic ability to gain advantages over others.  It demonstrates how those whose birthright includes less access to wealth and opportunity will use such diversions so as to level the playing fields of existence.  One could go on; and on and on and on.

An anecdote about the origins of chess, long ago in India, is apt in this regard.  The inventor of the game—or in some versions of the legend, a teacher of the game—had an opportunity to name his reward for creating or instructing others about the way to play.

He made the apparently modest request from the royalty who deigned to give up some of its lucre of a single grain of rice, or wheat, on the chess board’s first square, with a doubling of the amount of carbohydrate on each subsequent square.  Invariably, since fulfilling the mandate would have mortgaged the rulers for close to eternity, the agreement never reaches its finish; in many expressions  of the story, the king has the genius commoner who made up the contest and the reward put to the sword, while in others he awards the intrepid daredevil a seat next to his highness or a life with his beautiful daughter.

The upshot of such a longstanding mythos at least contains the following notion.  Life is full of random inequity and unfair competitions.  In such an arena, all activity that helps life’s participants to envision, strategize, and plan are worth a lot, even if they can also cause a ton of trouble.

640px-6sided_diceIn any case, as with most forms of gambling and many types of gaming, a multi-dimensional and often contradictory dynamic typifies how the sport takes shape in the world, especially perhaps in the current moment when so much is in flux and under dispute.  At least a handful of pointers are worth parsing a little.

One aspect of this free-floating dialectic concerns predation and parasitic behavior.  Undoubtedly, some people—and today’s report illustrates this in some ways—take advantage of greater skill or duplicity or other erstwhile playful facility so as to garner the goods and services and cash that others, less capable or ruthless, own and in many cases have worked hard to earn.  In this vein, whatever benefits attend such tactical intelligence, it must also reveal pathological effects.

Another dimension altogether is the simple necessity that any group of people will inevitably actualize parameters that allow socialized competition.  Whether the ‘playing field’ is primarily physical or largely mental—and in every case, both mental and physical strength and endurance are at issue, such gambols in the realm of gaming must be an unavoidable accompaniment of humanity, if only because never has any group left an impression on the planet of its existence without also providing observers after the fact with some evidence that such pursuits have taken place in that societal nexus.

At least one additional element makes an appearance, in the event as something like a stage for class conflict, or even class war, to occur.  This applies immutably to the countless incidents in which the Spindoctor has practiced gaming, especially backgammon.  With virtually no exceptions at the outset, a potentiation of Robin Hood has transpired at the table, since basically all of his opponents have ‘middle-class,’ bourgeois, or trust-funded roots.

That this point inevitably dovetails with the initial thought is interesting. No doubt, outside of the ivied halls of privilege where the oh-so-lucky Jimbo matriculated, such observations as attend his initial sessions become more complex, multisided, and ineffable.  Thus, this view also suggests the dialectical and paradoxical interplay that games such as backgammon universally bring to the forefront.

ArtFightA penultimate note ought to include the way that the multi-player version of the game takes place.  Chouette, any such backgammon skirmish that involves more than two players, most powerfully embodies how groups and individuals must bargain among themselves to balance cooperation and competition, collaboration and individual action.

One final idea bears mentioning here.  It concerns the absolute need—for healthy bodies and minds—that people have for diversion.  Despite this requisite part of human existence, of course, it all too often these days pops up as one rendering or another of the ‘bread and circuses’ strategy of Rome’s most nefarious and plutocratic emperors.  Without a single doubt, a game like backgammon appears both positively as a constructive hobby and negatively as a destructive distraction from all that nature necessitates for our present survival.

One might continue this discourse till many volumes had come and gone.  Not only is backgammon a nuanced template for pondering how risk and reward, action and reaction, manifest themselves in flesh and blood, so to say, but it also brings out both intensely competitive and remarkably collaborative potentialities.  In particular, chouettes combine these components of attack and parlay, of cooperation and throat-cutting, of individual and group thinking and negotiating strategies, in ways that almost perfectly parallel how actual and successful mediation takes place in combative and many-sided disputes.

The proposal for this article stated the case in arguably a useful fashion.  “A characteristic of our globe these days is this spread of human culture to every space that Earth’s land surface graces.  Moreover, wherever folks have stayed, they have also played.  Thus, a part of this cultural infiltration of people and their pastimes has been the rooting everywhere of certain games, one of which is ‘the game of kings and the king of games,’ backgammon.  From London to Tokyo, from Istanbul to Santiago, from Manhattan to Cape Town, travelers who know BG can find opponents who will at once willingly wile away time and gladly chance their luck in heads-up or group settings.”

For now, having barely skimmed the surface, with a tale to tell that entails thinking about the game, the time to move on is nigh.  Still, before encountering the characters in conflict in today’s story, we might point out a few additional contextual bits about this royal game for royal characters.


Backgammon is decidedly not primarily an Anglo-American pastime, though the import of the doubling cube is definitely an American addition to the contest.  One need only visit Ankara or Athens or Cairo or Jerusalem to see the heartlands of the game, the name of which varies but often includes a variation of the Persian, “Shesh pesh,” for “Six-five” on the dice; Israeli terminology uses “shesh-besh,” Old Turkish for the same quantity.

“Istanbul panorama and skyline” by Ben Morlok – cc 2.0

Naturally, then, Turkey’s Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk includes references to the game in both his fiction and nonfiction.  What he makes clear is that the game has woven itself seamlessly into the fabric of Turkish life, playing as routine a part as family meals or conversations among neighbors about television or politics.

It contextualizes infidelity and slowly requited love in The Museum of Innocence.  It serves as the foundation for a lesson in memory as the main character’s father ponders tactics “in a tight spot,” in The New Life.  It appears repeatedly as a signpost of Istanbul’s and the nation’s mores in The Black Book and elsewhere.  In his account of Istanbul as a place, which he subtitles Memories of a City, he mentions it just once, to show that he has little of his fellow Turks’ passion for the game—he and his mates use the checkers for imaginary games of soccer that they play with marbles.

Surely, innumerable other writers and storytellers from the Levant and Southern Asia bring the ‘king of games’ into their yarns.  Via such characters and characterizations, it has traveled to the New World as well.  Jorge Amado’s Gabriella, Clove, and Cinnamon plays out a story’s thread in which the main character, Nacib, has traveled from Lebanon and brought backgammon to Brazil’s equivalent of the ‘wild West,’ where a coterie of gamblers and roustabouts play the game regularly, possibly even obsessively, in his pub.

BG contextualizes their competitive and friendly relations, at once an outlet for their flirtatiousness and their acquisitiveness.  It is a constant presence in the bard’s estimable tale of chance and will, longing and love, business and predation.

302px-Tieta_Cover1While his better-known meditation on love and human affairs, Doña Flor and Her Two Husbands, does not bring the ‘king of games’ explicitly to the fore, the deceased spouse, whose wagers and carousing are the stuff of legend, was a gambler extraordinaire in a milieu in which backgammon was a regular presence.  It also shows up in Amado’s other stories, such as Tieta: the Goat Girl and Tent of Miracles.

One might easily pursue backgammon’s cultural impact on every single Mediterranean culture, after which one could delineate the worldwide spread of the game from this creative cradle.  That will be labor for a later project, however, here and now our task an attempt to account for why a South Carolina Episcopalian became such a devotee of the skirmishes that are omnipresent on the board.

And that effort requires us to dig into England’s uptake of the ‘game of kings,’ which has for several centuries been a noteworthy phenomenon indeed.  In no less a central tome of contemporary mores and thinking than Vanity Fair itself does backgammon make the scene again and again and again.  Becky Sharp is a taskmistress over the board, as is Lady Jane Grey, who learned at her grandfather’s knee.


Becky Sharp – Vanity Fair

One of Ms. Rebecca’s ‘admirers’ upbraids her about her avocation.  “He took Rebecca to task once or twice about the propriety of playing at backgammon with Sir Pitt, saying that it was a godless amusement, and that she would be much better engaged in reading…any work of a more serious nature; but Miss Sharp said her dear mother used often to play the same game…and so found an excuse for this and other worldly amusements.”

Moreover, Thackeray’s The Virginians also includes multiple references to the topic of today’s story.   Mr. Marshall Beatty’s ancestors might very well, as the characters in Thackeray’s novel did, have imported their love for and practice of the game from the British Isles many centuries ago.  Here is a passage from the narrative that makes that clear in ways that resonate powerfully in relation to the story that we are considering here.

A plantation owner who appreciated gospel singing differed decidedly from his predecessor, “the Colonel…for that worthy gentleman had a suspicion of all cassocks, and said that he would never have any controversy with a clergyman but upon backgammon.  Where money was wanted for charitable purposes no man was more ready, and the good, easy, hearty Virginia clergyman, who loved backgammon heartily, too, said that the worthy Colonel’s charity must cover his other shortcomings.”

While British pioneers in statistics and the numbering of the real, as Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk makes clear, were deconstructing the enumeration of permutation and other attributes of everyday probabilities from the habits of dice games, both the highest practitioners and the common herd of storytelling deployed backgammon in their sagas.  Jane Austen over and over portrays the game as a combination of tonic and social lubricant, in such works as Emma and Pride and Prejudice and more.

One scholar of Austen focuses on BG’s role in Chapter Eleven of Emma, for instance, where the reader finds this.  “Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas, and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own.  The backgammon-table was placed; but a visitor immediately afterwards walked in and made it unnecessary.”

Not only did the board and its routines show up in Austen’s fiction, but it was also at least fairly central in her life.  Several biographers have made this argument persuasively, if not dispositively, by referring to parallels between the game of kings in fact and fiction.

“Backgammon is just right for (Mr. Woodhouse), relying enough on chance to offer him an occasional opportunity of victory, especially if the other player is guileful enough to help him win.  No wonder it is also the game that Mr. Bennett plays with Mr. Collins(in Pride and PrejudiceI). …

The image of an almost eternal backgammon game with Mr. Woodhouse is all the more powerful because of Emma’s(and Jane’s) native love of intriguing play. …in which game playing is exciting enough to seem dangerous. …As ever, the game brings characters together precisely in order to divide them,” much as one might make of the matter in life itself, now or in the social activities of Austen herself.

Tales_serialAs close to a crowning glory among such interlocutors as one might imagine possible, Charles Dickens himself builds his works often enough around backgammon.  A mood of despair in A Tale of Two Cities emerges in this way.

“’I am quite glad you are at home; for these hurries and forebodings by which I have been surrounded all day long, have made me nervous without reason.  You are not going out, I hope?’

‘No; I am going to play backgammon with you, if you like,’ said the Doctor.

‘I don’t think I do like, if I may speak my mind.  I am not fit to be pitted against you tonight.  Is the tea-board still there Lucie?  I can’t see.’”

In Bleak House, Hard Times, Dombey & Sons, and many additional interludes, the masterful Sir Charles weaves BG into the story.  It stands for flirtation, for cupidity and other scheming, for the longing for order and the approval of the gods, and for many of the same elements of seeking a muse and amusement that characterize the pastime in the here and now.

One might turn to Fielding or Trollope or any number of lesser lights of the novel in English to make the case indisputably plain.  This battle of wits and charming hobby of all sorts of people has had a part both interesting and noteworthy in the lives that we’ve led and that we’re still leading in the world.

Nor has BG only appeared in print.  In fact, though we have barely scratched the surface here, the metaphorical battle—as diversion, pastime, and avocation, and occasionally as vocation, even profession—has come to the forefront repeatedly in movies.  Several films use the simple title, Backgammon, to set the stage for all of life’s dramas, from love plots to family matters to psychosocial thrillers.  Others include BG in the title as they unfold dramas of love and conflict.

James Bond plays the game with a cheater on whom he ‘turns the tables,’ so to say, in Octopussy.  In the wider culture, one can find multiple points at which backgammon appears as an important, or at least well-known, component of how things operate.  Perhaps one of the most clear-cut of these sorts of situations is in relation to Playboy’s long love affair with the game, which includes the publication of its very own Book of Backgammon.

To put this brief interlude under wraps, so to speak, readers will have a chance to see what the estimable empiricist David Hume has to offer about our ‘king of games and game of kings.’  His canonical A Treatise of Human Nature states the case like this.

“Where am I, or what?  From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? … I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras.  I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends.  And when, after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.”

The Beattie home

The Beattie home


To return to the main thread of our tale for today, which embodies some of the themes and nuances both literary and more generally cultural, another case of life’s imitation of art and vice versa, Marshall Beatty, if memory serves, was more than a few years older than the Spindoctor, whose retirement now draws nigh.  The year 1945 adheres to memories of conversations from an Aspen condo, over the course of many sessions in 1974-75.

Marshall’s family owned mills near Greeneville, South Carolina, in a section of the country where that position meant both significant wealth—one opponent of the Spindoctor’s had to quit our sessions during graduate school when he announced at the start of our final get-together, “I’m gonna have to quit because I’ve decided to marry a mill” who did not approve of gambling and had the promise of a lifetime sinecure to induce compliance—and stringent reaction in matters social and political.  According to interlocutors of Jimbo’s acquaintance, Norma Rae presented a comparatively tame picture of attitudes toward class difference and propriety in the land of spinning king cotton.

From this context of wealth and backwardness, the first set of memories that Marshall shared concerned his elder brother, whom his father described as “a fat lazy bastard” before packing him off to military school when Marshall was a young teenager.  From thence, his oldest sibling decamped to an asylum roughly two years later, where the first child of the Beatty scion died in 1971 or so, perhaps a suicide.

Marshall’s sister apparently conformed to the necessary strictures of bourgeois existence in South Carolina.  At least, Marshall never heard from her directly, and her husband had become general manager of the Beatty complex of mills in and around Greeneville and Spartanburg by the mid 1970’s.

mill south carolinaMarshall himself could have run a course that led to such a track as well.  He hadperformed well academically, in 1964 entering the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus with a scholar’s repute, albeit his tendency to prefer French and Comparative Religion to Math and Business no doubt seemed malapropos to daddy Beatty.

But such choices were not enough to cause a complete alienation of affections.  An eventuality of that sort required something like Veronica, whom Marshall took home for Thanksgiving in 1966, en route to his second semester of junior year at the Palmetto State’s flagship university.

The senior Sir Beatty needed no further information than her straightforward gaze and her childhood in a trailer park to know that she was an “opportunistic golddigger,” according to Marshall.  “He told me that I had exactly one month to get rid of, quote, that slut Veronica, unquote.”

Marshall was a lover and a fighter apparently.  Despite his training in gentle diction and obeisance, “I told him in no uncertain terms to go fuck himself,” steel in his drawl still nearly a decade after the fact.

He received papers from the family attorney within a week stating that he had a right to his clothes, personal effects, bedroom furniture, and the horse of his choosing from the family stables.  Other than that, he was on his own, and sister’s line would be the only ones to experience the family’s largesse.

Though this is dramatic enough to cause all manner of narrative potential, it would not likely in and of itself have thrown together two such oddly matched birds as he and the Spindoctor were together.  Marshall and Veronica both truly belonged in South Carolina, where a lawyer’s life or something more academic might have come about for this beautiful couple that put passion and its promise above fealty or lucre.

TheCulinaryGeek flickr

TheCulinaryGeek flickr

But something oddly grotesque, and weirdly hilarious, transpired at the end of Summer break before this pair’s senior year in Columbia.  Fine young animals that they were, they played competitive tennis regularly.  They would then lounge about Veronica’s apartment on days when neither of them had to work at their waiter-and-waitress positions, where they joined wit and decorum to rake in the tips, no doubt.

On the day in question, consumed by a powerful thirst after three sets, Marshall quaffed an entire quart of tea before he opened up the backgammon board and suggested a few games.  According to his recollection of the moment, the light sparkled and the dice dance before Veronica’s roommate began shrieking, hysterical and disconsolate, from the kitchen.

When Veronica managed to calm the young co-ed enough to get something from her, she sobbed, “Somebody drank all the Kool-Aid!!!”  Marshall says that he heard this as if from a distance, and that the full impact of what she then related struck him as both odd and obvious, somehow.

The ‘tea’ that he imbibed had been a concoction for a later late Summer orgy, laced with roughly sixty hits of LSD.  “I was sure that I would die,” he said, matter of factly.  “I was sure that I should have killed her, but I couldn’t focus.”

Veronica laughed when she spoke of this eight years subsequently.  “I ran out in the hallway after him, shouting, ‘Marshall, don’t go!’”  But he was a quick fellow and following a track from which deviation was not an option.

The Spindoctor has written at length elsewhere about this incident, one of those amazing congruences that couldn’t possibly have happened in spite of its all-too-tangible reality.  The upshot was that, two days later, after Veronica and a friend had camped on the campus quad and watched Marshall’s third floor window obsessively the entire time, remaining awake in shifts, the panes of this privileged single-senior’s-domicile exploded and, first, Marshall’s top-of-the-line speakers, and, thereafter, everything else in the room—that which fit on its own intact and all else chopped down to size—came pouring out to land on the quad before a gawking and amazed crowd that gathered to watch.

When campus cops and municipal police broke down the door, Marshall stood in the center of an absolutely bare space, naked except for the fire ax that he had so recently deployed on furniture and other things that would not exit the window as a single piece.  He was White, if tanned, and a Beatty to boot, or things might have ended much worse for him.


The authorities got a strait-jacket on him before he went ballistic, however, and he spent the next eight months at Babcock, the most mental ward of the State Hospital on Bull Street, near downtown Columbia.  An aunt wanted him transferred to a private facility, but Marshall was coherent within a week and wanted none of that.  He refused to open the dozen or so letters that came from his father, one of the reasons for his lengthy stay, given how “clear and Zen I got within a month.”

One result of this adventure, however, was that neither he nor Veronica finished their degrees.  She basically was with him every day of his ‘commitment,’ and they had left the South for good within twenty-four hours of his release.

They traveled throughout North America for a couple of years before they settled in Aspen, where Marshall got his real estate license and they became notorious as both lovebirds and gamblers.  More or less, this is where a Spindoctor entrance occurs.


Marshall and Veronica ended up in the Roaring Fork Valley because they had Mormon_row_barn_grand_teton_national_parkpassed through in their sojourns, and they had both skied there prior to any formal family comeuppance for Marshall’s passion for his non-pedigreed lover.  The Spindoctor found himself in Aspen for reasons much more random and mundane.

Those rationale stemmed from his experience ‘off the leash and on the prowl’ at Harvard.  For several months, fueled by his National Merit Scholarship, he had ridden a wave of beginners luck in poker.

Then one night, the battles among the players of seven card stud and draw and their variations just didn’t gel, while five enthusiasts skirmished among themselves in a backgammon chouette, a variation of the contest that permits a theoretically unlimited number of gamblers to fight out their carnage on a single score sheet.  An inveterate practitioner of pattern recognition, the nineteen year old version of Spindoctor quickly noted that this was the game that graced the back of cheap paper checkerboards, with their imprecise dice and flimsy plastic checkers.

By contrast, the sturdy briefcase that contained the playing plane at Radcliffe gleamed with lustrous leather points, and a velour rolling surface made the glassy clatter of dice mimic a muted set of bass notes.  The twenty-one rolls of a pair of standard dice, in their thirty-six permutations, led to an ebb and flow of positional battlements that appeared almost unimaginably complex and martially delightful to the uninitiated youth who watched with fascination as the ‘captain’s’ and ‘box’s’ seats changed as a sitter won or lost in turn.

Each challenge that grew from the clunky starting position combined racing with capture and blockade, opportunism with the potential for much deeper conceptual strategies.  For whatever reasons of disposition or fate, this kingdom of dice, this arena of action’s simulacrum, grasped hold of a young Spindoctor’s psyche with a grip at once fierce and alluring.

In the event, he was playing, for much the same ‘stake’ that he still risks, within thirty minutes of first observing the tides of fortune that ruled the play on that day, as well as during all prior and subsequent matches.  Like Charles Darwin, the Spindoctor has always sensed an astoundingly efficient utility in the way that backgammon operates.  Yet this may be less Darwin’s observation that the contest served as a ‘tonic for the mind’ than a rationalization of Jimbo’s own fiendish delight, which sported sources both more random and less salubrious.

No matter what, in the ivied halls, essentially, his predilection for gaming had led his administrative overseers at South House in Radcliffe to recommend a hiatus in his studies.  He had an ‘in’ for a thespian’s opportunity in New York City, an unpaid twenty-five hour a week course of performance and practice that would have meant working fifty hours a week in Manhattan just in order to make ends meet.

Such, to say the least, did not appeal to an already socially-democratically leaning Spindoctor as equitable or fair.  He set out on a trek to Los Angeles with twenty dollars in his pocket.  The great Peter Frisch himself set the just turned twenty-one year old Jimbo on the entrance ramp to I-80 across the Jersey line.

The young wanderer, through a truly incredible set of adventures—that involved an MK Ultra veteran’s profferal of a ride from the Iowa-Illinois border to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where he met and roomed with an all-Army boxing champion before a new happenstantial boss’s diet of cocaine and hookers had caused a heart attack and the necessity of finding gainful employment elsewhere than the panic ridden town at the mouth of the Roaring Fork River—did himself end up working around Aspen as a bellhop, a job which he had already practiced while at Harvard for plus-or-minus twenty hours a week.  He had never heard of Aspen, let alone that it was a Winter sports and wild-orgy capital of the entire planet.

When an early-season broken leg ended any pretensions of claiming the title of ski-bum, a sport that he literally had only seen from afar anyway in televised Winter Olympics competitions, he began to sniff around for backgammon opportunities.  He had money, and he knew how to play the game.

The actual introduction of today’s two characters—a past version of the Spindoctor and a youthful but still elder Sir Beatty—took place through a different player, who had in his turn fleeced Marshall at poker.  “He was the better player, but I had more money—just like us at backgammon,” nodded Marshall’s poker nemesis.

He said this after I’d won several hundred dollars for the second of third time.  He had already announced that “our little lessons are through!”

Taking this information into account, I responded, friendly and intent at the same instant, “I’d love to meet him.”

“I’m sure you would.”  He smiled, wanly.  “He’s a charmer.”  So Lee set us up.

And indeed Marshall was charming, six foot two, slender and dapper, smile just so, eyebrows arched with the perfect blend of come-on and irony.  Veronica, his mate, was dazzling, a whisper of exotic perfume and huge doses of je ne sais quoi.

Their condo, comfy but not too commodious, overlooked run number something or other, just off of Aspen’s slopes, where they both pretty definitely toned themselves for the six months that had just begun, plus or minus November 10, 1974.  Marshall’s ‘day job,’ inasmuch as he ever had one, entailed selling units such as this to young or aging ski addicts; “Everybody who’s anybody’s gonna want a little hideaway in Aspen,” Veronica purred, as Marshall size up that I was not one of the set to which his love was referring.

So we played backgammon.  And I was the better of the pair, at checker play by a fair margin and at the handling of the cube by a huge differential.

But the game is not chess, or go.  My handsome opponent won at least his fair share of games, though my score inched up through the teens and the twenties and the thirties.  We were paying for five dollars a point: “something meaningful,” Marshall had suggested when the matter arose at the outset.

vinoWine and snacks graced the first five or six hours of our tete-a-tete.  The first joint wafted its Panama Red aroma around midnight, just after he’d spun a platter from the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and a Spindoctor chortle at the song had indicated that pot would meet with approval.

“Now, if you’re up for it,” Marshall announced, offhandedly, setting down his dice cup, before pausing with an implication of naughty, naughty.  We were in the midst of a complicated game, the sort that the Spindoctor favors.  An inquisitive look invited the rest of the sentence.  “We can have a little treat.”

Hunter Thompson’s work had not yet graced a Spindoctor nightstand, nor was his political campaign for mayor yet on the radar of the naïve and uninitiated.  But everyone new that the ‘treat-du-jour’ in Pitkin County, Colorado was cocaine that seemingly entered the region daily on any number of private jets that screamed into the rarefied airspace here from all over the world.

“Ooooh, he’s a virgin!” Veronica giggled at my admission that this would be the first time that I’d done a line.

“Well then,” Marshall pronounced quietly, with a wicked little smile, “we’ll have to be gentle with him.”  We all laughed.

Veronica said something in what sounded like spot-on, unaccented French, and laughed at Marshall’s coloring a bit.  His retort, also in nearly perfect French, but with a hint of South Carolina up country, turned her giggle into a thoughtful smile.  “Well, we’ll just have to see.”

Four or five lines went up the virgin nose, and callow fingers coated callow gums with the dregs that the rolled hundred dollar straw left behind on the mirror.  Veronica and Marshall partook in equal measure, polite hosts that they were.

And the early morning, well past three, proceeded to dawn, at which juncture Marshall’s arrears amounted to forty-two points, down from over sixty an hour earlier.  The final game of the night, to those unfamiliar with the game, would be difficult to convey in all its perfection and horror.

Marshall had affirmed early his propensity for accepting doubled stakes whenever he held the ace point, even if other assets or possibilities were absent, a rarity among those who didn’t want to lose their asses in the tallying of the score.  This game ended up as a contest between a Spindoctor prime, which absolutely prohibited escape, and half-a-dozen Beatty checkers on the one point.

More to the point of imagining Marshall’s winning chances, not horrible if he held a strong inner board to contain any of Jimbo’s unluckily captured last-minute checkers, the Beatty home board had collapsed onto his one, two, and three points, which meant that his hopes of victory were miniscule at best, while his potential to lose a double or triple game were substantial.

The cube, on Jimbo’s side of the board, meaning that he alone could use it next, Backgammon_DoublingCubestood at the somewhat lofty height of thirty-two, which on its face made this game worth a hundred sixty dollars, with opportunities to double or even triple than under circumstances of Jimbo’s removing his checkers prior to Marshall’s taking anyone off the board.  And this phase of the game had begun, with all the probabilities decidedly in the Spindoctor direction.

For reasons that concern the disadvantages of having an odd number of checkers remaining, in spite of his near-guarantee of winning, and high likelihood of gaining some multiple of the cube value, Jimbo elected to redouble to sixty-four.  He was busy tallying that the expected seventy-four points would yield an hourly rate for the twelve hour session of nearly thirty dollars an hour, not bad wages for a bell hop whose room was free, up the mountain at Snowmass.

The only problem with these computations was that Marshall had snatched up the proposition without expression, though he did grin when Jimbo jumped at the sixty-four cube that nestled opposite him across the backgammon board.  “It’s your roll,” Marshall noted levelly.

Again, the details here will mean little to non-backgammon players.  The upshot was that the Spindoctor reached a position in which—against an absolutely perfect defensive position, which Marshall had long since buried on his lower points—his equity would be 95%; the actual series of rolls was so unbelievable that this situation remains the number one example of hideous impossibility become possible in the course of half a million games or more of the Game of Kings, what the brilliant analyst, Barclay Cooke, called “the cruelest game.”

Anyhow, when Marshall turned the infinitely expandable doubling device to 128, Jimbo dropped and paid off a hundred and ten dollars—the twenty-two point difference between his plus-forty-two and the value of the dropped cube—before exiting into a light snowfall in the Aspen morning, just shy of seven o’clock and dawn.

In the course of the wild madness of that last game, Jimbo had wondered if he would receive payment even if he won.  He considered the possibility that this was a clever cheater—after all, Marshall had admitted his prowess as a juggler and a magician early in the evening, after Veronica—indiscreetly, perhaps, given the dour look that her lover had shot in her direction at that point—had suggested that he provide a display of his proficiency with “your new wooden balls, sweetie!”

Whatever the true situation may have been, the Spindoctor had sworn never to seek this fellow out again.  He assumed that Marshall would not call.  Yet he did, quite soon in fact.

“I know I was unbelievably luck that last game,” he drawled over the phone.  When I said nothing, he continued, “and I’m sure that over time you’ll make a tidy profit playing against the likes of me.”

Again I had nothing to offer in reply.  “But I’d really like to learn to be a better player.”

So for eight months or so, till the end of July, this unlikely duo played backgammon four or five times a month.  And indeed, for such a one as the Spindoctor, the five thousand dollars or so that he banked was well worth the time, though toward the end, Mr. Beatty was a massively more formidable foe than he had been at the beginning, and Jimbo’s good luck was the only reason that he won till he left.

He did depart the Front Range, to return to college and actually study history for his final year at Harvard.  He rarely thought of Marshall Beatty, except in recalling the “bad beat” of the one improbable game.  Till much later, he never heard a thing about what he has since learned.


When the campus in Cambridge permitted a Spindoctor’s return, Marshall was ready to feed on hapless aficionados of the ‘cruelest game’ who had the temerity to gamble above their heads.  According to more or less reliable accounts, he cut such a deep swath through the caches of cash among such players that he soon found himself only able to find action for significantly higher stakes.

us backgammonAnd that presented various conundrums.  Having made himself mostly unwelcome among the folks who willingly wagered modest but potentially costly sums—stakes ranging from five to ten dollars a point, more or less—he confronted a landscape that began with playing for ‘quarters,’ or twenty-five dollars a point, and ranged upward from there to games that involved initial bets of a hundred dollars a game or so.

Not that the potential losses were unmanageable, on the contrary despite the hideous fallout in Aspen’s low-end real estate market in the realm of oil price shocks and stagflationary interest rates, Marshall was far from destitute.  He could gamely gamble for such quantities of cash—on a really bad night losing a few thousand dollars or so—without risking life and limb, or his and Veronica’s next meals or mortgage payments.  And he kept primarily winning; he was a scrapper, a tactical wizard, and relentless with the cube, even if his races still tended toward rudimentary play—at once too conservative and too optimistic.

However, precisely for these larger and yet still middling amounts, the level of skill was the highest, the competition most intense, the likelihood of encountering some clever shark who could plunder one’s resources the greatest.  Nonetheless, Marshall delved into this marketplace and made money, albeit not at the rate that would accommodate the style of life that he wanted to accustom himself to.

Throughout North America, he plied what for most players was at best a slightly profitable hobby into a trade.  While the exact rationale for moving further afield is beyond a Spindoctor’s ken, a reasonable guess is that travel and a slower rate of winning meant that his capital pool—a key component of every successful gambler’s labors—was constantly at risk.

At any event, in the Summer of 1984, despite interest rates and general economic strains that made the timing suspect, Vernonic and Marshall found a friend who was in the powder-trade, in which a market niche adjacent to the ski slopes—where a very different powdery substance prevailed—was always advantageous, and who, moreover, wanted a place of his own in Colorado.  A cash deal resulted, and more or less a hundred grand further padded the Beatty pot.

Immediately thereafter, he and Veronica made a grand tour of Europe and the good_evening_istanbul_by_kayshgk-d4uwks9Mediterranean—Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf States, among others—where he found all the action that he wanted and then some.  He never had a losing streak longer than a week; and he met, for the first time, some of the stratospheric high rollers whose monied roots dipped into Gulf oil and geopolitical royalties that promised unlimited funds to pay.

Apparently, the allure of playing for such an ante proved irresistible.  At five hundred or a thousand dollars per point, making twenty points per week—and his ‘profit target’ was more like fifty points every seven days—meant that increasing the personal investment fund that was his aggregate cash position was again attainable.

And the paradox of carrying his suave politesse among such contenders was that for the most part they were not only less capable players than he was but also were a far sight worse than the typical opponent for fifty dollars a point in the United States.  Thus, though the margin of safety had to be somewhere between nonexistent and as thin as a strand of hair, Mr. Beatty began to disport way above his head.

He fit in with the social set, no doubt of that.  Quiet smile and opaque equability resplendent under all circumstances, the Spindoctor can imagine the conversational turn when he first broached the subject of stakes in such a context.  “We should play,” he would intone, a smile tickling his lips, his eyes wide behind his tinted glasses, “for something meaningful.”  He would pause to gauge the effect of his words.

“Don’t you think?” he would conclude.  This is what he had said to the Spindoctor in 1974.  Only instead of the ‘nickels and dimes’ option that he pondered in the previous decade, a much bigger pie would be in play.

Facing him, the handsome, bejeweled, slickly attired fellow, as likely as not an actual Prince of one sort or another, would have nodded.  “So would you prefer five hundred or a thousand?”

money bills economyAnd whatever Marshall initially suggested, the follow-up was telling too.  “Pounds or dollars?  You’re American, right?  From the Southern States, if I’m not mistaken.”

And Marshall would smile broadly at the identification of his accent, even were he using his serviceable French, a lilting drawl so much less noticeable than when he left Greeneville with a curse from his father that followed his exit.  He’d shrug and tilt his head at the suggestion that he was a hick.  And then he would acknowledge that dollars would be dandy.  And for a month, he won a little and lost a little and realized that at this level, the money was affecting his killer cool and capacity to face down brutal redoubles and such.

In such a situation, a little known but ironclad rule of this sort of ongoing battle would inevitably have come into play.  The classic text, Chance, Luck, & Statistics, states it as follows: “If two players sit down to an equitable game of chance, the stakes being the same on each round, and if the first has ten times the available capital of the second, then the odds are 10 to 1 that the second player will be ruined before the first.”

Moreover, more unfortunately still from the point of view of the estimable backgammon contender at the center of this story, this deficiency rises exponentially as one faces more and more opponents similarly situated, i.e., with an advantage in terms of capitalization.  While Marshall had absolutely never read Horace Levinson’s introductory statistical monograph, he with equal certainty understood the issue intuitively.  When he first met the Spindoctor, he had been recovering from a period of ruin, against an at least somewhat inferior poker player who had immeasurably more money than Marshall did.

Nice Gilbert Bochenek

Nice Gilbert Bochenek

In Southern Europe, where Marshall set down roots to run his operation, he was playing again against lesser opponents, in terms of their capacities on a game-by-game, or even a session-by-session, basis.  But these scions of aristocratic and plutocratic wealth much more heavily dwarfed Marshall’s paltry few hundred thousand dollars in seed funding than a mere ten-to-one edge; as well, as noted, a coterie of these hungry young bettors were soon flitting around the parlors and cafes where Marshall would meet his foes, whom he hoped, consistently, to transform into his marks.

In such a situation, according to Levinson, the hapless challenger in Marshall’s position “is in effect playing a single game against an adversary who is immensely rich, and if he continues, his ruin becomes certain.”  This is what a youthful Mr. Beatty had encountered in an Aspen poker game already and what he sensed as the looming possibility in and around the villas where he played in Monte Carlo and the environs thereabouts.

What happened next is uncertain.  Quite likely, playing tight and setting strict loss-limits for a time, Marshall made some money; he was the superior player in every chouette or head-on-head session that he entered.

But as noted above, the Spindoctor’s friend back in Pitkin County, sixty-five hundred feet above sea level, had on different occasions acknowledged his honed abilities as a magician.  Also as pointed out previously, in the hideous session that came down to a huge game that Marshall won that November six o’clock morning in 1974, the Spindoctor had wondered whether fancy handed dice manipulation might have been a factor in the million-to-one adverse result.

In any event, the deployment of such legerdemain became at least an occasional weapon in Marshall’s arsenal.  And his rate of winning rose apace.  He was, within six months or so, well on his way to a million dollars ahead of where he had found himself when he and Veronica first rented some rooms and began their enterprise in Southern France.

If he had spent his victory money conservatively, no doubt, the totals would more likely have exceeded two million dollars or more ‘in the black.’  But he loved lavishing gifts on Veronica more or less equally as much as she loved his lavishing ways.

He swore that he would forego further fraudulence as soon as he had banked a million dollars, a fund a thousand times the maximum single point loss that he could experience.  Whether such a turning over a new leaf would have happened is anybody’s guess.

While he was minding his interests and scamming his increasingly discomfited

rivals, they no doubt were checking up on him.  Whether or not they discovered his having lost his inheritance, they certainly came to know that the reason that they didn’t play at Marshall’s home was that he had “cheap lodgings,” his generosity toward Veronica in the nature of clothes and jewels and other personal accoutrements rather than in terms of expensive rent.

Furthermore, these at least generally sophisticated men of business and the world, to a man ‘to the manor born,’ knew either intuitively or empirically the edge that they should have had as a consequence of their favorable capital position.  And they would have noticed Marshall’s shift in mien, to an almost sublimely confident belief in his victory on any given day.  Something had to explain that change, and the elucidation was clearly not a rich uncle’s generosity.

Perhaps more relevant still, having grown up with backgammon in their nursery schools, they would also have discerned the slight uptick in Marshall’s double-sixes and other long-odds victories.  It needn’t have been constant or blatant to be observable.  Once more, an explanation was necessary.

The conclusion, under those circumstances, would have turned a whisper into a chorus.  “He must be cheating.”

And the clock would have begun to tick on Mr. Beatty’s life expectancy.  Perhaps he bought Veronica, unannounced, a big insurance policy.  He almost certainly would have detected his foes’ suspicions, his psyche’s fine-tuning to such things at an almost preternatural level after the Kool-Aid incident in Columbia twenty years prior.

But his hands were indeed ‘faster than any eye,’ apparently, because no one could catch him in the act of manipulating a die in his favor.  “What can we do?” the frustrated accusers clearly must have asked.

And the answer, to men who regularly wagered a million dollars a year on casino games, would eventually have been palpable.  No one’s hands, after all, could be faster than a camera, an ‘eye-in-the-sky,’ so to speak.

When one day the scene of a chouette shifted to a private room, perhaps at Monte Carlo itself, Marshall would have almost definitely been especially cautious.  If the venue had continued in such environs, however, perhaps he allowed himself a single coup per session.

In any case, whenever that slip had transpired, those arrayed against him would have had irrefutable evidence that a pattern of behavior was behind their affable and oh-so-courteous adversary’s long string of victories.  And once these men had established this fact, which they knew would at some point become common knowledge among future competitors, only one possible end result was available.

Once again, as in the case of the Wicked Witch, the ‘only question was how to accomplish’ the necessary culmination.  And the final countdown to Marshall’s ultimate play had begun.

“Col de Braus-small” by Ericd cc 3.0

A Gambol Too Far, a Gamble Too High

Crushed and broken at the bottom of a thousand foot drop, more or less instantly dead of shock and trauma, consciousness obliterated: did the experience contain a moment of recognition?  Could it possibly have been truly accidental?

Such questions as these are unanswerable in terms of empirical certainty, while they are silly in terms of common sense probabilities.  Almost certainly, Marshall had a stunned sense that he had become a victim, even that his victimization was both unavoidable and his own doing; equally so, the eventuality was no more likely inadvertent than a political coup, when an observer must doubt that such a convenient outcome for money simply cannot rationally and probably be a random event.

Well might someone who encounters this story ponder its deeper parameters, its life lessons, its wider social significance or implicit contextual consequences.  For example, with enough information about the ongoing love connection between Marshall and Veronica, with further evidence about the Beatty family and its place in mill town South Carolina, with greater depth of insight about the expectations that Marshall had for manifesting his own development and personality, a chronicler could easily express many additional layers of meaning here.

As matters stand, though, a few points have adequate salience to state confidently.  Most obviously, to rob the rich and get away with one’s skin, one had best make a score and accomplish an exit without detection: repeated slicing away at the sausage (as the Chilean aphorism states the case, “robarse el salchichón”) of loot that underlies aristocratic wealth, no matter how clever or artful, will inevitably result in eventual exposure, with disastrous outcomes at best.

One might go on in this vein of balancing risk and gain.  Though the subject matter involved in this exercise may ultimately merit only a superficial rating, one can with some precision nevertheless express equities and prospects that accompany actions of a certain predatory cast that one conducts against equally rapacious rivals.  No matter the short-term benefits that attend this type of ledger, the bottom line entry will probably read, “Rest in Peace.”

At a more psychological or psychosocial level, thematic elements are also possible to imagine, despite the limitations on the data that are available for this telling.  For instance, one can certainly posit that, as Marshall’s little MG arced downward toward rocks hundreds of feet below, his consciousness quite plausibly approximated a winsome wish to have been happier with less cash flow, so that he might have reveled once more in Veronica’s embrace.

Even if he clung, till the final pounding smash-up, to the belief that he simply had to provide a definite well-heeled lifestyle to keep Veronica’s loyalty and love, one can clearly conjecture that, before the physical decimation took place, he might have wondered if such choices were not only worth the cost but also truly necessary.  The consciousness that complements such a final scene, almost by definition, cannot be readily knowable: no one can have come back to tell onlookers what it was like.

xM56RPerhaps a merely animal response is the final experience of life as regular breath and routine ideation.  In such a view, whatever mixture of terror and acceptance, of resignation and horror, that one feels is no more profound than an expletive, like “Oh shit!” or an interjection, like “Ouch!”

For purposes of providing some semblance of closure for a scribe and his readers alike, maybe something like the following will let us exit with a measure of equanimity and aplomb.  First, while playing at life as if it were a game is common enough, and as defensible as otherwise, the finishing touches bleed and hurt more than any loss on the board will ever do.

Second, and most relevant in terms of analyzing the societal implications of this tale, this occurrence really did occur, and if one wants to make sense of the world, this particular happenstance must be part of the skein that one ends up creating to reveal the nature of life as we lead it.  This brilliant man’s hurtling to his doom is a piece in the contemporary mosaic, a metaphor for all our fates, a nexus of contemplation and instruction to consider for everyone sentient enough to stare wide-eyed at the abyss.


Financial & Social Imperatives: the Political Economy of the Nuclear Age

PART ONE—Social Class Foundations of the Nuclear Project



The present process, of which this is an initial statement of five—a number that might easily become fifty, or five hundred, or whatever—develops a narrative that necessitates greater complexity than each of the first four Spindoctor installments here on Contributoria. Nor does even a cursory glance at these earlier articles suggest that any Spindoctor production inclines toward simplification, meaning that what follows may end up displaying tortuous whorls indeed.

Precisely because the current attempt at deconstruction of what we can term the Modern Nuclear Project expresses so many arcane and intertwined elements, this report begins with the simplest possible synopsis of what will follow. To wit, the following hypothesis or theoretical articulation underpins everything else that flows in its wake.

The contemporary contextualization of what one might call Imperial Capital originated in conjunction with and has become completely dependent upon the capacity to comprehend and manipulate matter and its realities at the atomic and subatomic levels. The recognition of this dynamic has multiple important implications. For today’s purposes particularly, it means that, whatever the objective basis or truth of the Nuclear Project’s conclusions, its supposed necessity, accuracy, rationality, efficiency, and utility are primarily matters of the class interests of those who rule Imperial Capital. Moreover, it means that whatever the drawbacks, dangers, or even lethal inevitabilities of the Nuclear Project, it must remain a core aspect of the plans and needs of these rulers; as it was in the beginning, so it will continue until such a time that some other manifestation of social power takes command or calls the shots, as it were.

Of course, one of many problems with starting so simply, or perhaps baldly, is that an observer almost has no choice but to doubt that all of the intricacies of something like the politics and science and social relations and history of energy, with a focus on atomic chemistry and physics, can possibly fit inside of or under the umbrella of such a basic rubric. The primary method and purpose of this section of today’s essay is at least to summarize some of the vast array of components of matters nuclear that in fact do dovetail elegantly with this relatively rudimentary thesis.

fffIn a sense, Frank Stockton offered an excellent summation of the sociopolitical pieces of today’s puzzle in his fanciful novel, The Great War Syndicate. He did this in 1889, more or less, fifteen years or so after James Maxwell definitively expressed the interconnectedness of light and magnetism but several years before the Curies were uncovering radioactivity, over a decade before Frederick Soddy and his colleagues were laying the basis to deduce actual workings of atomic structures, almost two decades before e=mc-squared, and a half century prior to a wealthy financier’s delivering a fateful letter to Franklin Roosevelt, a missive that called for a new kind of weapon—syndicated in every sense—that would consign ‘conventional warfare’ to obsolescence.

Readers will have the option of seeing Stockton’s imaginative labor in greater depth in the introductory section that lies ahead. Now, we might just note that he depicted weaponry that resembled atomic ordnance in many of its particulars, destructive machinery, moreover, that had totally depended on a ‘syndicate’—as the title attested—of wise financiers and industrialists for its formulation, production, and deployment. These shadowy and insistent plutocrats intended with their mastery of destructive technology to put into place a ‘New World Order’ in which their imprimatur would be impossible to challenge.

“The unmistakable path of national policy which had shown itself to the wisest British statesmen appeared broader and plainer when the overtures of the American War Syndicate had been received by the British Government. The Ministry now perceived that the Syndicate had not waged war; it had been simply exhibiting the uselessness of war as at present waged. Who now could deny that it would be folly to oppose the resources of ordinary warfare to those of what might be called prohibitive warfare.

Another idea arose in the minds of the wisest British statesmen. If prohibitive warfare were a good thing for America, it would be an equally good thing for England. More than that, it would be a better thing if only these two countries possessed the power of waging prohibitive warfare.”

183px-US_Atomic_Energy_Commission_logoTo anyone who has studied the development of what in this writing we term the Modern Nuclear Project, the language here recalls both the formative years prior to the Manhattan Project and the early attempts, no matter how self-serving and duplicitous, of the Atomic Energy Commission and its cohorts in England after the United States had waged the first nuclear war on Japan. Stockton’s prescience in this vein appears simply astonishing.

“No time was lost by the respective Governments of Great Britain and the United States in ratifying the peace made through the Syndicate, … the basis of which should be the use by these two nations, and by no other nations, of the instantaneous motor, …for both Governments felt the importance of placing themselves, without delay, in that position from which, by means of their united control of paramount methods of warfare, they might become the arbiters of peace.

The desire to evolve that power which should render opposition useless had long led men from one warlike invention to another. Every one who had constructed a new kind of gun, a new kind of armour, or a new explosive, thought that he had solved the problem, or was on his way to do so. The inventor of the instantaneous motor had done it.

The treaty provided that all subjects concerning hostilities between either or both of the contracting powers and other nations should be referred to a Joint High Commission, appointed by the two powers; and if war should be considered necessary, it should be prosecuted and conducted by the Anglo-American War Syndicate, within limitations prescribed by the High Commission.

The contract made with the new Syndicate was of the most stringent order, and contained every provision that ingenuity or foresight of man could invent or suggest to make it impossible for the Syndicate to transfer to any other nation the use of the instantaneous motor.”

The opponents in Stockton’s yarn were off, of course, as was the presumption of high-mindedness that this preacher’s son blithely advanced regarding the antagonists, but the culminating union was completely accurate. In essence, the upshot—the confirmation of an Anglo-American collaboration to rule the Earth through wildly powerful technical legerdemain that involved weaponizing electromagnetism—was as the British might term it, “spot on.” In any case, his insights and predictions serve to initiate today’s effort, a rhetorical bookend for a way of examining the issues of our time that represents a political economic version of Einstein’s famous equation.

hiro explosionThat the Anglo-American Mandate has failed to forestall ‘motor-bomb’ nuclear arms races that threaten mass collective suicide emanates from Stockton’s chauvinism, a naïveté that might seem paradoxical in contrast to the incredible precision with which he foresaw aspects of how the coming decades would develop. In any event, this incisive description of how ‘prohibitive warfare,’ or “strategic armaments,” would rule the future represents an inescapable recognition of an intersection of industry, finance, government, and hegemony, a predictive portrayal of an atomic military industrial complex in charge of everything.

The remainder of this portion of today’s report lays out a handful of elements that thinkers need to ponder when they seek to grapple with the technical, political, and social enormities, not to mention the potential ecological Armageddon, that inhere in the human uptake of this Modern Nuclear Project. Those who ‘butter their bread’ as a result of atomic processes can rail against such a conclusion, but Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are just a few of the eventualities that force any but the fatuous at least to contemplate the ecocidal potential of this course-of-action that syndicates have so ardently syndicated for over a century now.

STS Cues

An initial aspect of the overall rationale for the coming of a nuclear age appears in some detail in the prefatory section that comes next. It also shows up, overall, throughout the present narrative. Most simply, emphasizing this point repeatedly, and now, is necessary because of how central this kind of thinking is to any sort of understanding of science.

24 BULBThis perspective upends most ways that the inculcation of science and technology happen, even in our supposedly ‘enlightened’ times. In essence, a Science, Technology, & Society rubric holds that no historical expression of technical knowledge or scientific ‘progress’ depends primarily on expertise or priestly insights or hard-sought magisterial discoveries of any kind.

Instead, every scientific development emanates from specific social relations that surround, economic forces that underlie, and political decisions that impact things. What sorts of things? The weapons that people use; the crops that people cultivate and the processing of these plants into food; the structures that people build and the materials that they use for these projects; the energy that people employ and the chemical and physical steps that utilizing this power entails; these and just about every other aspect of ‘civilized’ society depend on some combination of knowledge and technical acuity that do not arise from practical necessity so much as from social convenience for the families and networks in charge of status quo operations.

In other words, therefore, “(a) key framework that I bring to this discourse …suggests that neither knowledge nor machines emanate from ‘objective’ or neutral labors of unbiased ubermensch, any more than the castles and guilds of feudalism emanated from God’s commands. Instead, everything that (exists) results from complex webs of relations that inherently blend social, political, and economic factors in a dynamic interplay of human conflict and cooperation that yields the present from the past, just as the only route to the future is through the now.”

"Faraday disk generator" by Émile Alglave

“Faraday disk generator” by Émile Alglave

In terms of the conceptual origins of the Modern Nuclear Project, one need look no further than Michael Faraday’s seminal thinking, which impacted Maxwell as much as the work of any other co-venturer in the attempt to unravel electromagnetism. Though Faraday famously refused to help the English government devise chemical killing weapons to use against the Russians in Crimea, the powers-in-charge persistently asked and continued to look for such venal and homicidal machinations.

Such possibilities also permeated the electromagnetic work that James Maxwell carried out, about which much more is soon to come, who among other things first uncovered scalar energy, which “has enormous implications for military applications.” Though these capabilities were not forthcoming in Maxwell’s abbreviated lifetime, multiple actors, Nicola Tesla among them, worked on beam weapons that had destructive potential that at least theoretically might match that of fission and fusion energy.

Closer to contemporary manifestations of different-and-yet-similar EMS developments, in the lee of the Trinity Test and the Atomic Energy Act, one might consider the institutional meaning of the present day Department of Energy(DOE).

“DOE began in the Manhattan Project. That thirteen of twenty four ‘Assistant Secretaries’ in the department deal directly with nuclear matters should therefore come as no surprise. In terms of spending, a better name for DOE might be the Department of H-bombs. This fundamental underpinning of U.S. energy bureaucracy by nuclear weapons and nuclear power is clearest in following the names that led to the formation of the Department of Energy under President Carter, himself a nuclear engineer and commander of a nuclear submarine.

Trinity Test

Trinity Test

The Manhattan Project yielded the Atomic Energy Agency, which was a bomb-maker, pure and simple. This led to the Atomic Energy Commission, which both continued nuclear weapons R&D and vowed fission ‘power too cheap to meter,’ a prognostication hilarious but for the wasted alternative energy opportunities foreclosed by adherence to the false promise of nukes. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 separated nuclear reactor issues from technical energy research matters, creating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Research and Development Agency. While the NRC has remained the overseer and erstwhile guarantor of civilian nukes, ERDA formed a key part of the skeleton of Carter’s DOE, which has continued to operate from its formation in 1977 until today, as noted, in a fashion that is overwhelmingly, and from a historical point of view, unavoidably, biased in favor of nuclear solutions to energy questions.”

A centrally important actor in these predecessors to the present Department-of-All-H-Bombs, David Lillienthal served as the a Director or Chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority from its inception to the Oak Ridge Clinton Engineering Works’ key role in creating the enriched Uranium to fuel the Little Boy device that incinerated Hiroshima; he acted as a legal and science adviser to Dean Acheson, so much so that his name was part of the title of the 1946 report that purportedly sought to ‘internationalize’ the Modern Nuclear Project. He went on, for several years, to lead the Atomic Energy Commission as its first Chairman, till his ‘New Deal credentials’ and other complications resulted in his sacking.

As such, he embodies the ubiquitous predisposition among those who bridge government and business and science to insist on strategies that maximize the concentration of capital in strategic social choices. One would hope that the fact would be obvious that H-bombs and nuclear reactors are two of the top aggregations of all types of power, likely in fact number one and two, and that their deployment will always amount to a ‘strategic’ selection.

downloadAlthough Lilienthal himself, in his rapturous Big Business: a New Era, presents a clear brief in this regard, a 1954 Northwestern Law Review symposium articulated this point unequivocally. His work as “director of the TVA, and three years as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, he testifies, struck the scales from his eyes. He came to see bigness in corporate and in governmental organization as essential to the achievement of the technological, the economic and even the social possibilities of modern life. Now retired from the active executive role to the analytical and advisory role, he feels he can take a ‘relaxed look at this controversial issue.’ Some may think that they see traces of the convert’s zeal. Far from being a mere apologetic defender of Big Business, Mr. Lilienthal is its militant protagonist.

He not only capitalizes Big Business through the book; he apotheosizes it as a ‘proud and fruitful achievement of the American people as a whole. …a social institution that promotes human freedom and individualism. … Big Business is basic to the very life of the country; and yet many—perhaps most—Americans have a deep seated fear and emotional repugnance to it. Here is a monumental contradiction.’”

Thus, the citizens who serve as subjects in Big-Business’ ongoing ‘science projects’ are often nervous and more-than-occasionally profoundly distraught at their powerlessness and marginalization. Much Science, Technology, & Society investigation examines such input disparities, and widespread anxieties that have no reasonable outlet, as key aspects of how machinery and technical knowledge operate in societies. Again, in any case, these observations without doubt do fit seamlessly with the propounded proposition that began today’s reporting.

Another product of decades of scientific effort—by Dr. Chris Busby, a gadfly English opponent of established nuclear safety protocols—Green Audit provides both a forceful and stalwart website and a respected and sought-after public health service that puts these matters into perspective in regard to the partialities and fallacies of the contemporary atomic establishment. Busby quotes Karl Polanyi in contextualizing the methodologies of diminution and derision that guide aficionados of the nuclear SOP.

“[For] the stability of the naturalistic system we currently accept, instead, rests on the same logical structure as Azande witchcraft beliefs. Any contradiction between a particular scientific notion and the facts of experience will be explained by other scientific notions. There is a ready reserve of possible scientific hypotheses available to explain any conceivable event. Secured by its circularity and defended by its epicyclical reserves science may deny or at least cast aside as of no scientific interest, whole ranges of experience which to the unscientific mind appear both massive and vital.”



The word on the street directs inquiries to follow the money. While such a basic directive might oversimplify a fair number of interesting phenomena, it is nonetheless a reliable general template. And in any event, the mandate to consider legal and other political economic arrangements, class social interests and patterns, and financial foundations, all through a historical lens, proffers an expansion of the ‘follow-the-cash’ advice that is robust and vital indeed as a method for thinking about such things as the Modern Nuclear Project.

In this vein, a huge portion of what would pass for a ‘history of science’ and everything that has emanated from the Modern Nuclear Project in fact deals with amplifications of motive energy and process heat and advances in the mechanics of killing. Inasmuch as increases in basic knowledge have transpired, the progenitors of all sorts of ‘pure science’ have always, or almost always, also thought in terms of practical applications, therefore, that have served monopoly commerce, imperial imprimatur, and large-scale manufacturing.

The nub of this STS thinking basically comes down to the idea that ‘standard operating procedures,’ after the Stone Age chapters in human prehistory, have at least as much to do with delivering leverage to certain social sets as they do with either such ‘neutral’ concepts as efficiency and optimality, or such ‘pure’ motivations as knowledge and understanding. This kind of deconstruction, as above, must deal with the appearance-of-separation and actuality-of-conjunction between technique, on the one hand—instruments to do things—and theory or core comprehension, on the other hand—equations, laws of motions, periodic tables, and so forth.

In sum then, to this point, the hypothesis with which we’ve begun fits quite nicely both with empirical aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum’s ultimate expression, the Modern Nuclear Project, and a key theoretical construct for making sense of such complicated eventualities. One might further amplify this essentially social and socioeconomic analysis with more strictly economic and fiscal assessments.

38_00392The Sway of Monopoly Money

Thus, in addition, one might examine the way that, since plus-or-minus 1900, technology generally has evolved under the rubric of monopoly capital and the way that modern imperialism has arisen in that context. While a significant swath of ‘progressive’ or otherwise empirically real investigators will agree that finance has infiltrated every single aspect of contemporary existence—from religion to drugs to elections to sex to anything that interests anybody—such admissions nevertheless only occasionally inform attempts to explain how the Modern Nuclear Project and its pieces fit together and function on a day-to-day basis.

And even less will analysis generally accede to the way that empire’s commands underlie all such socioeconomic and securitized decision-making. In no realm is a failure to follow the fiscal and imperial imprimatur more likely to lead to error or befuddlement than in relation to the inner workings of the atom and how an understanding of these atomic interactions inform contemporary existence.

In the end, all atomic theory both flows from and leads to machine interfaces. These linkages, moreover, dwarf in scale and cost and impact all other mechanisms that were, theretofore, also inevitable accoutrements of capital’s growth and restless acquisitiveness. While mechanization for at least a century-and-a-half or so might have appeared as simply a seamless part of modern society, a student of such manifestations might discern this deeper functioning, an utterly essential component of capitalization that supersedes by orders of magnitude the uptake of mechanisms that merely attempt to do more, have more, make more.

Induction Coil Electrical Transformer

Induction Coil Electrical Transformer

Most basically, the joining of electricity and magnetism, as a practical matter, has elicited both the most profound and the most widespread expansion of instrumentation in different areas of the economy. On the one hand, no component of modern machinery is more central than the electric motor or the various means by which electricity provides a starting capacity for other machines.

Furthermore, on the other hand, whether one looks at spectroscopy or telegraphy, television or computers, nuclear devices of multiple kinds or robots, Hollywood or the Pentagon, EMS applications show up everywhere as key aspects of the tools and techniques that drive modern existence. This general proliferation of impact, from Maxwell’s foundations through Einstein and Fermi and beyond, is inescapably a core element in contemporary standard operating procedures.

As the editors of Major Problems in the History of American Technology conceive the issue, “America is frequently called a ‘technological society,’ …suggest(ing) that the United States is better known and respected for its technological accomplishments than for its democratic institutions. … The history of technology is a relatively new field of inquiry within the larger discipline of history. While the…history of science traces it roots to the period of World War I, the history of technology is a child of the Cold War.” Thus, it is an accompanist of Hiroshima and H-bombs.

The editors continue:

“Sustained professional interest and institutional support for the subject came only during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, largely in response to the successful Soviet launching of the Sputnik and the widely held belief that the United States had fallen behind the Soviet Union in space as well as in other critical areas of engineering and technological endeavor. …

Historians of technology have long been interested in… .the origins of mass production, the rise of modern management, and the emergence of large technological systems in manufacturing, power distribution, and transportation industries. (These) ‘big technologies’ continue to receive considerable attention.”

Nor does such an evolutionary arc transpire neutrally or democratically or beneficently in any general sense. From their inception as pragmatic expressions of theoretical knowledge, telegraphic, radio, electric power, media, and nuclear instantiation of the dialectic of electromagnetism have served to centralize economic power, to enlarge imperial capacity, and to further both internationally and nationally the gulf that separates those who have and own from those who have not and labor.

51Lmvq3gW9LPerhaps no individual actor’s story in these dramas more clearly and explicitly demonstrates these points than does the career of Alfred Loomis, a ‘blue-blood’s blue-blood,’ whose specialty revolved around packaging and selling stocks and bonds of early electrical production companies. He had always imagined himself as a scientist, but the need to live up to the manor which had born him caused him first to turn to law and ultimately to finance, in which capacity he and his partner and brother-in-law, Landon Thorne, came to rival the Morgans and Rockefellers as financial titans.

Both Loomis and Rockefeller will show up in greater detail at the heart of today’s articulations of the Modern Nuclear Project. For now, an adequate summation is that the confluence of hydroelectric business and engineering interests with the acquisition of one of the vastest fortunes in history in turn permitted—when he exited daily labor at making money from money—Loomis’ use of family and business connections in the creation of ‘amateur’ science projects that brought Lawrence, Fermi, Einstein, Bush, Compton, and Conant into his intimate circle, where he provided seed funding and guidance to literally thousands of young engineers and technicians and pioneers of nuclear physics and other elements of electromagnetic knowledge as World War Two and the Manhattan Project beckoned on the horizon.

“Loomis’ interest in high voltages prompted him to try his own cyclotron experiments. …He had no trouble laying his hands on one, as he was a member of the MIT Corporation and was quite involved with the high-voltage machine the school had developed. …So when Loomis later heard that Lawrence had succeeded in building a big cyclotron and ‘had gotten a million useable volts out of little seven inch disc,’ he understood immediately ’just what [Lawrence]was working for and why he was working for it.”

What Lawrence’s Berkeley recruit Luis Alvarez termed “a perfect marriage” between the equable and curious financier and the shambling giant of a scientist whose drive in nuclear matters was unstoppable yielded over a million dollars from Rockefeller and countless additional collaborations as the committed Californian sought ever ‘bigger-and-better’ cyclotrons to elicit more and more subatomic comprehension. “Lawrence was thinking of ‘the beam to end all beams.’ …’It would require more than half a million dollars.’ With the active encouragement of Loomis and other big-thinking admirers, it would increase steadily in size and cost over the next year. ‘He was building a cyclotron as big as money would permit him.’”

And despite all manner of propagandistic thinking that these steps were ‘purely’ for research purposes and that practical applications such as weaponry played no part in these men’s thinking, their own words and the context both of the times and of the types of research involved significantly contradict such naïveté. And another magnificent monument to the wills of the mighty and well-born followed its logical path to both greater capacity for power and amplified ability for mass destruction.

Not for nothing were people suspicious of science and technology as these new gadgets of mayhem began to show up on various drawing boards. Not by chance were the patrons of early nuclear research wealthy private individuals. As Loomis fan Jennet Conant stated the matter, “In the 1930’s, raising large sums for scientific research was a daunting task, (since) during the Depression, there was limited public sympathy toward underwriting the expense of scientific knowledge. The technological advances that for so long fueled the industrial machine had manifestly failed, and the country felt not only betrayed by science, but deeply ambivalent about its impact on their lives.”

thierry ehrmann flickr

thierry ehrmann flickr

Karl Marx was in this realm as in so many others far-sighted beyond almost all other thinkers. “John Stuart Mill says in his Principles of Political Economy: ‘It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.’

That is, however, by no means the aim of the capitalistic application of machinery. Like every other increase in the productiveness of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and, by shortening that portion of the working-day, in which the labourer works for himself, to lengthen the other portion that he gives, without an equivalent, to the capitalist. In short, it is a means for producing surplus-value.”

Though steam was the prime mover of machinery when Capital was first complete, Marx foresaw the critical role that electricity would play.

“Once discovered, the law of the deviation of the magnetic needle in the field of an electric current, or the law of the magnetisation of iron, around which an electric current circulates, cost never a penny. But the exploitation of these laws for the purposes of telegraphy, &c., necessitates a costly and extensive apparatus. The tool, as we have seen, is not exterminated by the machine. From being a dwarf implement of the human organism, it expands and multiplies into the implement of a mechanism created by man. Capital now sets the labourer to work, not with a manual tool, but with a machine which itself handles the tools. Although, therefore, it is clear at the first glance that, by incorporating both stupendous physical forces, and the natural sciences, with the process of production, modern industry raises the productiveness of labour to an extraordinary degree, it is by no means equally clear, that this increased productive force is not, on the other hand, purchased by an increased expenditure of labour.”

Susquehanna_steam_electric_stationLeaving aside all questions of plausible mass extinction, of hideous swaths of disease and disability as a result of radiation, the immense empowerment of capital vis a vis labor that results from the Modern Nuclear Project would seemingly set up an antagonism between labor generally and nuclear mechanisms. At least, if Marx’s ideation is logical, such an opposition would inhere in the nature of the relation at its inception.

“When machinery seizes on an industry by degrees, it produces chronic misery among the operatives who compete with it. Where the transition is rapid, the effect is acute and felt by great masses. History discloses no tragedy more horrible than the gradual extinction of the English hand-loom weavers, an extinction that was spread over several decades, and finally sealed in 1838. Many of them died of starvation, many with families vegetated for a long time on 2½ d. a day. On the other hand, the English cotton machinery produced an acute effect in India. The Governor General reported 1834-35:

‘The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.’

No doubt, in turning them out of this ‘temporal’ world, the machinery caused them no more than ‘a temporary inconvenience.’ For the rest, since machinery is continually seizing upon new fields of production, its temporary effect is really permanent. Hence, the character of independence and estrangement which the capitalist mode of production as a whole gives to the instruments of labour and to the product, as against the workman, is developed by means of machinery into a thorough antagonism. Therefore, it is with the advent of machinery, that the workman for the first time brutally revolts against the instruments of labour.”

“Nuclear power reactor fuel assembly”. Nuclear power reactor fuel assembly at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Works

“Nuclear power reactor fuel assembly”. Nuclear power reactor fuel assembly at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Works

At the same time, among those workers, often technically trained in the military or who possess four-year engineering degrees from accredited universities, who directly operate nuclear power plants, or construct them, or work at many of the phases of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, such a revolt or uprising against these massive and overwhelmingly powerful mechanisms is nowhere in evidence. Harry Braverman provides a framework for understanding such a lack of protest among those who have the closest connection with the Modern Nuclear Project.

Those with higher skills—those who displaced craftsmen and designed the instruments that replaced their tools—commanded significantly higher incomes. They often formed a pool from which occasionally emerged those who would rise into the upper levels of society. Smart moves in marriage and the marketplace did permit such occurrences, even if they were rare. But one requisite of such ‘opportunity’ was a slavish commitment to whatever ‘project’ capital presented, no matter its problematic or even seemingly self-destructive nature. In such an arena, no wonder nukes did not engender much doubt, let alone outright opposition.

The ‘miracle’ of the American Century is in fact, at least in some sense, the rise of the scientific and technical trades, which Braverman points out expanded almost in exact proportion as janitorial occupations grew larger. Both fields consisted of plus-or-minus 50,000 employees in 1900; both comprised one and a quarter million or more jobs by 1960 or so. Clearly, the hosannas due to the U.S. colossus must accept janitors along with lab nerds and pocket-protected nuclear engineers. Labor & Monopoly Capital evokes the analysis that places both of these social phenomena in the context of an overall political-economic and sociopolitical process, the coming of monopolized markets and monetized business’ more or less total control over every aspect of social and economic existence.

The rise of science itself occurred in response to this mandate of a depleted ‘industrial revolution,’ which could only revitalize and overcome such eventualities as the Depression of 1893 with the potent boost to production and enlargement of market’s penetration of existence that scientific knowledge seemed to promise. Braverman points out that Germany for more than half-a-century paved the way for the Anglo-American juggernaut in this regard.

“The story of the incorporation of science into the capitalist firm properly begins in Germany. The early symbiosis between science and industry which was developed by the capitalist class in that country proved to be one of the most important facts of world history in the twentieth century, furnished the capability for two world wars, and offered to other capitalist nations an example which they learned to emulate only when they were forced to do so many decades later. The role of science in German industry was the product of the weakness of German capitalism in its initial stages, tougher with the advanced state of German theoretical science.”

"German Experimental Pile - Haigerloch - April 1945"

“German Experimental Pile – Haigerloch – April 1945”

In the shadow of these transformations, Germans led laboratories in England and the United States, even in France, from the late nineteenth century onward. Moreover, only the vicious Aryan supremacist thinking of Nazism drove thousands of highly skilled technicians and thinkers from Germany and Europe into the research centers of Great Britain and America in the 1930’s. In essence, fascism forced the Modern Nuclear Project to come to fruition across the English Channel and the Atlantic, despite the fact that Rockefeller funding was literally worldwide in its scope, and many of the breakthroughs that seeded Lawrence and Compton and Bush, at MIT and Berkeley and Harvard emanated from German scientists and their close allies whose most gifted researchers were often Jewish or socialist or both, or worse, even redder in their political leanings.

The drive to mechanize predated this eruption of science, of course. Braverman summarizes Marx’s method in seeking the socioeconomic underpinnings of this longstanding process.

“This initial step, removing the tool from the hand of the worker and fitting it into a mechanism, is for Marx the starting point of that evolution which begins with simple machinery and continues to the automatic system of machinery. Like all starting points for Marx, it is not fortuitous. Marx selects from among a host of technical characteristics the specific feature which forms the juncture between humanity and the machine: its effect upon the labor process. The technical is never considered purely in its internal relations, but in relation to the worker.”

Braverman contrasts this approach with more technocratic thinking. “In engineering literature, by contrast, the worker tends to disappear, which accounts for the fact that this literature is written almost entirely in the awkward grammar of the passive voice, in which operations seem to perform themselves, without human agency.”

Science, and especially the delving of the electromagnetic spectrum, clearly accelerated and intensified mechanistic potential. “The study and understanding of nature has, as its primary manifestation in human civilization, the increasing control by humans over labor processes by means of machines and machine systems.” But for Braverman the critical point is where control resides, and how this control expresses itself. He elegantly displays the political content of the social development of advanced machines and their electrical, chemical, and even atomic accompaniments.

“But the control of humans over the labor process, thus far understood, is nothing more than an abstraction(which)must acquire concrete form in the social setting in which the machinery is being developed. And this social setting is, and has been from the beginning of the development of machinery in its modern forms, one in which humanity is sharply divided, and nowhere more sharply divided than in the labor process itself. The mass of humanity is subjected to the labor process for the purposes of those who control it rather than for any general purposes of ‘humanity’ as such. In thus acquiring concrete from, the control of humans over the labor process turns into its opposite and becomes the control of the labor process over the mass of humans.

Machinery comes into the world not as the servant of ‘humanity,’ but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation of capital gives the ownership of the machines. The capacity of humans to control the labor process through machinery is seized upon by management from the beginning of capitalism as the prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producer but by the owners and representatives of capital.”

While science as a whole is in play as this managerial mechanization of total control occurs, and every aspect of existence comes under the scientific scrutiny of technicians and empirical programmers, one would be hard-pressed to discern a more perfect fit for the needs of capital for ideal techniques and technologies than what results from the Modern Nuclear Project. Inherent centralization, untouchable basic operations, necessarily total policing, and many more characteristics of H-bombs and atomic water heaters attune these particular mechanisms to the imprimatur of owners and their managerial minions.

A glowing cylinder of 238PuO2

A glowing cylinder of 238PuO2

These affinities become exceedingly noteworthy in an environment where otherwise the attributes of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle begin to approximate a Nuclear Fool Cycle. No matter the apparent irrationality, even insanity, of ecocidal wastes, of irreversible possibilities for mass collective suicide, and the complete evisceration of liberal fantasies of any sort whatsoever, the perfect fit of fission and capital’s monopoly frisson means that every Chernobyl will elicit a renaissance, every Fukushima a new reactor design, and so forth.

Herbert Marcuse foresaw such madness, all dressed up as the most reasonable rationalizations imaginable, in his brilliant but difficult monograph, One Dimensional Man.

“(A) totalitarian administration may promote the efficient exploitation of resources; the nuclear-military establishment may provide millions of jobs through enormous purchasing power; toil and ulcers may be the by-product of the acquisition of wealth and responsibility; deadly blunders and crimes on the part of leaders may be merely the way of life. One is willing to admit economic and political madness—and one buys it. But this sort of knowledge of ‘the other side’ is part and parcel of the solidification of the state of affairs, of the grand unification of opposites which counteracts qualitative change, because it pertains to a thoroughly hopeless or thoroughly preconditioned existence that has made its home in a world where even the irrational is Reason.”

In terms of the socioeconomic, and technocratic, justifications for embracing atomic energy, just as Marcuse suggests, authoritative backers have touted both its efficiency and necessity—and blithely shrugged off its murderous meltdowns and apocalyptic games of ‘chicken’—in relation to human society’s reliance on external sources of power. In various ways, a political-economic assessment, like what we’ve been attempting here, of this kind of point of view must make the perspective seem, if not solipsistic in its self-interested clamor for more for those who own most everything to begin with, at least dubious as a rational analysis of the deep rationale that underpin such strategic social choices.

In so ordering our thinking as to assume a critical stance about these seemingly rooted tendencies, we would conceivably lay a foundation for elevating justice or equity or even equality over the absolute tyranny of the fastest, most powerful mechanism. And that of course would be a dangerous subversion indeed, from the point of view of capital and its firmly gripped imperial imprimatur.

An adjunct to this unshakable commitment to the role of technique in capital’s development under increasingly plutocratic conditions, a way out for some social actors who shudder at the idea of actually confronting bourgeois hegemony, is a variation on the idea that ‘the rich are always with us,’ and ‘of course great wealth will determine the course that society takes in its development.’ While such a conception concedes a key aspect of this report’s argument about the Modern Nuclear Project, that finance and its imperial imprimatur have been the guiding force in this arena, the observation trivializes the investigation that comes to pass.

After all, that great wealth and power guide social development goes without saying. Therefore, the only pragmatic rejoinder is to manage a set of relationships in which common people have some expectation of a place or a prospect in regard to this inevitable hegemony of plunder and plutocracy—or however else one chooses to label inherited right and privilege to guide the course of society.

Among the core difficulties with such a conceptualization, one might consider at least the following several points. Many more might be plausible to reveal in a fuller recounting, but these few show the serious shortcomings of a proto-‘Biblical’ view of midas-worshipping billionaire magnates.

In the first place, such an outlook basically rejects the potential for social transformation. While a description of any physical process as changeless is absurd, apparently some thinkers fail to examine social matters with the same logical rigor and empirical common-sense that they would see as obvious in more routine natural settings. Such assumptions are not only likely dangerous because they may preclude positive adjustments of human difficulties but also plausibly lethal because they force human beings who must reflect the realities in which revolutionary change is a given to consider tools at their command—such as hydrogen bombs—to effect these potentialities when stringent political reaction makes no other recourse seem possible.

A second reason that believing in something like the Modern Nuclear Project just because rich people do is at best risky revolves around either a polar opposite or an at least more pluralistic set of ideas about how human social relations have heretofore actually come to pass. Certainly, Bill Gates and Paul Allen and George Soros and other wealthy trust-funded aficionados of nukes might nod in agreement with Ralph Nader’s only half-in-jest screed, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, but either the world might more objectively emanate from those who “plowed the prairies, and built the cities where they trade, dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid,” or humanity’s social substance conceivably has resulted from complex contrariety, dances of wonder and woe among multiple participants. In either case, just to shrug that the scions of lucre must have their way could miss out on real social possibilities.

Finally, for now in any event, to accede to such an all-too-seductive bowing to the powers-that-be ineluctably denies that reality is knowable, that science even exists, that consciousness is something that can evolve. And of course, any or all of these propositions might be true: perhaps reality is not even vaguely comprehensible; science may be a pretense; consciousness may represent nothing except an endless repetitive loop of a single set of ideas that we propound in slightly varied fashion. But one needn’t choose such a fatalistic worldview. Both because it is more exciting and because it is possibly vastly more empowering, one can proceed as if understanding, systematic knowledge, and consciousness are a responsibility of the human condition, especially when these objectives concern something as important and otherwise inaccessible as the Modern Nuclear Project.

Scientific Justifications & Criticisms of Mandated Politics

One basis for doubting that such an optimistic template might ever work out is that those who purport to have the greatest understanding, the most rigorously-tested and carefully-organized objectivity, and the clearest concept of manifesting a ‘helping’ attitude toward the rest of humanity—in other words, scientists of one stripe or another—have so firmly bought into the Modern Nuclear Project for the most part. Among engineers and techies and those who can perform regression analysis, for example, probably the largest proportion support a nuclear future, whereas among the rest of the common herd, more oppose such scenarios.

Perhaps one of the clearest spokesmen for these ways of thinking about these matters is Vannevar Bush, though his colleagues from M.I.T., Harvard, the Carnegie Foundation, and corporate America could also join the queue for the title of nuclear ‘flack-in-chief.’ Certainly, that he led the Manhattan Project from start to finish makes him especially apt as a nuclear and technological cheerleader. Bush’s lengthy essay, Science: the Endless Frontier, in any case remains a key component for any citizen’s useful summation of the present pass that conjoins technology, government, monopoly business and finance, and the intelligentsia.

Bush quoted Franklin Roosevelt at the outset of his work. New frontiers of the mind are before us, and if they are pioneered with the same vision, boldness, and drive with which we have waged this war we can create a fuller and more fruitful employment and a fuller and more fruitful life.” Has this vision come to pass? Inquiring minds should count H-bombs and seek to find out.

In a fifteen-year-anniversary edition of his July, 1945 essay—issued prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki but with their incineration clearly forthcoming—an Introduction lays out some of what had transpired from Bush’s recommendations. The report stood as “a classic expression of desirable relationships between government and science in the United States. Its usefulness and validity today are all the more remarkable when it is remembered that Dr. Bush and his advisers were of course quite unable to anticipate the specific developments that have most profoundly influenced our time, namely, the Korean war and the cold war, the missile and satellite race, the Soviet technological challenge, and the rapid acceleration of space research. Nor could Dr. Bush have estimated, in the final days of World War II, the full growth and direction of the atomic energy effort, including the large-scale programs and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But he did anticipate in fullest measure that important developments would occur and that science and science education would be of immense importance in the postwar growth of the United States. The closing words of his Report were strongly prophetic: ‘On the wisdom with which we bring science to bear against the problems of the coming years depends in large measure our future as a nation.’”

Bush spoke approvingly of the introductory analysis. Of particular import was Alan Waterman’s assessment of the transformation that had occurred from the original author’s extremely modest recommendations for centralized military research to the gargantuan expansion of both service-based and central investigative efforts, the upshot of which portrayed a military takeover of much of what universities represented as ongoing operations.

“The military services, who were well pleased with the civilian research performed in the universities under O(ffice of)S(cientific)R(esearch &) D(evelopment) sponsorship, continued such arrangements with the universities by writing appropriate new contracts to continue the work started under OSRD auspices or to launch entirely new investigations. In ensuing years, many contracts of this type were entered into by the military services with a growing number of universities. The central laboratories originally associated with OSRD contracts, such as the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, developed into the research centers, which, though supported by military funds, are operated by civilian scientists under civilian management. In addition to applied research for the solution of immediate problems, the three services gradually expanded their research programs to include grants for basic research — in general related to their missions but often of a very fundamental nature.”

Whether one investigates the brainchild of Bush, the National Science Foundation, or an elite gathering of the cognoscenti that predates his post-Manhattan-Project efforts such as the National Academy of Sciences, one encounters similarly glowing, or at least de rigeur, accounts of the role of established science—including the Modern Nuclear Project—in having and maintaining a modern and safe and comfortable social presence on Earth. In the main, those who academically or governmentally or commercially hold positions of technical leadership overwhelmingly endorse both S.O.P., technically-driven, establishment, capitalized scientific hegemony generally and the Modern Nuclear Project specifically.

In such a context, imagining a grassroots response to such a priesthood of protocol and secret awareness seems to constitute a daunting challenge, to say the least. However, several factors definitely provide tangible reasons for hoping that just such a popular uprising in favor of learning about, caution in regard to, and even outright opposition to the Modern Nuclear Project might take root and lead to a widespread participatory democratic dialog about humanity’s technical future.

Such technically trained professionals as Helen Caldicott and John Gofman are just two of hundreds who have turned against the largesse and oversight of their atomic masters. Gofman in particular spent decades, after he had worked for twenty years at the heart of the nuclear industrial complex—for the Lawrence Livermore Lab at Berkeley—serving as a stalwart and persistent witness that the Modern Nuclear Project insidiously threatened human survival even should we prove miraculously fortunate in never detonating one more atomic weapon.

He makes this clear over and over again in testimony of all sorts. “Licensing a nuclear power plant is in my view, licensing random premeditated murder. First of all, when you license a plant, you know what you’re doing—so it’s premeditated. You can’t say, ‘I didn’t know.’ Second, the evidence on radiation-producing cancer is beyond doubt. I’ve worked fifteen years on it [as of 1982], and so have many others. It is not a question any more: radiation produces cancer, and the evidence is good all the way down to the lowest doses.”

Harry Braverman also, albeit in a very different fashion, uses scientific and technical analysis to serve human and democratic possibilities. He does so by helping his readers to understand the evolution of science-in-industry as a tool of management supremacy: commoditizing and monetizing every expression of science as a line item of business; the implementation of ‘scientific management’ in even the smallest details of worker habits and behaviors; the specification of machinery that more and more increased extraction from and output of human minders; the cannibalization of even those job functions—engineers and scientists—that had permitted the rise of technique to its supreme place so that these workers too became mere cogs in a system that operated according to machines and algorithms and computations that removed all decisions from workers’ hands.

In the end, science itself functions in such environs as profit-making in its very essence. “The key innovation is not to be found in chemistry, electronics, automatic machinery, aeronautics, atomic physics, or any of the products of these science-technologies, but rather in the transformation of science itself into capital.”

In such a context, “the reduction of the worker to the level of an instrument” more and more closely approximates the theoretical ideal of such a possibility that the likes of Frederick Taylor and other ‘time-and-motion’ experts dreamed of. “Thus, after a million years of labor, during which humans created not only a complex social structure but in a very real sense created themselves as well, the very cultural-biological trait upon which this entire evolution is founded has been brought, within the last two hundred years, to a crisis, a crisis which Marcuse aptly calls ‘the threat of a catastrophe of the human essence.’”

Moreover, in relation to such an arc of transformation, the weapons and machinations of the Modern Nuclear Project come into focus as just the most perfectly adapted realizations of additional instruments to discipline and control labor’s surly humanity, its recalcitrance, its every move and thought that might undercut capital’s predominance. Braverman paints a grim portrait that, paradoxically, represents the only vision from which a popular transformation toward social justice is possible.

Yet other social and physical science scholars synthesize the analytical foundations that Braverman provides with the social and political economic threads that the Spindoctor lays out in this essay. One of these is Langdon Winner, whose The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology extends a bracing critique of especially the Modern Nuclear Project and its rationalization and monetization of every single aspect of labor and life and nature, till its surreal rationality threatens the ‘catastrophe’ to which Marcuse alluded in Braverman’s note above.

Winner’s “epiphany”—he compares it to Henry Adam’s deification of the forty-ton dynamo at the 1900 Paris World Fair—comes at the end of an elliptical narrative, at once lyrical and incisively empirical and ecological. He has come back to the place of his birth, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where a power company tour bus delivers him to a beach on which he had cavorted as a youth.

“Although I had known some of the details of the planning and construction of the Diablo Canyon reactor, I was truly shocked to see it actually sitting near the beach that sunny day in December. As the grey whale surfaced, it seemed for all the world to be asking, ‘Where have you been?’ The answer was, of course, that I’d been in far-away places studying the moral and political dilemmas that modern technology involves, never imagining that one of the most pathetic examples was right in my hometown. …

About that power plant, of course, the standard criticisms of nuclear power certainly hold. … (Furthermore), (f)rom the point of view of civil liberties and political freedom, Diablo Canyon … require(s) authoritarian management and extremely tight security. It is one of those structures, increasingly common in modern society, whose hazards and vulnerability require them to be well policed. What that means, of course, is that insofar as we have to live with nuclear power, we ourselves become increasingly well policed.

Sophisticated arguments pro and con on issues of this kind have involved some of the best minds in America. …But beyond the sophisticated studies of scientists and policy analysts concerned with these issues lies another consideration, which, if we ever become incapable of recognizing it, will indicate that our society has lost its bearings, that it is prepared to feed everything into the shredder.

To put the matter bluntly, in that place, on that beach, against those rocks, mountains, sands, and seas, the power plant at Diablo Canyon is simply … . out of place, out of proportion, out of reason. It stands as a permanent insult to its natural and cultural surroundings. The thing should never have been put there, regardless of what the most elegant cost/benefit, risk/benefit calculations may have shown. Its presence is a tribute to those who cherish power and profit over everything in nature and our common humanity.

To write any such conclusion in our time is, I realize, virtual heresy. My colleagues in the science, technology, and society assessment business often counsel me to be more careful, to reword my point of view… . But the plant and its inherent destructiveness are already much more than ‘possibilities.’ They are already in place. More and more the whole language used to talk about technology and social policy—the language of ‘risks,’ ‘impacts,’ and ‘trade- offs’—smacks of betrayal. The excruciating subtleties of measurement and modeling mask embarrassing shortcomings in human judgment. We have become careful with numbers, callous with everything else. Our methodological rigor is becoming spiritual rigor mortis. …

(E)mbarrassing disclosures of structural flaws and shoddy workmanship forced a thorough, enormously costly rebuilding of the plant during the last several years of the project. Some of the plant’s engineers and workers still insist that the structure is unsound and complain that they have been harassed on the job for talking to the press about these troubles. To recoup the spiraling costs of the installation, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company has already applied to the Public Utilities Commission for the first of what is bound to be a series of steep rate increases. …

(T)oo much money had already been spent, too much institutional momentum built up, too many careers invested, too many sermons preached from the pulpits of progress to allow any course of action (as) sensible (as closing or repurposing the facility). At present our society seems to prefer monuments … to gigantism, war, and the overstepping of natural and cultural boundaries. Such are the accomplishments we support with our dollars and our votes. How long will it be until we are ready for anything better?”

The brave engineers and wage-earners that Winner mentions felt sick at their turning a blind eye to corruption and the very real potential for grotesque mass murder. Nevertheless, as in all such cases, they must have had to overcome intense distaste and fear to take such a stand. Always is this likely to be true among the beneficiaries of this central tenet of contemporary capital and its empire.

Nonetheless, despite the indisputable fact that technically trained adherents to the Modern Nuclear Project substantially outnumber opponents, one might go on at great length prior to reaching the end of the list of expert detractors of fission-and-fusion as energy and imperial policy. Such thinkers as Arjun Makhijani, Rosalee Bertell, Steve Wing, and dozens of others are merely North America’s sampling of contrarians. Russia, Japan, Korea, and most other national repositories of learning would contribute their own gadflies, insistent that a non-nuclear future represents the best, or even the sole, hope for human thriving and survival.

The Spindoctor, on the other hand, quite clearly possesses the opposite of expertise about anything except grammar. He merely operates as a concerned citizen whose persistent curiosity has in fact persisted for the forty-three years since a long-ago sophomore tutorial introduced him to Gar Alperowitz and Atomic Diplomacy. Today’s profferal both stems from and serves as a powerful argument in favor of rejecting anything that even resembles a requirement that professional authority should become a requisite for considering these matters.

In this vein, a recent blog—both scholarly and popular—conveyed citations and material to suggest that such perseverance as the Spindoctor’s might again rise up from below to manifest political struggle for a democracy that is both informed and engaged. In the event, the analysis that Corey Robin presents in his brief reflects the wider struggle against monopoly capital and empire, both of which are built-in components of the Modern Nuclear Project.

He focuses on the labors of popular and credentialed historian, Stever Fraser, whose most recent monograph, The Age of Acquiescence: the Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power compares our ‘gilded age’ with the first one just over a century ago. Though Fraser’s take on American popular combativeness is that it has ebbed to a low point, he outlines the steps that can initiate a resurgence, some of which are no more ‘radical’ than the type of examination that is occurring here today.

“Steve asks why in the late 1800s, the concentration of wealth and extremes of inequality sparked an explosion of mass rebellion that lasted well over a half-century, whereas today, with some isolated and episodic exceptions, we see, well, acquiescence. Not consent, not apathy, but acquiescence. It’s a word that makes me shudder. As Steve says, the men and women of the nineteenth century witnessed the violence of capitalist development and managed, out of that hellhole, to conjure and wage war on behalf of an entirely different vision of society. But we live in a ‘windowless room,’ where we it’s difficult to see beyond capitalism. Part of that, he says, has to do with the ‘fables of freedom’ we’re told, where freedom is equated with, reduced to, the free market.”

Vannevar Bush expressed these fabulist notions of freedom in terms of science. The point of today’s essay is that concerned citizens cannot either overcome acquiescence or take on the likes of Dr. Bush on his own terms without an analytical structure that looks at eventualities such as the Modern Nuclear Project in a clear-eyed and comprehensive fashion.

Lacking such a rubric of consciousness and comprehension, we will never even be able to play a part in discussion, let alone take action that is anything other than reactive and doomed, like latter-day Luddites. Monopoly, empire, government, and expertise have combined to project a strategy and plan for the next thousand years on everybody else. Our job is to find the data and heart to ponder this Project so as to advance alternatives, unless upon sober reflection we end up agreeing that monopoly, authoritarian norms, and skating on the verge of mass collective suicide are good things or better than all other alternatives or somehow, in any event, inescapable.

Secrecy As Sine Qua Non: ‘Red-Herrings,’ Hidden Agendas, & Glib Ignorance

One of the most intractable attributes of the Modern Nuclear Project also makes discovering its essence—as above, doing our job…to find the data to ponder” it—difficult or even impossible. In at least half-a-dozen ways, in fact, promulgators of nuclear visions hide away their source materials or otherwise obfuscate discovery of what is happening in the realm of the atom.

Failures to Instruct

The first way that this severing of popular capacity from necessary knowledge takes place is in education. In the United States, propagandizing or otherwise distorting the scientific process is only a small part of the picture. As well, at least in the vast majority of public schools, science instruction is so weak in comparison to other ‘developed nations’ as to contribute at best rudiments to young people who might ever want to apprehend something as complex and multifaceted as the Modern Nuclear Project. A Fordham University assessment stated the case like this.

“Only a year ago, twenty-six state science standards received grades of D or F from our reviewers, while twelve also earned Cs. Just thirteen jurisdictions—one in four—had standards worthy of honors grades. Only seven earned grades in the A range. (You can see which in the table below.) As is widely understood, weak standards are not the only—or the most worrisome—problem facing science education in the United States in 2013. Achievement in this field has been dismal. The most recent appraisals by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2009) found barely one-third of fourth graders at or above the ‘proficient’ level in science, followed by a mere 30 percent in eighth grade and an embarrassing 21 percent at the end of high school. Other studies have shown that just 30 percent of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college-level work in science.”

Arguably as crucial to capacity as science instruction, which in general and in relation to the Modern Nuclear Project is a huge and central topic to develop further, is the ability to think critically. Especially in regard to the choices and patterns that have surrounded the creation of nuclear weapons and power, this skill is paramount.

Paolo Freire’s efforts have acted as seminal guides in this area. As one reviewer capsulized some of Freire’s ideas, “Traditional teaching wouldn’t help (disempowered and needy people) much. It would not make them find root causes and possibilities for change, but would rather fill their heads with other people’s static ideas. Freire called the effects of this kind of teaching massification. Massified students, he said, have the illusion of being educated, of being free, of being able to understand and control their circumstances. But they are not much more conscious or analytical than their illiterate counterparts. Only those whose critical faculties have been nurtured through dialogue about the issues that matter in their lives develop critical consciousness.”

The count of public secondary schools in the United States that have adopted such an approach to examine and probe deeply fission and its inception as a technical choice is easy to determine. It is a round number, as in zero.

Business-as-Usual Versus Needed Commons

Other mechanisms for withholding key information happen commercially. Relatively recent occurrences in patent and copyright are the primary culprits here, though one might inquire about a vast range of topics that relate to a contention that ‘intellectual property,’ as currently practiced, often precludes public access to ideas whose origins were only possible as a result of common collaboration.

As things now stand, various methods exist to withhold publicly funded knowledge from those who might use the data for over a century, according to copyright ‘reforms’ that came to passa generation ago. Similarly, data about such tangible techniques as nuclear reactors is at least occasionally not available for common consumption despite the origins of all such instruments in government-backed projects, from the Manhattan Engineering District onward.

Nor is the Spindoctor’s take on this situation rare or marginal. In fact the search, <“intellectual property” versus commons technology capacity impediment OR hindrance OR obstruction >, yields well over a million hits, the first several pages of which nearly all at least countenance the concept that protection of ‘property rights’ impedes access to data and hence learning.

A Chinese scholar proffers an impressive literature review in addressing this issue recently.

“(W)e know that the IP system is merely one of many institutional arrangements employed by national governments to promote innovation. But the IP system seems to have received the most skepticism and criticism about its role in innovation. First of all, many scholars questioned whether IPRs could really stimulate innovation at all or to a certain degree. In their work, The British Patent System, Boehm and Silberston said that patents were largely irrelevant as a means of inducing inventions, and that some other stimuli ‘must have been responsible for the inducement of a large body of nineteenth century invention.’ Ashton, in his 1968 book, The Industrial Revolution, and Landes in his 1970 book, The Unbound Prometheus, reached a similar conclusion. Eric Schiff studied inventive activity in Switzerland and the Netherlands during the period that the two countries abandoned their patent system and he concludes that the ‘industrialization of a country can proceed smoothly and vigorously withouta national patent system.’ Blakeney found that the ‘assumption that patent protection incentivizes innovation has never been convincingly demonstrated, even in industrialized countries, although it underpins the globalized intellectual property regime.’”

Legally Mandated Withholding

The legal arena has exhibited several additional techniques for keeping facts from the public sphere. One such method appeared in the previous Spindoctor Contributoria installment, a machination of monopoly that compensates an injured party but imposes a nondisclosure or other ‘gag order’ in regard to the underlying event that led to litigation.

Such efforts have been ubiquitous in cases that involve parties that have suffered as a result of prescription antidepressants, as last month’s article showed. Similar patterns are present in radiation or other sorts of tort-damages lawsuits against nuclear facilities of widely varying sorts.

In the United States, some of the most troubling instances of such prohibition of information exchange took place after the partial meltdown of the reactor at one of the Three Mile Island nuclear power station reactors in early Spring, 1979. Despite the almost draconian standards of proof that the Federal Courts imposed, many litigants did win recovery.

Yet then they could not discuss or follow up on this hideous eventuality in their lives, while the owners of the plant and nuclear spokesmen generally could then contend that “no harm was ever done.” A community organization put such situations in powerful context: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? If somebody signs a non-disclosure agreement, were they ever officially harmed? Today we challenge the misconception that nobody was hurt in the Three Mile Island accident, because history is repeating itself at Fukushima Daiichi.”

Even more at the heart of what stands in the way of understanding these sorts of issues are the overall standards that U.S. courts now impose on those who want to recover damages. Incredibly, this “Daubert Principle” has received virtually zero critical, in-depth analysis, despite the fact that the underlying case, Daubert v. Dow Chemical, is one of the most important evidentiary holdings in history.

A section of a Spindoctor article from a few years back, “Truth, Lies, & the Daubert Principle,” develops this point. “Unfortunately, because the plutocrats who are murdering soldiers and children with DU are the same top-hats who mainly control the court system, the ‘standards of evidence’ now extant for science-and-law issues like these is impossible to meet for all matters but those so obvious that they don’t require study. This flows from the most important legal decision about which people have never heard, Daubert v. Dow Chemical.”

Toxic Secrecy

Most obviously, and insidiously, this stripping away of any public right to know results from supposed ‘security’ rationale. This is yet another gigantic area of study, one that will come to the fore in later episodes in this five-part series. For now, we might note that substantial portions of the Manhattan Project’s efforts, seventy-odd years after their creation, are still secret.

The continuing relevance of this concern about public access is possible to view in regard to just a couple of highlights, though one might devote a hundred thousand volumes and ten thousand or so scholarly existences to uncovering this nuclear opposition to ‘freedom of information.’ One such instance happened to the Spindoctor lo these almost forty years ago, in 1979.

As fate arranged the incident, Professor Ed Passerini and I had engaged a pair of experts, one from the Department of Energy and one from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to debate us about the future viability of nuclear power on March 30, 1979. Three Mile Island was then in its most delicate phase, following the initiation of the criticality accident on the twenty-eighth.

Our audience overflowed the 750-seat auditorium in which we had optimistically hoped to see a gathering of a couple hundred. The scientists who originally had booked themselves as our opponents had absconded to Pennsylvania, so we ended up with a former Air Force officer and public information hack for the NRC and an ambassador without portfolio from who knows where in the Federal bureaucracy.

The poor fellows knew that they were truly in the lion’s den in this situation, and in the end had little to say, other than pro forma assurances that nukes were inherently safe and that everything near Harrisburg would work out fine. At one juncture, when we had taken to a half hour of back and forth questions and answers, the P.R. flack challenged that I could back up assertions that I had made about the accessibility of nuclear weapons, and their natural connection to nuclear power, as in the operations of the DOE itself.

While he expansively asserted that I was just another naïve liberal talking above his skill level, I drew on a napkin a credible diagram of a hydrogen bomb. I was about to sketch it out on the overhead projector that we were using when he interrupted his scathing derision.

“Hold on a second there, young man.” I once merited such a description. “Let me see that.”

Not one to deny a retired Colonel, I handed over my study in pen-and-ink on soft paper. The entire auditorium grew silent as he first looked askance at the little drawing and then widened his eyes and lowered his nose into the lines that I’d just drafted there.

He folded the napkin and put it into his shirt pocket. “You’re lucky I was here.” A pin’s dropping would literally have registered on the microphone.

“Why is that?”

“Because the minimum sentence for sharing that sort of information is five years in Federal Prison.”

The secrets that I had been about to disclose were the result of my ‘study’ of such arcane sources as the Encyclopedia Britannica. That and an ability to read carefully were all that proved necessary to pass on highly classified information, apparently.

The other example that could serve as a classic case study of the proposition that ‘secrecy’ in nuclear-weapons research makes no sense is Howard Morland’s ‘born secret’ article that Progressive magazine sought to publish in 1978, and did publish in 1979. Though for such a momentous legal and social matter, the attention that the imbroglio now receives virtually is paltry at best, analysts consistently attest to the importance of the matter.

Similarly as what had happened to me in Alabama, Morland went from lead to lead, and publicly available document to random encyclopedia entry, and pieced together a much prettier, more detailed, and even more credible design for a thermonuclear device. The reason that he did this was explicitly to show the absurdity of the “born secret” provision of the Atomic Energy Act Amendments of 1954. The only basis for such an orientation to nuclear information was to squelch public discussion and crush even vague chances for democratic participation.

Again, one might speak about the atomic veterans and other victims of the Modern Nuclear Project whose cases could not come to court for decades because of self-serving secrecy. One could look at analogous difficulties that DOE facility workers faced in making their litigation and pleas heard. One could show in ten thousand ways the duplicity and hypocrisy of ‘classifying’ what fiction writers and students the world over have been figuring out for the last century: everything about nuclear weapons and power is possible to figure out without having to use spies.

In much more moderate language, these were the conclusions of four DOE contract employees who ended up consulting for Progressive and Morland in their defense against the U.S. initially successful imposition of prior restraint in this affair. They just did not buy the notion that true security damage would flow from discussion of what is already widely known, or that the harm that attended eviscerating freedom of speech was proportionate.

Secrecy’s purpose, in the end, therefore serves to shut people up. Such a rationale ought to be a crime. Its presence still in these affairs is execrable.

As the Washington Post quoted Morland fifteen years back, two decades and a year after the battle itself, “I thought I had revealed all the interesting H-bomb secrets some twenty years ago in The Progressive magazine,’ he writes in a recent essay on the Web, ruminating about the Lee case and his life in the disarmament trade. ‘One of my purposes then, as now, was to argue that nuclear bomb secrets are a hoax and that public understanding of nuclear arsenals is a necessary step in the quest for nuclear disarmament. This idea was, and remains, a hard sell.’” Ah well: so much for humanity.

Refusing to Investigate

Yet another clear-cut failure in relation to knowledge development in regard to nukes takes place in the research arena. The entire research realm in some definite fashion comes down to a huge Catch-22.

Those in charge—whose financial overseers and imperial masters necessitate the entire nuclear scene—are wont to quip: “Oh, you can’t advance a claim like that. The data doesn’t support such a position.”

After duly noting that some data in fact does provide backing for different critical contentions about nuclear matters, someone like the Spindoctor, “born a critic,” might look into the overall state of research that concerns a particular question, perhaps ‘downwind’ cancer rates around nuclear power stations, perhaps one of the other plus-or-minus ten thousand uninvestigated related issues regarding atomic operations. Discovering that with a few exceptions—Spain and Germany, for example—virtually no investigation has been ongoing or consistent about this particular empirical body of knowledge, our critic could intone as follows.

“Hey, you know, funded studies for this question have been few and far between. Why don’t we plan on initiating a significant study at least once a year for the next decade?”

My goodness, that sounds reasonable. Doesn’t it? But the response would be instantaneous and unequivocal. “Such work is not a priority. It’s unnecessary. We already know the answers to those queries.”

If this invented conversation seems far-fetched, one might consult many of the slightly in excess of three-and-a-half million citations that appear for the following search: <“nuclear power” OR “nuclear fuel cycle” OR radiation “environmental effects” OR “health effects” “inadequate research” OR “unexamined questions” OR “underfunded research” OR “incomplete research” OR ignored>.

Of course, this huge database also includes a large number of arguments that low doses of radiation are harmless, and a smattering, especially at the beginning, of narratives that state that small exposures are in fact beneficial. While one might argue in regard to this latter idea that it is criminal nonsense, that is not the purpose of today’s missive, though one rightly should take note of a truly exhaustive and indubitably unbiased and authoritative gathering ofstudies that indicates that these problems are in fact of huge concern.

Rather, here-and-now, the Spindoctor insists that the research is obviously not available to answer these questions. Those who insist on the SOP refuse to fund or otherwise insure that such data-collection happens. Then, these arrogant sorts have the temerity to point to charlatans who say, ‘radiation is good for you,’ and contend that since we have significant disagreement about radiation’s effects, we ought just to let the whole arena alone and carry on with business-as-usual.

Mediated Mediocrity

The final manner in which data about these issues is less than fully accessible revolves around the fact that, with only a precious few exceptions among monopoly outposts of media, news either ignores or distorts the facts and analyses that surround the Modern Nuclear Project. Again, this aspect of today’s topic is massive enough to ponder for the next millennia, but one could deal with it briefly by noting that in regard to the hugely significant free speech, first-amendment, and nuclear weapons brouhaha that Howard Morland and Progressive magazine stirred up in 1979, the two largest ‘liberal’ bastions of journalism—The Times and The Post—seemingly each only published a single op-ed about the case, The United States v. Progressive. The Chicago Tribune published a news story on the District Court’s actual holding later in the month.

This willingness to discredit or otherwise overlook investigating what could end up being the most critical issues of human survival ever staggers the senses of a social observer. Yet this willful ignorance is, if not irrefutable, then at least exceedingly plausible, if only by way of analyzing the truly vast numbers of articles and reports that spoke, as just one example, of Saddam’s non-existent nukes vis-a-vis the vanishingly small cache of narratives that examine the empire’s own nuclear foibles and plans. In any event, some five thousand sources do agree that such a slant in favor of nuclear is present among ‘established’ sources of news that their reportage on the subject is reliably going to reflect the imperial and political-economic inclinations of the promoters of the Modern Nuclear Project.

In sum, then, the present thesis has called forth four ideas in particular in its support. A much larger contextualization, no doubt, would be possible and plausibly useful. Nevertheless, for the present pass, we will consider these points.

  1. First, the social dimensions of the implementation of strategic technical interfaces, especially in regard to the Modern Nuclear Project, are all too easy to overlook or distort in the common conception of science and technology as factors external to the society’s operation as a place of conflict and contention and differential interest and power;
  2.  Second, analysis of political-economic aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project further illustrate the inequalities and disparities that affect both the selection of this particular course and the dispersal of its costs and benefits among different classes of people;
  3. Third, the commanding position that Science has attained on the one hand authoritatively guides social participants to accept its estimates of what is optimal and on the other hand hides away the duplicity, bias, and even corruption that inheres in its everyday presumption that the Modern Nuclear Project is inescapable, a dynamic about which people’s thinkers are available to offer guidance and support in considering these matters;
  4. Fourth, in multiple ways—related to education, media, the notion of intellectual property, the legal interpretations of the sanctity of contract and the utility of evidence, and various expressions of national security—secrets or other inaccessible or difficult-to-obtain knowledge make the Modern Nuclear Project seem almost unassailable.

Taking these notions into account proffers a minimal basis for imagining how effectively to critique, and possibly to overturn, the Modern Nuclear Project. In fact, outside of some such approach, any critical engagement with matters nuclear is likely to amount to little more than some combination of idealistic fervor and loud-but-ineffectual protest.

Frank Stockton closed The Great War Syndicate with one of his powerfully punched doses of insight, conjoined with idealism, that combined astounding guesswork and romantic nonsense.

“This is the history of the Great Syndicate War. Whether or not the Anglo-American Syndicate was ever called upon to make war, it is not to be stated here.

But certain it is that after the formation of this Syndicate all the nations of the world began to teach English in their schools, and the Spirit of Civilization raised her head with a confident smile.”

The Spindoctor maintains that by seeing both the acumen and simplistic innocence of this lesser-light of American literature, students can obtain a perch from which to make sense of one of the world’s most complex issues. Syndicated promoters of the Modern Nuclear Project—with “electricity too cheap to meter,” ‘weaponry that exists to end the possibility of war,’ “thank(ing) God that he put the atomic bomb in our hands,” and so forth—sound much like Mr. Stockton. Only by admiring and criticizing such ideation, and putting it clearly in a web of historical, social, and political-economic context, might citizens today have much hope of rational apprehension of these matters, let alone much of a prayer of promulgating alternative scenarios.

Prefatory Matters

The primary purpose of this section in today’s narrative will be twofold: first, to introduce the different actors, mainly British and German but occasionally otherwise, who contributed to James Clerk Maxwell’s synthesis of the equations that underlie the Modern Nuclear Project as a whole; second to elucidate the physical riddles that these efforts sought to account for. As regards this task—‘Lord have mercy,’ as the Spindoctor’s mother was wont to say—one cannot lose sight of the undoubtedly obvious fact that, whatever intuitive grasping of things that is representative of this author’s abilities, he lacks any real mathematical insight into these problems, which means—according to some folks—that he lacks any insight whatsoever.

Nevertheless, here we go. After all, none other than Dr. Einstein wrote, “The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws: only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them.” Whatever his mediocrity in calculus, the Spindoctor can as often as not intuit with the best of them, as he seeks something like ‘elementary cosmic laws’ of political, economic, and social nature’s development of all manner of physical techniques that in turn depend on more traditional cosmic laws.

In the main a little book by Albert Einstein, Essays in Science can take the reader and thinker a substantial portion of the way to seeing what was at stake and who did what in regard to the joining of electricity and magnetism and matter in time and space. In the first place, in his Introduction, a talk he delivered on the occasion of Max Planck’s sixtieth birthday, he points out that most—perhaps the vast majority—of the ‘inhabitants of the Halls of Science’ are what he terms “creepers,” by which he means parasitical creeping vines in “the forests of science,” a wood that would be much less magnificent if only these clinging runners were present.

By this metaphor, he means opportunists and profiteers, though without the potentially pejorative tone with which those terms can resonate. His notations were descriptive rather than normative, analytical rather than polemical.

Whatever one wants to make of what Einstein without doubt said, he goes on to point out the deficiencies, despite the almost heretical paradox in saying of Newton’s revolutionary contributions to an elegant understanding of nature.

“All happenings were to be interpreted purely mechanistically—that is to say, simply as motions of material points according to Newton’s law of motion.

The most unsatisfactory side of this system…lay in its description of light, which Newton also conceived, in accordance with his system, as composed of material points. Even at that time the question, ‘What in that case becomes of the material points of which light is composed when the light is absorbed?’ was a burning one. Moreover, it is unsatisfactory…to introduce into the discussion material points of quite a different sort, which had to be postulated …(to) represent…ponderable matter and light respectively. Later on electrical corpuscles were added to these, making a third kind, again with completely different characteristics.”

This necessary cobbling together of ad hoc ‘additions’ to Newtonian mechanics meant the system was not quite right. Einstein views James Clerk Maxwell, because of his strong-suit in math—the fundamental ‘language’ of physical description—as the prime mover in this unfolding of a new system. But Maxwell had important help from other investigators.

And Michael Faraday is without question one of the chief members of this supporting cast of characters, moreover definitely not one of the parasitic climbers in science’s vineyard but a stalwart hardwood, reaching above the canopy. His whole life story differentiates him from the typical ‘gentleman,’ or gentry natural philosopher.

In fact, although he came from working class roots and never had the chance for a first rate—or any ‘rate’ formal education, after he parlayed work in the early Victorian ‘web,’ as a publisher’s assistant and printer, into a position as one of Sir Humphrey Davies’ minders—working on the side as Mrs. Davies’ valet in a year and a half in the ‘parlors of European knowledge’—his unquenchable thirst to see and understand launched one of the most remarkable practical and experimental scientific careers in history. In a world where the ‘playing field’ revealed the same leveling tendencies as the electrical fields that Faraday intuited, Einstein might have made a different estimate of the equities in regard to this man whose demonstration of electrical induction accounted for both massive practical impact on industry and commerce and key theoretical influence on what he too was struggling to make sense of as an electromagnetic extension of Newton.

Nor does Maxwell, though he came from great privilege, evince the appearance of a ‘creeper’ or plunderer of nature. After he managed to survive Smallpox, and before a stomach cancer cut him down, his purpose was to coordinate and make sense of Faraday’s and others’ practical illustrations of something like electromagnetic fields and the speed-of-light phenomena that made of the visible light spectrum merely a small series of steps on a vast journey.

In the event, the young thinker completed an initial version of his ideas by 1865, which he turned into his fuller treatment eight years later. A more complete presentation of this section of today’s narrative might draw on the widely available multivolume compilation of Maxwell’s scientific papers, as well as literally hundreds of now digitized materials from either the man whose math-magic Einstein, the calculational bumbler, so revered, or from other equally astute logicians and device-minders.

When Maxwell’s devotion and talent allowed him to produce this estimation of reality that turned out to be in all important particulars correct, this achievement did not cause his peers instantly to hail his genius, however. On the contrary, even the most established voices—in particular these spokesmen of establishment protocols—found Maxwell’s ideas suspicious to the point of implausibility.

J.J. Thompson, the renowned Lord Kelvin himself—absolutely one of those that Einstein viewed as climbing vines—more or less rejected Maxwell’s work outright. He might have made several fortunes to add to his inheritance; he might have been the natural philosopher whom the Lord Admiralty and the like chiefly championed; he might have worn the mantle of ‘Lord Kelvin’ proudly. But his theoretical blinders for years helped to prohibit the uptake of Maxwell’s profound notions of the way that the natural world worked below the surface.

The great Kelvin did not block another working class maven, who also became a self-taught maestro, this time in math itself, from recognizing Maxwell’s brilliance and rectitude. Oliver Heaviside took Maxwell’s almost indigestible score of simultaneous equations, dependent on the construct of a ‘displacement current’ that so horrified the likes of Professor Thompson, and reformatted the entire edifice into the now ubiquitous ‘four-fundamental-theorems-of-electromagnetism.’

Moreover, practicing the laborer’s diffidence to his ‘betters,’ Heaviside never sought credit for this transformative reformation. He decided, whether sagely or self-deprecatingly would be an interesting question, to leave the entirety of what he accomplished in the name of the to-the-manor-born, if decidedly unlucky in matters of wellness and family, James Maxwell.

In addition to a pair of titled researchers from the United Kingdom who sought to particularize Maxwell’s work in relation to light, the fact is that Germany as a nation, through the Prussian Academy of Sciences, began to offer cash prizes to labs and the workers in them who could find evidence of Maxwell’s theories and mathematical summaries. And here Heinrich Hertzmakes an entrance. His detections completely won over most physics students about the veracity of Maxwell, at the same time that they both lay the basis for radio and in different ways established a foundation for the work of Konrad Roentgen, the Curies, and others whose efforts more directly look like the undeniable initiation of the Modern Nuclear Project.

To an extent, though Einstein mentions only Lorentz and Hertz among the additional contributors to the formulation of the electromagnetic puzzle, he is really taking note of the edifice of the German scientific establishment, albeit at the times in which he composed these essays, he was as often as not well aware of what was hurtling toward the world on the as-yet-to-appear Autobahn of Aryan supremacy and technical mastery. Braverman, as noted above, powerfully testifies to this institutionalization of theoretical and synthetic sway over the confluence of industry, science, and technology.

“It would be well for those who still do not understand the importance of German speculative philosophy to ponder, if not the example of Marx, of which they are so distrustful, the concrete instance of modern science and its sharply contrasting careers in Germany on the one hand and in the United States and Britain on the other. ‘If much in contemporary Britain is to be explained in term’s of Bentham’s philosophy,’ writes P.W. Musgrave in his study of technical change in Britain and Germany, ‘so did Hegel have a great influence in Germany’… .in giving to German scientific education a fundamentally theoretical cast. Thus while Britain and the United States were still in the grip of that common-sense empiricism which stunts and discourages reflective thought and basic scientific research, in Germany it was these very habits of mind that were being developed in the scientific community. …th(e) reason more than any other that the primacy in European science passed from France to Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century, while Britain in the same period remained mired in ‘what J.S. Mill called the dogmatism of common sense backed by the rule of thumb.’”

To any who might doubt Braverman’s thesis, one could easily turn to the handful of British thinkers who recognized the overweening dominance of empiricism as well. Oliver Heaviside was one of these, and when a gathering at Bath finally gave a grudging nod to Maxwell’s theoretical correctness, he “burst into verse” as follows:

Self-induction’s ‘in the air’,

Everywhere, everywhere;

Waves are running to and fro,

Here they are, there they go.

Try to stop ’em if you can

You British Engineering man!

A recent review essay by a software entrepreneur and history-of science enthusiast gives extensive context both for the inception of Maxwell’s mathematical overview and for the propagation and proof of his underlying theory. In the event, both Faraday, as well as others, from whom Maxwell induced aspects of what he depicted mathematically and the efforts of often German thinkers, who proved that Maxwell was correct, provided bookends to the Scotsman on whose intellectual labors the underpinnings of the Modern Nuclear Project rest.

For readers who want more, a twenty-five-year-old monograph from a Cornell science series provides incisive and fascinating background to this entire situation. Not only does Professor Bruce Hunt make the science almost transparent in his telling of the social and political-economic tale, but he also brings heretofore little utilized documentary evidence to the process that still more potently enrich his contextualization.

In any event, for explanations at once much more technically complete and lucid, one might readily turn to Richard Rhodes monumental The Making of the Atomic Bomb. He notes that Maxwell never completely forswore mechanistic ideation, despite the brilliant young theorist’s having reoriented Isaac Newton himself, and how Einstein’s comrade and friend Planck saw more deeply beneath the surface about these things. Interestingly enough, rather than looking into the political-economic and sociopolitical differences that so obviously influenced this England-versus-Germany divergence, Rhodes accounted for Planck’s choices as indicia of cultural fetish.

Whatever the case may be in such matters, the gargantuan ‘power-boost’ latent in the atom, which Maxwell’s syntheses made transparent to all and sundry who were willing to abandon their commitments to mechanism, became more and more tangible, so much so that the mouth-watering possibilities drove many of the creeping-vines of science to fantasize social hegemony for the duration. Observers here will see this in Frederick Soddy’s writing and research soon to come. Here is a foretaste of that.

“It is probable that all heavy matter possesses—latent and bound up with the structure of the atom—a similar quantity of energy to that possessed by radium. If it could be tapped and controlled what an agent it would be in shaping the world’s destiny! The man who put his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the earth if he chose.”

To complete this briefing, a return to Einstein is apropos. For all Rhodes’ meticulous synthesis and his scientific skill, he only infrequently mentions that the interests of these early laborer’s toils in the vineyards of science probably, or even decidedly, included such practical matters as great sources of energy, immensely powerful weapons, the tools of empire and means of making money.

In his essay, “What is the Theory of Relativity,” Einstein clarifies that “(t)he special theory of relativity…was simply a systematic development of the electro-dynamics of Clerk Maxwell and Lorentz, point(ing) beyond itself.” Perhaps without meaning to do so precisely, the estimable former clerk suggests that Lord Kelvin’s ever-present concern for practical results, and the German model’s recognition of the way that scientific prowess would translate into industrial supremacy and military muscle must have been present at the outset of the inklings of an electromagnetic conceptualization of thermodynamic truths.

If Energy’s content equates to a multiplication of mass and such a large universal constant as the speed of light, squared, even a dense mind indeed might imagine great force’s coming to the fore. But Einstein states explicitly that his famous and perhaps even frightening equation was the logical outcome of Maxwell’s thinking. Surely he was not the only one who saw this potential.

Frank Stockton had a strong interest in science. One rational inference is that the “Instantaneous Motor Bomb” was a fictional deduction of what would inevitably result from tinkering with nature’s secrets in these matters. The transparent similarity in Soddy’s language above, from the early years of the twentieth century, echo eerily the fictional fantasies of Stockton fully a quarter century before. Therefore, reasonably if not conclusively, one might see a likely implication of the Modern Nuclear Project exactly in the decades-earlier work from which Stockton’s stories emerged.

Anyhow, plenty of yarnspinners leapt to that conclusion in their imaginary confabulations. A small sample of their efforts, beginning with that of the author of The Lady and the Tiger, appears immediately below.

By Way of Introduction

None of the works of literature that follow belong among the highest exemplars of wordsmithing. For all of his inventiveness and prolificity, one can hardly imagine H.G. Wells,’ arguably the best of this particular lot, delivering a Nobel lecture. The same holds true for the other storytellers and lyricists who appear below as well.

Yet each of the yarns in this cache demonstrates craft and capacity worthy of the substantial—perhaps vast would be more apt—audience that each of these highly successful writers entertained. In any case, however one elects to view these pieces as literary artifacts, their wider cultural significance—not to mention their presence here among the Spindoctor’s humble paragraphs—concerns a fact that all too many thinkers and citizens either never consider or consign to the realm of abstruse theorizing.

These novels and shorter items inextricably intertwine with the marvels and terrors, the paradoxes and routines, the madness and wonders of the Modern Nuclear Project. In so doing, they form a part of that scientific process that everyone who wants fully to understand that emanation of technos must account for. Nonetheless, except as context or oddity, they are unlikely to show up at all in the contextualizations of this field.

That at least one of these authors, and his work, does make a minor but arguably critically important appearance in The Making of the Atomic Bomb is what makes Richard Rhodes’ labors so satisfying, at times almost thrilling. The reader shall hear more of this when we speak of both Wells, in this section, and Frederick Soddy in the central portion of today’s essay.

The warp and woof of the Spindoctor telling obviously fits with his particular thesis. These authors are without exception obsessed both with empire and with the way that upper class command opened psychic and material wounds that threatened to rend social life into bloody mayhem. That they focused on a scientific evolution that might somehow address or ameliorate these problems indicates at once that this comprehension of science’s potential required no doctoral degree nor mathematical legerdemain and that both popular writers and their numerous readers found such an integration of science with politics, the juxtaposition of only plausible machinery with absolutely certain sociopolitical necessity, to be credible and interesting.

With these points in mind, a turn to the stories themselves is in order. They have much more to tell us than we can possibly discover in this first pass. Yet even a brief tilling may rake up fascinating, as well as useful, data and ideas.


Stockton’s training before he began to publish all manner of popular narratives was as a craftsman. He aspired to literature even as he mastered wood engraving. His paternal family’s recent adherence to Methodism and preaching was not for him . “One of his early ambitions was to study medicine, and much of his class work was devoted to the sciences, physics and chemistry particularly. …(H)is interest in physical phenomena never left him, and revealed itself frequently in his writing in later years. He was a realist, preferring always the concrete fact to the romantic or remote ideal.”

While this man, idealization of the ‘middle-class’ worker-bee American, with tangible and quite deserved ambitions to exercise his imagination in text, was one of the most popular authors of the nineteenth century, biographies of the workmanlike prose-smith have been sparse. However, one literary compilation does examine the body of Stockton’s oeuvre in relation to his life experiences.

And in any event the two volumes that he composed, both of which touched on electromagnetism and his general interest in the natural philosophy of the physical world, are easily available as electronic texts. Neither The Great War Syndicate nor The Great Stone of Sardis are volumes notable for their richly drawn and complex characters. Their action is for the most part linear and predictable. But they are nonetheless charmingly readable for themselves.

For the purposes of an examination of the cultural loam from which the Modern Nuclear Project sprang, furthermore, they are an untapped resource rich in potential to understand in the first place the general social arrangements that might foster such enterprise. In the second place, these works demonstrate ways that a popular understanding of physics might yield, under the pen and mind of an observant scribe, plausible accounts of how empire, chauvinism, as well as capital’s combination of cupidity and idealistic insistence on bettering human life might all conjoin to bring about opportunities, techniques, and relationships that in turn create a ‘new order’ out of industrial, financial, and scientific might.

The reader has already seen some of the final phases of this from The Great War Syndicate. Though in some ways The Great Stone of Sardis is even more revealing in the fashion that the Spindoctor has already suggested, this note in today’s effort will bring out additional details from Stockton’s former volume about the Anglo-American syndication of martial legerdemain in order to rule the planet. Stockton’s sole biographer, even as he misses the significance of the science of the popular novelist’s weaponry, does note the combination of popular science and socioeconomic ambitions in both volumes.

The overarching premise of The Great War Syndicate is that the financial might and productive reach of the United States must inevitably bring it into conflict with any other planetary power. At the time that Stockton was writing this volume, England ruled the waves, and this provided the tension for the necessity of epitomizing scientific and strategic warfare when a British warship seized U.S. vessels that the superior English cruiser claimed had slightly strayed into Canadian waters in search of fish.

Stockton essentially launched in 1889 a yarn of internecine squabbles between England and the United States, which ultimately ended in a ‘hot-headed’ declaration of war by the upstart Americans.

Upon sober reflection in the lee of such temerity, many people wondered how the U.S. could fight a naval war with the world’s greatest sea power when the U.S. forces were of such a paltry sort in comparison that it made David’s challenge to Goliath seem almost bullying in comparison.  The reaction that Stockton imagines ought to be a required text for every student of war and every citizen who avers a desire to participate in a democracy.

“Almost from the beginning of this period of national turmoil, a party of gentlemen met daily in one of the large rooms in a hotel in New York. …until at last they numbered twenty-three.  These gentlemen were all great capitalists, and accustomed to occupying themselves with great enterprises.  By day and by night they met together with closed doors, until they had matured the scheme which they had been considering.  As soon as this work was done, a committee was sent to Washington, to submit a plan to the Government.  These twenty-three men had formed themselves into a Syndicate, with the object of taking entire charge of the war between the United States and Great Britain.  This proposition was an astounding one, but the Government was obliged to treat it with respectful consideration.  The men who offered it were a power in the land, — a power which no government could afford to disregard.

This shadowy syndicate emerges “with the object of taking entire charge of the war between the United States and Great Britain.”  As insane as such a proposition sounds, as noted these were the sorts of fellows whom “no government could afford to disregard.”

A contract duly issues that establishes an “enormous” Syndicate deposit, which success will return to the venturers, compounded more extensively the shorter the duration of the conflict. “The men who offered to relieve the executive departments of their perilous responsibilities were men of great ability, prominent positions, and vast resources, whose vast enterprises had already made them known all over the globe. Such men were not likely to jeopardize their reputations and fortunes in a case like this, unless they had well-founded reasons for believing that they would be successful.”

While the relations and moves that Stockton propounded are in most ways a combination of fantasy and chauvinism of one sort or other, a core of common sense and accurate depiction is also present. These men are the “merchants of death” of the Nye Committee with happy faces. Thus, this is patently not how the conduct of war and empire occur, and yet underlying aspects of imperial and martial power are precisely as suggested here.

This paradox continues when the basis for the Syndicates intentions comes to Stockton’s pages. The syndicate’s potency and confidence stem from patented technologies never before brought to bear in combat, the combined forces of which would in the syndicate members’ calculations prove unstoppable.

Stockton’s descriptions of these weapons are vague and largely nonsensical. However, he is clear that electric forces are in play, that the powers are untold orders of magnitude greater than any ordinance previously deployed, and that the accuracy and intensity of the impact of an “instantaneous motor bomb” would simply vaporize some more of less extensive portion of the Earth.

“Each of these(in any projectile) tubes could exert a force sufficient to move an ordinary train of passenger cars one mile, and this power could be exerted instantaneously, so that the difference in time in the starting of a train at one end of the mile and its arrival at the other would not be appreciable. The difference in concussionary force between a train moving at the rate of a mile in two minutes, or even one minute, and another train which moves a mile in an instant, can easily be imagined. …Its force was brought into action while in the cannon by means of electricity while the same effect was produced in the other tubes by the concussion of the steel head against the object aimed at.”

Again, this describes nothing except a margin of power unimaginably more immense and intense that anything theretofore imaginable, activated by electrical mechanisms. These destructive ‘engines’ use no traditional explosives whatsoever. The visual depiction that Stockton evokes of each motor bomb demonstration in the novella brings to mind a small nuclear explosion, and the promise of the Syndicate is that larger devices are in the works.

“A little after two o’clock P.M., an instantaneous motor-bomb was discharged from Repeller No. 1 into Fort Pilcher. It was set to act five seconds after impact with the object aimed at. It struck in a central portion of the unfinished fort, and having described a high curve in the air, descended not only with its own motive power, but with the force of gravitation, and penetrated deep into the earth.

Five seconds later a vast brown cloud appeared on the Fort Pilcher promontory. This cloud was nearly spherical in form, with an apparent diameter of about a thousand yards. At the same instant a shock similar to that accompanying the first motor-bomb was felt in the city and surrounding country; but this was not so severe as the other, for the second bomb did not exert its force upon the underlying rocks of the region as the first one had done.

The great brown cloud quickly began to lose its spherical form, part of it descending heavily to the earth, and part floating away in vast dust-clouds borne inland by the breeze, settling downward as they moved, and depositing on land, water, ships, houses, domes, and trees an almost impalpable powder.

When the cloud had cleared away there were no fortifications, and the bluff on which they had stood had disappeared. Part of this bluff had floated away on the wind, and part of it lay piled in great heaps of sand on the spot where its rocks were to have upheld a fort.”

Stockton was obviously an imaginative man. Just as clearly, an inkling into the end result of electromagnetism, in other words the Modern Nuclear Project appears like a film’s special effects projection in his creative portrayals. The destructive forces’ explosive fury, their origins in EMS phenomena, their dependency on and promulgation by a conglomerate of the high and mighty, the promises of peace from potency, all these are elements of The Great War Syndicate, and whatever the engineering vapidity of the author’s ideas, these observations comport exactly with what was six decades down the road.

This might have been accidental of course. But the odds might seem much more likely to favor an intuitive grasp of the physics that had remained a lifelong study and the politics that he was living through, even if he did so as a booster and patriot of capitalism and the United States respectively.

As readers may recall from the OVERTURE above, after a bit more carnage to convince the stubbornly supremacist military minds of the British of the futility of opposing the Syndicate, Stockton’s conclusion of this ‘war’ that ‘was no longer a war but a proof that war as heretofore waged no longer made sense,’ was another predictive miracle. The Yanks and the Brits joined forces to oversee the Instantaneous Motor Project in almost exact form as Churchill and Roosevelt agreed that the Anglo-American control of the Modern Nuclear Project would proceed half a century hence.

In essence, either Mr. Stockton was the luckiest human ever to enter the world from a mama, or he was aware of things at some deep level that allowed him to see the rough outlines of how matters might transpire. In any case, his stories act as circumstantial evidence of both a popular consciousness of the intersections of empire and science and plutocracy and government, on the one hand, and a physical science that appeared to the likes of him to have a decided orientation toward ends that actually developed in different and yet clearly similar fashion.


As a textual creator, Wells was even more prolific than Stockton, whose encounter with near blindness definitely limited his output. He had a larger, worldwide, audience. More of his titles have entered the pantheon, if not the canon. He worked as a masterful propagandist during World War One—“the war to end all wars” is likely his meme.

Months prior to his shouldering the burden of distorting reality so as to ‘keep the boys on the front in fighting trim,’ Wells’ prognosticating, atomic novel, The World Set Free, aptly compounded the mixture of genius and madness that has long come to mirror the social and political-economic hegemony of the ubermensch and their technical marvels, which have always marked their societies made concrete. He starts, in his “Sun-Snarers” prelude, by bemusing on power: “The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power.”

Despite the facile limitation of this trope, if accepted as any sort of whole cloth of the human fabric, it remains all-too-popular, right up to the juncture when readers take up Wells this very moment. “Man is the tool using, fire making animal. From the outset of his terrestrial career, we find him supplementing the natural strength and bodily weapons of a beast by the heat of burning and the rough implement of stone. So he passed beyond the ape. From that he expands.”

Atomic power, and the bombs that it makes possible, not only formulate a new and better technique, but a new and better humanity. Though such mechanistic ruminations, at best vastly less than complete, lead down dangerous alleyways, Wells wittingly or not stumbles upon much of merit in considering this grand new age of Uranium that in many ways plutocrats have kept struggling to bring into being. And, whether by design or moral dharma, he shows us a leader dying of cancer, in a magnificent clinic where the clinicians promise times soon to come when such ‘mistakes’ as malignancies will hardly matter.

“How encumbered the world had become! It was ailing as I am ailing with a growth of unmeaning things. It was entangled, feverished, confused. It was in sore need of release, and I suppose that nothing less than the violence of those bombs could have released it, and made it a healthy world again. I suppose they were necessary.”

This lethal encomium continues, Wells as unaware of the absurdity of his inversions of reality as is the triumphant bull in making its irresistible charge into the snares of the matador’s killing thrust. The ‘evil’ of the world, inherent in all except ‘science,’ tortures and distorts the pure beauties that scientific creativity proffer. The leading “they,” somehow magically and exclusively consisting of men, whether real like Vannevar Bush and Leslie Groves and so forth or fictional matters little, who will “not suffer open speech” or otherwise effectuate mass education that is objective and empowering.

“You who are younger cannot imagine the mixture of desperate hope and protesting despair in which we who could believe in the possibilities of science lived in the years before atomic energy came.” The majority of forefathers, in Wells’ view, both feared and worshiped science, terrified of self-knowledge but in awe of the capacity attendant on general comprehension.

“’(D)o tricks for us. Limited little tricks. Give us cheap lighting. And cure us of certain disagreeable things–cure us of cancer, cure us of consumption, cure our colds, and relieve us after repletion.’”

Incredibly, fantasy no more advanced than the twelve year old’s tight-lipped assurance of glory if only all the adults would disappear, the author of this and War of the Worlds, among other titles, continues. “Science is no longer our servant. We know it as something greater than our little individual selves. It is the awakening mind of the race.”

Dying of the cancer that ‘science’ has been causing instead of ‘curing,’ paradigmatic inanity resplendent, the soon-to-expire hero announces the good news which sounds like a prophecy of today’s doom unless folks “straighten up and fly right,” as the Spindoctor’s mama used to say. “While I lie here, they are clearing up what is left of the bombs in London… .Then they are going to repair the ruins and make it all as like as possible to its former condition before the bombs fell.”

Yet he sees the toxicity of the ‘former condition’ that all paradoxically still want restored, even as he fails to detect the seeds of destruction in the new ways, so long as they continue to accrue from the material relationships and social ties that maintained before. Then,

“(t)hey were ill. They were sick with confusion. Everybody was anxious about money, and everybody was doing uncongenial things. …One sees how ill they were by their advertisements. …London… plastered with advertisements of pills. Everybody must have been taking pills. …The pill carrying age followed the weapon carrying age.”

Leading thinkers uniformly embraced Bismarck’s ‘blood and iron.’ Chillingly, to anyone paying attention–searingly, to anyone suffering from DU deposits in his organs or Uranium’s daughters’ burning into her bones–he predicts an end to this. “The monstrous worship of the old fool’s ‘blood and iron’ passed all around the earth. Until the atomic bombs burned our way to freedom again…” Wells’ ellipses nauseate with their presumption at just such a touchy point as this, immediately prior to conceiving that humanity’s growth-phase will also somehow include the elimination of eros and sexual need.

Wells dedicated The World Set Free in part to Frederick Soddy, whose prior volume resulted from a popular series of lectures that he had delivered to thousands in the United Kingdom of the early twentieth century and about whom more is soon to come. Herbert George notes in his dedication that, both conceptually and stylistically, he has grounded his story in Soddy’s work.

This is true from the outset. As already mentioned, ‘external power’ rather than relations with each other and ourselves, represent Wells’ and Soddy’s notions of a Homos Sapiens sine qua non. Thus, clever technicians and calmly authoritative scientists construct atomic devices that annihilate the old and brutal ways and put in their place times of objectivity, plenty, and the outright upending of the old economy, based on carbon and steam, replacing it with the nascent energy contained in the atom.

Mixing Darwin, his own reactionary social-Darwinism, and the just-released Totem and Taboo of Sigmund Freud, Wells traverses the thousands of generations that had produced the necessary modern ‘priesthood’ of knowledge capable of piercing nature’s secrets at the atomic level.

Arriving in the course of this ‘Prelude’ at the inanities of his own time, on the verge of yet another hellish descent into mass murder, his main character is in the midst of lectures about Radium, such as those that Soddy delivered. This youngster, Holsten, is destined in the next chapter to ‘solve the riddle’ of both instantaneous and controlled release of radioactive energies in 1933, pessimistic in regard to the proof of fission by a year, optimistic concerning a measure of control-at-a-larger-scale by about a decade.

This new interlude, “The New Source of Energy,” astounds with both insight and ignorance as Wells’ hero unleashes the first chain reaction, though naturally this is not its name here. In the process, Holsten hurts his hand and suffers “a blister on his chest.” However, he “knew that he had opened a way for mankind, however dark and narrow it might still be, to worlds of limitless power.”

In due course, after fits and starts, a “Holsten-Roberts engine” comes online that permits the operation of automobiles for pennies a day, dominates all forms of transport, and “invades industry” in a way unfathomably profitable, in part due to the atomic engine’s waste products including significant by-products of gold. India and the United States follow suit, and wherever one looks, having enough is no longer an issue.

Wells is astute enough to realize that such a massive shift in production would create unprecedented turmoil and upheaval. He envisions mass marches of the unemployed, peripatetic wanderers, formerly wealthy, traipsing the globe in search of something to do, and, even as unprecedented riches and accumulation amass in the hands of the new atomic class, a rising of tensions takes place until the stress is at levels that match the newfound plethora of riches available through radioactive ingenuity.

Thus, the next chapter ensues, logically, as “The Last War.” Though the chronology–set in the late 1960′s and early ’70’s–is off, the configuration of combatants is almost precisely correct, with England, France, and the United States, joined by Slavic empires still topped with crowns, confronting Germany and other Central and Southern European powers and Japan, which has taken over China.

Before long, all of the national pugilists have acquired nuclear weapons, which Wells tells the reader are deliverable in open-cockpit biplanes. A bombardier lifts each lethal gadget by hand and hurls it in the general direction of a target, the resulting fireball’s buffeting the plane hither and yon as the explosion continues for years on end, leaving the afflicted cities as infernos for a decade or more.

Underestimating the conflagration that he foresees by many orders of magnitude, the carnage is nonetheless intense enough to cause all belligerents to cease and desist, after humans have fled to the hills and shudder in anticipation of a final accounting. In “The Ending of War,” the former royalty, plutocrats, and politicos come to terms with the new nuclear masters and create a world government united by the English language and atomic abundance.

Declaring that all old affectations of privilege and appointment no longer apply, that, in fact, “Science is the new king of the world,” they plan for a transition to the promised Elysian fields of atomic surfeit. They must all hunt down a Balkan royal thug, who would unleash a salvaged trio of atom-bombs in order to maintain his ordained predominance.

This accomplished, “The New Phase” is set to begin. Consciousness has magically transformed, the basic problems cured because now, having seen the decimation that they face, workers and other miscreants are easy to control. Farming and other heavy labor has passed away, replaced, again through some unstated legerdemain, by atomic acuity.

Though Holsten has died, Karenin, a crippled Russian diplomat and avatar for the fading away of all that is hideous and ugly, now leads the world toward the new Eden. People know their places, Christianity and science end up saying the same thing, everyone speaks English, and the only problems revolve around boredom and filling the free time with something meaningful.

Karenin welcomes his end. By extension, residents of earth should welcome the death of the old ways that atomic-energy will make pointless, embracing instead the natural abundance that the tree-of-knowledge permits.

As fatuous and insane as this vision may be, it is not far removed from what the billionaires and bureaucrats of the Modern Nuclear Project convey. They still foresee the emanation of such claptrap, despite their seventy years of similar promises that have yielded H-bomb arms races, Chernobyl, and what the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has calculated is plus-or-minus “three minutes to a(n apocalyptic) midnight.”


In some way, in perfect fashion, Robert Heinlein creates a Yankee foil to Wells’ British ‘establishment socialism.’ The American science fiction writer considers himself ‘liberal,’ desires disarmament and international control of weapons of mass destruction, and otherwise abjures openly ethnocentric forms of chauvinistic rule despite his openly multifaceted supremacist bigotry. He envisions a world of enlightened plutocrats and their clever political servants, assisted by sober and able technical savants. His is an Earth, composed in 1940, of a Modern Nuclear Project in which fission and fusion explosive devices are presently unobtainable.

Fiction, since it need not face juried trials to merit publication, can at times give clues about how such otherwise arcane matters as the high technology of modern physics routinely operates and the passes to which it leads. Both H.G. Wells and Robert Heinlein, neither moronic nor technically ingenious, created lengthy novels that spoke of a future ruled by atomic energy and atomic weapons. Each placed Uranium in prominent positions in their imagined worlds.

Robert Heinlein’s effort, not nearly so grandiose as that of Wells, and hence less arrogant and ludicrous from the vantage point of those who have lived through the paradisaical holocaust that both authors foretell is a necessary prelude to peace and plenty, actually predicts that the coming effort to achieve a Uranium-based explosive will prove a bust. His main character becomes a chief adjutant to a Leslie-Groves analog who oversees the attempted taming of Uranium to fulfill its killing potential.

Heinlein, due to injury, had left the Navy immediately prior to U.S. entry into war. As an Annapolis graduate, engineering is inbred; his technical ‘literacy’ includes a basic familiarity with the coming attempts to develop a fissile bomb. His little booklet, Solution Unsatisfactory, proceeds from a simple premise based on the almost-certain results of the fact of nuclear fission.

“In December, 1938, in Berlin, Dr. Hahn split the uranium atom. In April, 1943, Dr. Estelle Karst, working under the Federal Emergency Defense Authority, perfected the Karst-Obre technique for producing artificial radioactives. So American foreign policy had to change. Had to. Had to. It is very difficult to tuck a bugle call back into a bugle. Pandora’s Box is a one-way proposition. You can turn pig into sausage, but not sausage into pig. Broken eggs stay broken.”

Only the first one-third of the novella is necessary to reveal that the failure of bomb-creation nevertheless yields a ‘dust’-based weapon of unstoppable lethality. So devastated is Estelle Karst by the brutal use of her hoped-for humanity-salving researches into radioactivity, that she enters the primary processing room at the reactor without a shield, dying almost instantly.

“‘I wish,’ Manning added slowly, ‘that I could explain to her why we had to do it.’ We buried her in a lead-lined coffin, then Manning and I went on to Washington.”

As is typical of Heinlein, his scientific prophecies often lack the bite of technical plausibility. Still, his insights into government, bureaucracy, and the actions of the always-lurking vultures of the ‘powers-that-be’ are as acute as the penetrating power of a Depleted-Uranium round, also, as things have transpired, a ‘dust-based’ weapon of the present pass of the Modern Nuclear Project. Thus, in his novel, having defeated the Nazis (Japan makes no appearance in the World War as concocted by this Naval officer of the Pacific fleet), American politics begin to revolve around the new-found capacity to end life on earth, in almost precisely the fashion as was to occur in regard to the Atomic Energy Commission, the failed attempts to ‘internationalize’ nukes, and the coming of the Cold War. The correspondence with reality is eerie.

However, he again does not foresee a key ingredient, which is the uppity Russians’ gaining a nuclear capacity–dust-based or not–of their own. Under the circumstances that he foretold, his hero, Manning, the narrator’s boss, states a credible summary of the U.S. position, whatever the high-minded rhetoric of democracy that flows forth from Washington as propaganda.

“‘There are a lot of good, kindly people who are internationalists these days. Nine out of ten of them are soft in the head and the tenth is ignorant. If we set up a worldwide democracy, what will the electorate be? Take a look at the facts: Four hundred million Chinese with no more concept of voting and citizen responsibility than a flea; three hundred million Hindus who aren’t much better indoctrinated; God knows how many in the Eurasian Union who believe in God knows what; the entire continent of Africa only semicivilized; eighty million Japanese who really believe that they are Heaven-ordained to rule; our Spanish-American friends who might trail along with us and might not, but who don’t understand the Bill of Rights the way we think of it; a quarter of a billion people of two dozen different nationalities in Europe, all with revenge and black hatred in their hearts. No, it won’t wash. It’s preposterous to talk about a world democracy for many years to come. If you turn the secret of the dust over to such a body, you will be arming the whole world to commit suicide.’”

The only ‘sensible’ step, under such circumstances is an ultimatum to everywhere on the planet to accept American hegemony. All other states must deliver their planes and heavy armaments to Kansas.

Manning’s role in all of this, as Secretary of State, is completely idealistic. This is all for the good of the most people. Life can now be fair, and we can live well in civilized surroundings, thanks to the extraction of war from the human arsenal by a wise dictatorship of a nation that does know how to accomplish democracy–by force, and that does understand the Bill of Rights–applicable as Americans announce, or the consequences are assaultive.

The benevolent President for whom Manning serves, unfortunately, dies suddenly, however. A cabal of corporate raiders, conspirators who evince the morals of snakes and the appetites of crocodiles, comes to the fore. This certainly fits in with the realities of the actual Modern Nuclear Project in relation to Atomic Veterans, energy workers, and much more.

Manning saves the day. Having organizational authority over the dust, he undertakes a counter-coup. Confronting the new President, a stand-in for the gang-of-thieves who are planning a world plantation for purposes of plunder and profit, Manning now makes an ultimatum. Washington will face immediate termination, unless Manning receives imperial imprimatur; he, at least, knows how to rein both firmly and selflessly.

A perfect Heinlein climax is this. A sweet-tempered tyrant, a fair-and-decent fuhrer, is all the world needs to avoid blundering its way to Armageddon or planning its way to a technically-powerful but socially-bankrupt dystopia.

Quite likely inextricably intertwined with the publication of these two novels was their timing, the one at the start of the carnage of World War One and the other as the decimation of World War Two was beginning to unfold. Of course, these two vomitous upheavals of murder and brutality have undeniable roots in the industrial, financial, and imperial crises of the business that is the business of America, 1914 and 1940 each standing at a gateway between fiscal meltdown and the purgative ministrations of martial medicine.

The point of developing today’s narrative in this fashion is to illustrate how, in seeking a way out of socioeconomic mire through war’s political firestorm, the masters of the universe were ever seeking the magical specific that might, somehow, overcome the implosive impulses of their hegemony. Successful story-tellers, appealing to important audiences, can guide the pupil both to a clearer picture of these conundrums in the past and to their continuing manifestation in the present—hence their presence in this exploration of an all-too-real Modern Nuclear Project.

In any case, as both Wells and Heinlein repeatedly–and some with a critical bent might say heavy-handedly–belabor in their texts, and through their characters, new techniques, new knowledge, new formulas are the sanctioned methods for ending the self-immolation of war and its analogs. Of course, wherever one looks under capitalism, ‘reform’ entails grasping after life-preservers of just this limited sort, that do not eliminate the bourgeoisie’s oversight or otherwise require any systemic conversion to a different consciousness or material methodology.

That such thinking is puerile, at best, is one component of a critique. However, rational analysis must go further, at least hypothesizing that no mere technique, no matter how elegant or majestic or far-reaching, can ever substitute for transformation of the material and social paradigms that create capital’s inherently self-immolating tendencies.

The applicability of this assessment to the present pass in regard to a Uranium economy ought to be easy enough to bring into focus. On the one hand, militarists view our weapons—including as suggested above our ‘dust-based’ DU ‘penetrators’—as tantamount to Manning’s ‘miracle-of-dust,’ while many soldiers, who believe that they have suffered from the different ‘dustings’ that they have reeived, see them as precisely the opposite, embodiments in their own rights of demonic potency unleashed as an evil conspiracy. Neither perspective is apt though.

These ‘transuranic’ ploys are not merely hateful conspiracies; they are necessary tactical moves, at least from the point-of-view of the ruling classes. DU, nukes, the entire Nuclear Fool Cycle certainly appear as, in one sense anyway, ploys to salvage capital: reducing or eliminating the toxicity of such ploys necessitates facing up to the need to revamp capital’s rule altogether. If the Modern Nuclear Project threatens to eviscerate all humankind, its elimination can only proceed through the course of curing ourselves of capitalism.

Of course, neither Wells nor Heinlein will advance such a proposition, preferring the fantasy that some combination of friendly thinking and innovative things will overthrow an empire of politics, economics, and control. They imagine dismantling the primacy of blood and steel with ideals and i-Pods, with compassion and technical know-how.

Of course, such hubris did not require the ascertainment of radioactivity. It is a response to a breakdown in the world’s first globe-trotting system, in which capital’s repeated convulsions of mass murder have been reaping a bloody harvest for more than two hundred years now, since at least the Napoleonic Wars, possibly for longer than that, stretching back to one of Wells’ favorite authors and sources for some of his ruminations in The World Set Free, the depictions of slaughter-as-policy that appear in Voltaire’s Candide.


Many additional texts, including dramas and poems, published and abandoned items, also preceded the clear-cut demonstration of the Modern Nuclear Project that culminated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continued in the Cold War that imperialists in both the ‘private and public sectors’ had planned since, as Harry Truman stated the proposition, ’God had put nukes—“these terrible weapons”—in our hands.’

In particular, readers might turn to Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, by Paul Brians. This effort at a comprehensive compilation at the very least proffers the more accessible titles and other ways of designating such materials.

The author quotes a developer of such fictions, whose 1985 story gives a plausible overview of what these materials mean, in psychic terms.

“Throughout the ages–and long before the invention and development of nuclear weapons–there had been those who prophesied that the world would end because of man’s wickedness.

Such prophesies were always believed, no matter how many times they had been proved wrong in the past. There was a wish for, as well as a fear of, punishment. Once nuclear weapons were invented, the prophecies gained plausibility, although now they were couched in lay terms rather than religious ones.

Evidence, the more convincing because governments tried to suppress it, proved that the world could be ended at the touch of a button.”

Rather than present much of the arcana of this arena—Upton Sinclair’s unproduced nuclear-weapons play of 1907 that he later reformatted as a two volume, 1924 novel, for example, The Millennium: a Comedy of the Year 2000—this final section will restate some of the thinking that underlies this evidencing of how fiction and literature have predicted and circumscribed and often enough ‘scooped’ the Modern Nuclear Project. A phrase from the prior quotation is telling in this regard: “the more convincing because governments tried to suppress it.”

For ‘secrecy’ in regard to these matters—inherently massive, and massively social, efforts, which always require debate and testing and outsize structures and processes at every step—is at best an infantile hope. That is not to say that it is not a popular trope, as echoes from Stockton make clear. “What gave the(Instantaneous Motor Bomb) tubes their power was the jealously guarded secret.”

Still, in many ways, and with much less of science’s prattling to rely on than either Wells or Heinlein had at hand, Stockton had better foreseen the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the American empire at work in the mid-1940’s. Though his practically bloodless conflict was, most charitably, naive idealism, he clearly recognized that scientific ability and industrial strength would determine martial outcomes and that politics would then consist of controlling these ‘more-bang-for-the-buck’ forces. This is another function of these writings in relation to the Modern Nuclear Project.

At the same time that these fictional fancies are utterly inadequate as descriptions of methods to reshape capitalism, which cannot avoid the allure of the arcane, the expensive, the deadly, and the new–such as Uranium promises with a glowing glitter, they do illustrate incisively and fairly comprehensively why and how Uranium-based ‘solutions’ are so appealing to the masters of the universe. They also articulate the imprimatur of science, which, as a never-ending ‘new frontier’ and otherwise, has become equivalent to fixing everything that ails the world as well.

All such big issues are, fundamentally and unavoidably, matters of wielding power and managing the means of production. Such political-economic origins of things lead to their current form. Thus, the inaugural decades of the Uranium age underlie contemporary difficulties and controversies attendant on this new epoch, which political leaders everywhere–promising that it is ripe for ‘renaissance’–seem to be eyeing as not only necessary but also highly salubrious. Barack Obama’s triumphalist visit to India illustrates this intractable tendency, where titans hope, with titanic fantasies of reactor sales, to ‘balance their budgets’ once and for all. Or, wait, China is also a ‘market’ of this sort too; and Brazil; and Russia, once we take care of that inconvenient little Judo master at the helm.

These fantasies, ludicrous and lucid intermixed, come from both the minds of wordsmiths before anyone admitted a Modern Nuclear Project’s existence, soundbites about the future as viewed from 1914, and from the latest Department of Energy bulletins. The predecessor predictions appear at times too astute to bear. Of course, they are also characteristically fantastical and foolish in retrospect, as are official pronouncements’ predictable promises that always turn out to be false.

Nevertheless, these capsules of ruling ideation—whether fictional or ‘real’—display an essential shape: that ‘free’ or ‘painless’ solutions to life’s enigmatic struggles are available; that technology will save us from social suffering; that nothing fundamentally responsible need occur; that business as usual will therefore remain possible without an utter gutting of human welfare and democracy. And of course, these same conceptualizations, more or less a social norm, now appear in the form of film and television, albeit with vampires and zombies to manage in the bargain. Whether mad, or merely childish, such notions can only sow devolution rather than evolutionary possibility.

Yet such are the meanderings of the Modern Nuclear Project, on the one hand, and the yarnsmiths who have predicted and chronicled it, on the other hand. Such thinking is part of the imperial, political economic, and sociopolitical substrate of the entire process.

As noted above, a deeper delving might yield much greater rewards in these realms. However, no matter its merely nascent development, today’s churning of this little plowed field has provided some ideas that promise utility and may, to at least some who consider them, proffer a measure of fascination.

Core Matters

Having arrived once more at the heart of things, yet again those who have accompanied the Spindoctor on this journey will find that we’ve covered a lot of territory and that a full portrayal of what should appear at this juncture would require even greater reams, or bits and bytes, to convey. Alas, time and tide necessitate abbreviation here, as is so often the case with these heartfelt messages here on Contributoria.

But the briefs that follow do solidify the overall proposition that this initial installment about the Modern Nuclear Project offers to its readers. These men all entered the world with substantial fortunes, in four out of five cases with vast sums at their command.

Their biographers speak glowingly of the ‘restless intellects,’ the ‘drive to discover,’ the ‘commitment to knowledge,’ and other characteristics that no doubt this quintet did display. However, their cash-on-hand, their imperial positions, their substantial interest in a commanding position in competitive commerce—with the possible exception of Frederick Soddy—mean that much more mundane and less admirable qualities were also in play as this group, along with many others who happen not to trot across this particular state, determined that the human future would involve atomic energy and the omnipresent proximity of mass collective suicide.

The hypothesis of this report, of course, is that this second set of goals and objectives both has received inadequate attention among chroniclers and, clearly, may have equal or greater heft in explicating why the Modern Nuclear Project has been humanity’s fate. Perhaps our survival will keep intertwining with this path: yet without a single doubt, we also must acknowledge that avoiding Homo Sapiens extinction may instead require abandoning this pathway that in any event has so obviously emerged from the class interests and moneyed predominance of the likes of these five children of millions and magnates of empire.


Frederick Soddy emerged from great wealth. His family members were grocery moguls. In a sense, the arc of Soddy’s career—from nuclear chemistry to political economy—delineates his kin’s evolution from the sale of nutrients to the banking of massive fortunes.

The focus of the young chemist’s efforts revolved around the heavier elements. In this realm of nature, of little interest prior to the machinery and theories that accompanied electricity’s conjunction with magnetism induced, oddities soon began to appear. Some of this strangeness would take till the doorstep of World War Two to puzzle out, but of one thing Soddy quickly became certain: Radium was a treasure chest of energy, though we now might ponder the metaphor of Pandora’s closet.

In his monumental and seminal work, The Interpretation of Radium, Soddy attests to all of these ideas as he extolled the 91st member of the Periodic Table. One might write volumes about each of Soddy’s chapters, so informative and dense with thought and wonder were they all. He especially demonstrates the last sensibility, the awestruck apprehension of being in the presence of holy orders.

He makes this clear from the outset. For example, in the original Preface he notes the material’s “application not (being) confined to the physical sciences, but ha(ving) a wide and general bearing on our whole outlook upon nature.”

The Preface to the Third Edition, penned in 1912, confirms and expands on this assertion of revolutionary implications. In Chapter One, “The New Science,” he writes that no homey analogy can do Uranium’s potential justice, “because in these latest developments science has broken fundamentally new ground.”

He then continues as follows. “The phenomena with which I am concerned…belong to the newly born science of radioactivity and to the spontaneous disintegration of elements which the study of radioactivity has revealed to us. …see(ing) the first definite and considerable step into the ultimate nature of…atoms, which in one sense is not merely an extension of existing knowledge or principles, but a radical new departure. …concerned with the knowledge of the elementary atoms themselves of a character so fundamental and intimate that the old laws of chemistry and physics, concerned almost wholly with external relationships, do not suffice.”

And he carries such ideation through to a climactic crescendo, in Chapter Ten, as “this interpretation of Radium is drawing to a close.” First, he presents the deconstruction of the physics and chemistry of Maxwell.

“The aspects which matter has presented to us in the past is but a consummate disguise, concealing latent energies and hidden activities beneath a hitherto impenetrable mask. The ultra-material potentialities of radium are the common possession of all the world to which in our ignorance we used to refer as mere inanimate matter.”

He goes on to lionize, in tones foretelling the nuclear engineers and other atomic priests of the present. “Is it not wonderful to reflect that in this little bottle (with less than a pound of Uranium) there lies asleep and waiting to be evolved the energy of at least one hundred sixty tons of coal?…The store of energy in Uranium would be worth a thousand times as much as the Uranium itself, if only it were under our control and could be harnessed to do the world’s work in the same way as the energy in coal has been harnessed and controlled.”

Near the final pages, Soddy waxes eloquent.

“When we have learned how to transmute the elements at will the one into the other, then, and not until then, will the key to this hidden treasure house of Nature be in our hands. …(I)t has come to be recognized that in the discovery of radioactivity, or rather, of the subatomic power and processes of which radioactivity is but the outward and visible manifestation, we have penetrated one of Nature’s innermost secrets. …A race which could transmute matter would have little need to earn its bread by the sweat of its brow. …(S)uch a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling garden of Eden. …It is a legitimate aspiration to believe that one day (w)e will attain the power to regulate…the primary fountains of energy which Nature now so jealously reserves for the future.”

The language here bespeaks the realm of the sacred, at the same time that the arrogation of ‘Nature’s’ essence to paltry human hands also suggests the sacrilegious. In this vein, an observer needs to realize that all of this priestly poking about for new knowledge was impossible outside of the context of a bargained-for-exchange.

Moreover, at every level of the manifestation of the Modern Nuclear Project, a humble cash-out of the lofty ideals was on the minds of all the players, with the exception of the very rare ‘dear Max Planck’ whom Einstein extolled fifteen thousand words back. In the event, if for no other reason than that the instruments to interact with atoms were expensive, almost everybody pondered where to get money and how to monetize the work.

The equipment that Soddy lovingly describes, coated with gold and utilizing chemicals of the most arcane complexity and routinely high cost, was only conceivable under the most advanced material and economic conditions. Truly, given what people have learned about Uranium’s transit through human culture, a Faustian bargain may have been in play, from the inception, when bankers and barons and industrialists watched over the scurrying laboratory wizards attempting to tame all that is.

Furthermore, Soddy and his cohorts were aware of this everyday intersection between their Faustian searches and their repeated mention of value and scarcity and the potential for unfathomable increase . That their efforts necessitated the concerted support of the highest levels of public and private wealth follows as ineluctably as light follows facing the sun.

In another interesting turn suggestive of confirmation of the core import of these fiscal matters, Frederick Soddy himself became a devotee of political economy after he won his Nobel Prize in 1921. The Role of Money is merely one of dozens of papers and monographs that Soddy produced in this area of thought during the 1920’s and ’30’s.

The University of Toronto’s Thaddeus Trenn introduces the student to this career component in his long article, “The Central Role of Energy in Frederick Soddy’s Economics.” Soddy thus not only produced multiple volumes of what contemporary thinkers call Ecological Political Economy or Energy Political Economy, but he has reached across the decades to garner some of today’s investigators as colleagues.

Trenn quotes Soddy, who sounds like a contemporary ‘Peak Oil’ proponent. “The fact remains that, if the supply of energy failed, modern civilization would come to an end as abruptly as does the music of an organ deprived of wind. [But] … the still unrecognized ‘energy problem’ . . . awaits the future.”

The lively Brit goes on to plug Uranium as the basis for human renovation, or, should one prefer, ‘renaissance.’ “[The human control of atomic energy could] virtually provide anyone who wanted it with a private sun of his own.”

That these promises have proved nonsensical is immaterial; that the risks have come to appear monstrous matters less than nothing; Soddy’s is the vision of the entrepreneur or venture capitalist at the pinnacle of the bourgeois order. As the clock continues to tick on the imposition of a ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ on all humankind, his remains the stubborn, and purportedly farsighted, folly of finance that predominates right this second in the Modern Nuclear Project.


On the basis of soda ash—both the industrial and the home products—Ernest Solvay’s paternal line had lined the pockets of many of Belgium’s wealthiest individuals. He was one of Europe’s richest men. Moreover, he viewed the chemical techniques that had created his fortune as a beckoning to unlock still deeper mysteries of matter.

The Solvay Conferences grew out of this intersection of capital and inquiry. For over a century, every couple of years or so, Ernest Solvay’s drive in this arena has continued to create physics efforts and chemical insights. The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry has impacted  scholarship and practical machinations of these fields at the same time.

While one might devote many volumes just to such important individual conferences as the 1927 Institute on Protons and Electrons, where the buzz was all about the potential for additional particles—the neutron waited in the wings, as it were—today’s materials will merely whet the reader’s interest about the process that this scion of plutocracy developed as an invitation-only gathering of nuclear cognoscenti. Einstein was a ubiquitous presence, as were Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and others.

The contents of the sessions at a Solvay event were not open to the public. The luminaries there have indicated subsequently that many aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project were under discussion at these closed door sessions.

Some who are wont to view the work of the world in these circumstances as conspiratorial are wont to concoct all manner of theories about such events.

Project Lightbulb started out as an experimentation with electrons and photons and how they can affect they way we perceive space and time. Some say Project Lightbulb was commissioned in highest secrecy during the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927. Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were Noble Prize winners including Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Marie Curie, Erwin Schrödinger, and many others.”

Whatever the possible proofs or refutations of such views, that Solvay’s great wealth—and his strategic focus on bringing nuclear physicists and chemists together to talk shop privately on a regular basis—without a single doubt did contribute to such obvious ‘conspiracies’ as the Manhattan Engineering District, the development of thermonuclear weapons, the transfer of nuclear techniques to nations such as Britain and France and Israel and more.

These are not theories. And with more time and resources, the underlying events of Solvay’s work could stand as a multi-volume treatise about the political-economic, social, and imperial aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project generally.


If the Solvay family network in relation to nuclear issues would necessitate at least one big, fat volume, the same coverage of the clan that synthesizes oil and money and monopoly and empire would require a small library of dense monographs to cover the same ground. Wherever one looks in the nooks and crannies and foyers and common areas of The Modern Nuclear Project, individual Rockefeller’s show up; their foundations and other ‘non-profit’ arms span the globe; their employees and functionaries have a seat at every table that matters.

This is true whether one is looking at Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, Glenn Seaborg, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, Ernest Lawrence, Edward Teller, or half a thousand other ‘leading lights’ in atomic research. The oil family’s interests hypothetically stemmed from the potential to use radium in cancer therapy and like possibilities. But high energy physics had other offshoots that might captivate such actors as these.

The New York Times summarized this trend in an analytical article centering on Rockefeller’s beneficence to science. Its headline stands as a precis for the wider trend: “Scientific Giving Is Now Big American Business.” As well, the oil giant’s generosity was among the leading sources of early funding for decoding the meaning and possibilities of Uranium.

Such monographs as Ben Martin’s The Political Economy of Science, Technology, and Innovation make this point more generally. Additionally, one may turn to radical critics of scientism, who insist on a holistic accounting of science and its specific techniques, to expand and further deepen this contention about the interwoven strands of money, politics, and the understanding and exploitation of nature. Philip Murowski’s Science Bought and Sold: Essays in the Economics of Science is merely one of hundreds of examples of such interpretations.

As with most of what the Spindoctor manages to produce, more time and resources might garner results both more monumental and more pointedly revealing. More will show up in future installments, in any event.


Having seen a fair swath of the pies in which Alfred Loomis had his fingers in the OVERTURE, a tiny precis of what else an investigator might plumb shows up here. Just as with all of the above moneybags with an intense interest in the Modern Nuclear Project, so too with the estimable Mr. Loomis: further research would likely pay huge dividends.

The National Archives fulfills the assertion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ about this. It depicts merry hilarity among a special group of men: Meeting in the Radiation Laboratory on the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) campus to discuss the 184-inch cyclotron; left to right: Ernest O Lawrence, Arthur H Compton, Vannevar Bush, James B Conant, Karl T Compton, and Alfred Loomis, March 29, 1940.

Loomis’ heritage of cash, his vocation to study science, his proclivity to make investment coups in the electrical utilities industry, and his compulsion to be a part of the electromagnetic spectrum investigation mean that he is a man of the atom. He is a core member of the Modern Nuclear Project.


The final table of the hypothetical “World Series of Nuclear Poker” could easily include these five men. Truman’s constant use of a poker metaphor – that the Trinity Test and atomic bombs were an “ace in the hole” – in many ways is perfectly apt. Taking others’ things, controlling outcomes, ending up with all the money, are what empire and capital and the Modern Nuclear Project share in common with the game of poker.

Alexander Sachs seamlessly fits in with this group. The Atomic Archive makes this point briefly. “On october 11, 1939, Alexander Sachs, Wall Street economist and longtime friend and unofficial adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met with the President to discuss a letter written by Albert Einstein the previous August. Einstein had written to inform Roosevelt that recent research on chain reactions utilizing uranium made it probably that large amounts of power could be produced by a chain reaction and that, by harnessing this power, the construction of extremely powerful bombs was conceivable. Einstein believed the German government was actively supporting research in this area and urged the United States government to do likewise. Sachs read from a cover letter he had prepared and briefed Roosevelt on the main points contained in Einstein’s letter. Initially the President was noncommittal and expressed concern over locating the necessary funds, but at a second meeting over breakfast the next morning Roosevelt became convinced of the value of exploring atomic energy.”

As a savvy investor and member of capital’s inner circle, Sachs had a longstanding interest in fission and the atomic and subatomic realms. This is typical of the upper reaches of the upper crust, then and now. Further investigation, forthcoming in the next installment of this series, will show this much more extensively and powerfully than what has appeared thus far.

If a reader recalls Einstein’s observation that somewhere between a large and an overwhelming majority of scientists have very practical reasons for choosing their careers, the accomplishments and meaning of these five characters conceivably comes crisply into focus. Plutocratic wealth was in play here. Fascination with the workings of the natural world without a single doubt represented to some measurable degree among these men an interest of at least similar intensity with the forming of commodities, the making of money, the accouterments of power and empire, and other such indicia of upper class imprimatur and social entitlement and worldly success.

The Modern Nuclear Project, as Soddy’s integration of energy and political economy make especially transparent, summed up for this group of central actors in the fields of money and war and empire a mandatory turn. Nature provided the potential for bombs that at one fell swoop might incinerate hundreds of thousands or even millions of victims. Physical law underlay the capacity to boil water with the same energies that achieved these refinements in mass murder. But the social, political, and economic selection of that particular direction flowed undeniably from the social and political and economic priorities that these titans brought to the fields of knowledge and the arenas of science.

That other options were available—and well-established and understood—is possible to demonstrate too. The rare rebel points out that this assertion is true. Just before he died, Thomas Edison spoke to a scoffing Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Whatever else he was, Mr. Edison was no dummy. But he was also not a banker, nor did he particularly favor untrammeled control from such social sets. This hegemony, then, may account for the paths that our sort have trod down a primrose path laden with Plutonium and plunder, plutocracy and inequality.

Some Conclusions to Consider

An irreverent start to this penultimate section would be fairly simple to state. The name of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle should be, in perpetuity, The Nuclear Fool Cycle. A recent article about nuclear waste is just one of countless analyses of late, which examine multiple issues—proliferation of weapons; heretofore hidden health effects of reactors; much larger impacts than generally admitted from dramatic accidents; massive and continuing cost overruns; and the list is just beginning—any one of which would rationally make the Modern Nuclear Project appear as a fool’s errand, yet precisely a certain sort of biased rationality, as today’s report has examined from its inception, make the Nuclear Fuel/Fool Cycle overpowering, even compulsory, in its allure.

What is the nature of this irresistible attraction? Again, as the circumstantial and direct evidence of this article has developed repeatedly, the financial and imperial interests at the heart of social control and political power now simply must find, on the one hand, outlets for capital surpluses that lock-in their dominance and hold out—by hook or by crook—chances to reach an ongoing cash-out position in their favor. On the other hand, they also simply must continue to brandish weaponry that are adequately terrifying in fighting off the multiple and increasingly potent challenges to their rule.

From a ruling class perspective, these two advantages to nukes outweigh all conceivable drawbacks, including the destruction of every living thing on planet Earth. These are not the only points that today’s hegemons discern that dispose them to protract nuclear investments, but they are completely dispositive in overruling all dissent.

Because this central conclusion of the present Spindoctor production so clearly mandates persistent ‘Establishment’ support for the Modern Nuclear Project, whatever the costs and consequences, any conclusory language to the effect that ‘Society ought to rid itself of nukes,’ no matter how reasonable and necessary that such a step might be, is at best fantastical, more likely fatuous. As Marcuse might put the case, ‘reason has itself become utterly unreasonable.’

Thus, the following deductions are all extremely moderate. They seek to provide parameters for two things: first, to build popular awareness and consciousness about both nuclear issues generally and about the participatory potential of democratic power; second, to select those steps that—even though they will never ‘pass muster’ in the present political-economic context—show how rotten and hypocritical and corrupt the Modern Nuclear Project is, since only something rotten and hypocritical and corrupt would reject such moderate, practical, substantive reforms, practices that apply, practically speaking, to every other sector of capitalist enterprise.


Eliminating secrecy represents the sine qua non in terms of effective action that addresses the Modern Nuclear Project. Though this often enough calls forth a terrified response—What?!?! but then all the terrorists will find out!!—unless one wants completely to forego reason, the answer to this fear is straightforward, whether or not it persuades the fearful:

“Anyone who has half a brain and wants to discover how to create these devices will find all the information necessary in publicly available documents. Secrecy has nothing, as in zero, to do with prohibiting evildoers from learning how more horribly to carry out their evil deeds.”  The evidence on this point, as opposed to the purported opinions of self-serving nuclear weapons scientists, is close to dispositive. Secrecy does not keep countries that have the industrial base to support nukes from acquiring them, nor would a lack of secrecy permit ‘terrorists’ who lacked the necessary manufacturing capacity from being able to design, assemble, and test their own WMD’s.

What secrecy does absolutely destroy is any ability to discuss the issues that are out of the public eye. Therefore, all secrecy—but especially that related to decades-old projects and ‘intellectual property concerns’ and so-called ‘intelligence activities’—needs to stop tout suite. Otherwise, we can first of all kiss any chance of democracy goodbye, en route to bidding adieu to any large likelihood of continued human survival.


Forcing the firms that profit from nukes to capitalize at least their own insurance ought to be another automatic course of action in relation to having even a vaguely ‘level-playing-field’ in the energy sector. As things stand now, despite legal attacks over the years, and copious criticism from various parties, the nuclear industry—which, as readers have seen, is the uttermost darling or ruling class financial and imperial interests—as a whole faces at most a plus-or-minus $15 billion exposure in the event of nuclear accident.

Such an amount naturally is not chump change, but it is at most 1.5-3.0% of the total expected average liability of $500 billion-$1 trillion in the event of a serious nuclear disaster. Where will the remaining 97% or more of recompense come from? The answer is a ‘duh’ moment: it will come from the erstwhile ‘beneficiaries’ of nuclear power, i.e., taxpayers.

The Price-Anderson Act’s protections of nuclear businesses that tout their ‘competitiveness’ and profitability are, in the most optimistic view, absurd. Therefore, moving ahead, all such subsidies need to end.


Unilaterally eliminating all but one hundred U.S. H-bombs, with a promise to rid ourselves of that final centurion of megadeath, is another step in the direction of the viability of the Modern Human Project, even if it would appear as anathema to the Modern Nuclear Project. What such an eventuality could mean, more or less, might be something along these lines.

Of the fleet of United States ballistic missile submarines, only one—not disclosed—would carry armaments at any particular time. Of the massive fleet of bombers that are able to deliver H-bombs, at any given time only a handful would carry such weapons. Of the scores of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silos that the U.S. maintains, only a few would at any given moment would contain ready-to-launch thermonuclear rockets.

For a period of years, moreover, or perhaps—for the paranoid—decades, a non-deployed stockpile of back-up weapons of mass destruction could be accessible, albeit their presence and availability would be something that both U.S. and international officials monitored. Further, a key development would be that all future research and development of new killing schemes and delivery systems would cease forthwith.


Engaging citizens in various initiatives, overseen by non-governmental organizations with no ties to the Modern Nuclear Project as such, and empowering citizen action based on these learning and research and discursive programs, lies at the heart of any attempt to deliver humankind from the complete certainty—given the way that small chances aggregate over long periods of possibility—of a likely future total annihilation if the MNP endures unimpeded. Such a ‘Citizen Action Program of Popular Engagement for Reform,’ or something similar, might have such elements as these.

First, the nuclear industry and anti-nuclear community organizations would both receive funding and freedom to produce learning materials, instructional media and programming of various sorts, and classes or seminars in which community members would receive generous stipends to participate. This work could consist of one-third nuclear-industry, one-third anti-nuclear organization, and one-third jointly presented efforts.

Second, at various levels, in different jurisdictions, organizational teams from both the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear camps would conduct ‘trials’ that citizens panels and citizens juries would render verdicts. These decisions, in good time, would yield policy and legal authority in relation to the matters in dispute in the ‘trials.’

Third, in relation to specific aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project—ranging from nuclear weapons facilities to university research reactors—community groups could call for programming, analysis, and other citizen-led assessments of the devices and properties through which the MNP manifests itself, including epidemiological and other health-and-environment studies.

Fourth, in general, community groups, national organizations, or ad-hoc coalitions of citizens could call for amplification of the study of nuclear health and impact issues, with a fund of at least a $billion per years that a small surcharge on utilities would fund. This would in time undercut the ‘lack of research’ response that is presently one of the favorites of nuclear defenders.


Introducing Science, Technology, & Society and ‘History-of-Science’ vectors into the teaching of science in middle-school and high-school should have become standard practice at the very latest with the publication of Vannevar Bush’s Science: the Endless Frontier at the culmination of World War Two. Otherwise, exploring that hinterland would inevitably be something that intrepid explorers would be unable to do except inasmuch as—like young people at private schools—they had learned the analytical approaches of something akin to STS programs.

Inasmuch as nothing like this essential development transpired under the aegis of Dr. Bush or anyone else, it should now become a priority of great enough magnitude to permit its implementation in short order, within a few years at most. The price of such a curriculum would likely not be trivial. The cost of not carrying out such steps will remain—in both ‘productivity and output’ terms and in relation to species survival—astronomical and, given enough time for the small aggregations of probability in favor of holocaust to operate, possibly total.


Developing a comprehensive analysis of every type and level of subsidy for nuclear weapons and power, and then distributing it widely, is a last ‘conclusion’ for today, though one might posit many others in time. A fair amount of research about such pork-barrel supports for nukes, and about the overall ‘lifetime’ expenses of the Modern Nuclear Project as a whole already exists.

The purpose of the labor that this ‘deduction’ proposes would be to combine and repackage in various ways all of these present data sets, making certain that all aspects of the MNP equation came under scrutiny. Furthermore, this set of projects might also compare the level and sort of subsidy that has been available in other arenas of both energy enterprise and the wider economy.

Will implementing all of these ideas prove possible? Certainly in the foreseeable future, the answer would be no. Would any of these transformative changes be plausible to carry out? If such a step could be local or outside the United States, the answer would be a resounding yes.

Whatever the case may be, we may take to heart advice from one of history’s complicated heroes, whose ultimate stand for justice and progress is difficult, or even impossible, to dispute, even as we see all manner of flaws in the wrinkles of heroic complexity that characterize his life. Abraham Lincoln advised, “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.“

We can keep these words in mind as we contemplate today’s essay and these suggestions near its end. Taking some tangible step, at a minimum a single move of something like one of the above, in any event, might seem like a sensible course.


The definitive character of a successful depiction of a modeled reality, a theory or hypothesis about the social and political and economic operations of the world, rests on its capacity to predict outcomes. Were we to imagine that the year were 1940, only an audacious seer indeed would foresee the fiscal and industrial and administrative bundles of the Manhattan Engineering District’s strategic conspiracies of mass murder and eternal power.

But a student of Soddy’s political economy, a reader of his good friend H.G. Wells’ novel of a fictionally pendent ‘atomic war,’ a follower of the monetary largesse of Rockefeller interests at atomic laboratories in nations that clearly were on conveyor belt to total war, and so and so forth, might very well have foreseen something like Vannevar Bush’s and Leslie Groves’ and Dow Chemical’s and General Electric’s, and so on and so forth, conjoining themselves in some sort of overarching conspiracy to tap the atom and rule the world. If nothing else, why else would the humble writers have written these yarns in the ways that they did?

Similarly, were we to have been looking forward from the mid-to-late 1940’s, an analogous compilation of the materials that this essay makes available might also have led to a more or less accurate prediction of arms races and near misses as the thermonuclear chapters of the Modern Nuclear Project unfolded. Certainly, among the thinkers whom we have chronicled here, this sense of an inevitable arms race given an inevitable amplified conflict with Russia, itself inevitable given an inevitable murderous brandishing of the atomic “ace-in-the-hole” about which Truman so frequently bragged was fairly commonplace if not universal.

Equally so, were we to have found ourselves in Shippingsport, Pennsylvania for the opening of America’s first Reddy Kilowatt atomic power experiment, or even earlier aboard the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, we clearly could have foreseen—with access to the information and views here presented—decades of further refinement and expansion of fission-based water boilers. Their sucking up excess capital and locking down ownership in reliable and designated hands was just so convenient.

And even in the aftermath of, first Three Mile Island, then Chernobyl, and finally—for now—Fukushima, one would have had the capacity—given the data and argumentation present here today, to discern that even these grotesque and yet still-not-final devastations of fission-based steam generators might not manage to ‘put the nuclear genie back in its bottle.’ Indeed, the Spindoctor has been prognosticating along these exact lines since before Three Mile Island, when his gambling ways induced him to intuit a likely three or more serious reactor accidents a century.

And, so too, the situation today also permits a theorist and analyst to risk validation or contradiction of this essay’s capsulization of the Modern Nuclear Project. Essentially, this looking forward would insist that only an upending or overthrow of capital itself as imperial arbiter would ever allow a ‘peaceful’ sundering of the bourgeoisie’s sucking on the nuclear teat. How else would one explain a ‘unipolar’ commitment to “strategic weapons” at the rate of another budgeted trillion dollars—meaning, in the event, vastly more—over the next two decades? Or what else would account for Bill Gates and Paul Allen and various other plutocrats who insist that micro-nukes, fusion power, thorium reactors, sodium-cooled death-traps, or other variants of this irrepressible capitalist proclivity were the ideal vehicles for human progress?

One martial exception to such a ‘pacific’ capitalist continuation would, obviously, be a different sort of revolutionary development—in the form of the culling of the human herd via one variety of nuclear war. Another combative elimination of the MNP would flow from the utter annihilation of humankind in a more intense manifestation of a global exchange of thermonuclear holocaust.

None of these nightmarish visions would be what the Spindoctor suggests or chooses. Far from it: a socialized uptake of technological potentials that overturn private property would seem ever so much more interesting and beautiful and loving.

But such courses seem a hard row to hoe from where we are. Thus, the next five installments of this ongoing manifestation of the Modern Nuclear Project would consider these parameters for packaging a narrative.

  1. First would be an examination of the Manhattan Project and the U.S.’s initiation of the world’s first nuclear war, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the immediate aftermath of those experiments in incineration.
  2. Second would come an investigation of military-industrial-complexes, ‘Cold-Wars,’ and arms races, including the addition of multiple new Modern Nuclear Project full members.
  3. Third would be an abstracting of the history of nuclear electricity generation for the three decades from roughly 1950-80.
  4. Fourth would be a look at the ‘woes’ that compounded the nuclear industry’s financial ‘disasters,’ in the form of TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, in addition to the huge costs and ethical horrors of atomic veterans sick to death, cancer-ridden ‘energy-workers,’ the insidious death knells that have attended Depleted Uranium weaponry, and so forth, in relation to all of which the ‘resilience’ of the Modern Nuclear Project has remained unflappable.
  5. Finally, a look ahead, with fingers crossed on the one hand and fatalistic fiery pen at the ready on the other hand, will characterize the last chapter of the Spindoctor’s MNP series.

Of course, a premature launch sequence might cut off these best laid plans.

Otherwise, readers may certainly stay tuned. Given time and tide, each of the above works will come to pass. In each case, an initial guiding premise will remain that with which we began today.

The contemporary contextualization of what one might call Imperial Capital originated in conjunction with and has become completely dependent upon the capacity to comprehend and manipulate matter and its realities at the atomic and subatomic levels. The recognition of this dynamic has multiple important implications. For today’s purposes particularly, it means that, whatever the objective basis or truth of the Nuclear Project’s conclusions, its supposed necessity, accuracy, rationality, efficiency, and utility are primarily matters of the class interests of those who rule Imperial Capital. Moreover, it means that whatever the drawbacks, dangers, or even lethal inevitabilities of the Nuclear Project, it must remain a core aspect of the plans and needs of these rulers; as it was in the beginning, so it will continue until such a time that some other manifestation of social power takes command or calls the shots, as it were.

Passive Voice, George Orwell, General Outrage

Disputes & Brouhaha About Promoting Or Condemning the Passive

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crossposted from


To report facts, to explore causes, to traduce complexity so as to reveal what underpins it: these represent just a few of the reasons that written language has such massive potential power for those who would move beyond intuition and belief to a realm of knowledge and understanding. Yet we must admit that another function prevails at times in our linguistic endeavors: to obfuscate reality, to deflect attention, to use nature’s intricacies to deepen incomprehensibility and thereby leave the interpretation and determination of what is happening, as well as what might be necessary to bring about change in the arenas of policy and action, up to those whose ‘stakeholding’ interests are most palpable, easiest to ‘monetize,’ and so on and so forth.

In relation to the first purpose, passive voice construction normally is worse than useless. It hides what the writer seeks to reveal; it evades what the narrative purports to pin down.

In the second case, however, no more perfect vehicle exists than passive voice for seeming to admit and describe and assess, without actually assigning responsibility, determining causation, or explaining how matters have reached particular passes. As noted in the previous installment of the Happy Union Grammar Nerd, such attributes make passive usage ideal for attorneys, propagandists, politicos, diplomats—even criminals who have the necessary sophistication to care about how they express themselves.

Today’s H.U.G.N. episode consists of three primary components, along with the usual concluding sections that provide examples of and alternatives to problematic usage.

  • Initially, we examine a set of contentions that flow from neuroscience, cognitive science, and linguistics, about the likely ‘hard-wired’ preference for passive voice usage in the speech centers of the brain, a deconstruction that concludes that although writing emanates from speech, it is far from precisely the same, so that one may prefer to say, “He was shot,” but persist in making a choice to write either, “The officer shot the young man,” or, “Somebody obviously shot the youth in the leg and then blew his brains out.”
  • The follow-up to this briefing offers readers a chance to ponder George Orwell’s oft-quoted 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” in which the redoubtable storyteller and political scribe denounced usage of the “was-shot” variety, at the same time that his condemnation practically overflowed with just this sort of construction.
  • Finally, some of the hundreds of thousands—or millions—of particular instances of quibbling about this matter appear, a few of which mention Orwell and the anomaly of his insisting that writers ‘do as he said, not as he did.’

As always, this Happy Union Grammar Nerd encourages any reader who cares to do so to challenge this analysis; to present specific examples of problems that seem impossible to solve in this or some other area of style or usage; to share piquant examples or personal experiences of ‘life in the passive lane’ that modern mediation has become.

For those who love data, now the Grammar Nerd presents a factual nexus for folks to consider.   Here, for example, are some author searches that add “passive voice” as an identifier:

  •  ”george orwell” + “passive voice” = 16,700 hits;
  •  “william faulkner” + “passive voice” = 45,800 hits;
  •  “mark twain” + “passive voice” = 197,000 hits;
  •  “sinclair lewis” + “passive voice” = 19,100 hits;
  •  “charles dickens” + “passive voice” = 168,000 hits;
  •  “virginia woolf” + “passive voice” = 93,200 hits;
  •  “jane austen” + “passive voice” = 13,400 hits;
  •  “richard wright” + “passive voice” = 24,000 hits.

As anyone can see, despite the fervor of both the frequent diatribes against and encomiums in favor of Orwell’s work, every other search of writers and “passive voice” that I tried yielded more instances than did an Orwell string, with the exception that Jane Austen’s results contained a few thousand fewer citations.

Meanwhile, googling the essay title alone drew forth 181,000 ‘hits.’ Since Orwell’s attack on passive verbs was such a huge part of his argument, that the initial search above only garnered 16,700 cites seems a little crazy, or in any event implausible.

Finally, the overall level of concern about passive voice is far from paltry. 757,000 articles and such followed from a simple search for “passive voice” alone. Even the more complex search, “passive voice” dispute OR disagreement analysis OR prescription, ended up with 412,000 leads for investigators.

These are not “taylor swift” numbers, but they show a level of interest that is suggestive of some degree of popular, or at least widespread, thinking about these matters. And, as a result of our labors, we now have some more ideas to add to the mix.

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As last week’s article pointed out, our mental machinery’s proclivities diminish to zero the chance of eliminating the passive voice from speech. In fact, a few recent scientific initiatives —that utilize precise machines to measure the exact location of electrical activity in the brain—argue that we are more or less hard-wired for such locution.

Cornell University has an operation that calls itself the Neurosyntax Imaging Laboratory. Other schools have projects that seek similar understanding with similar tools. Passivity in speech, intone such authorities, is simply inevitable, likely irreversible, perhaps like genetic selection of lying or dissimulation.

Furthermore, without a doubt speech is the basis for writing in similar fashion as listening is the foundation for reading. The authors of the above study suggested that Orwell’s frequent passivity was in one way or another irremediable. They even dragged the estimable E.B. White and his predecessor and collaborator, Mr. Strunk, into the depiction, quoting a line from the Elements of Style that uses passive voice while advising that avoiding its employment would enliven one’s prose.

However, one must recognize that such expert contentions are the consequence of one sort of research, but these brain-nerds are making conclusions about another field of enquiry. While the underpinnings of writing are speech, and some neural circuitry serves both our voices and our scribblings, in no way are these two normal aspects of being powerfully human the same.

Moreover, I have dispositive empirical evidence that eliminating the passive voice is fairly easy, with a few years’ practice. Whether such discipline is apt or pretty is definitely another matter, but in no way can one contend that contextualizing our ideas must make use of passive construction.

In any case, for the past forty years, I have remained a practitioner of “Death to the Passive Voice!” Most of my writing is devoid of it. To activate my texts even more, for an entire year I wrote without using a single “to be” linking verb. Only present progressive helping verbs were permissible in my practice. Therefore, without qualification I can assert, and prove, that ridding oneself of passive writing is entirely manageable, whatever advantages or disadvantages might attend such, depending on one’s perspective, obstinacy or tenacity.

In contemplating passive verbs, readers may listen to a variety of authorities who argue strongly that writers should avoid them wherever possible. My experience demonstrates conclusively that such excision is always doable, definable aspects of the language brain notwithstanding.

And then, we might turn to George Orwell.

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Only a few style-and-grammar prescriptions are likely to generate as great a scholarly and critical interest as that which “Politics and the English Language” has received. Google estimates a total of just over two-and-a-half million resulting connections if a researcher enters the following slight variation on the title in the Internet giant’s ‘engine:’ “politics of the english language.”

Whatever the plethora of reasons that might engender that level of engagement, the fact is incontrovertible that people “check out this Orwell shit about, you know, ‘Politics and the English Language,’ or more generally ‘the politics of the English language.’” And at least a small chunk of this huge sample—plausibly a majority of entries—nod to or note in some way the matter of passive voice, in passing as it were.

For whatever reason, then, a sizeable number of global citizens, who have interests that bridge ‘politics and the English language,’ find George Orwell’s pronouncements alluring enough to perform a Google look-up. At the same time, Orwell himself writes in the text, which is a rushed and scattershot affair indeed, more like a schoolboy’s composition than a completely articulated scholarly or otherwise expert conceptualization, “Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.”

What in hell does that imply? The essay’s tone is about as far afield from irony as one side of the galaxy is distant from the other. In his helter-skelter need to state these things, and (What? ‘Have done with them?’ ‘Get back to them as time allows?’ What?) convey them to readers, he had caught himself writing vaguely, reflexively relying on passively voiced verbs.

“A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.”

Is the erstwhile defendant of a certain sort of righteous anti-communism  accusing himself? Such is not out of the question for the man who wrote 1984 as commentary, at least in part, on the totalitarian tendencies of ‘democracies.’ Certainly, the question might cause one to consider paying attention.

Every utterance, every merest linguistic gesture—an arched-eye, a discrete cough, etc.—has a skein of political meaning inside it that connects it to all our very political species’ use of language over time. In this vein, Orwell writes, “All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

Moreover, one’s always-political articulation, when it is in fact intentionally about power and dominance and, in Leonard Cohen’s immortal phrase, “who’s to serve and who’s to eat,” presents us with a troubling notion. Is honesty quite safe?

Might one want to ‘hedge one’s bets,’ ‘trim one’s sails,’ and in general try to ensure that one does not utter too many things that might offend those parties to matters of State who actually plan and administer the course of things? The directors of intelligence agencies; the executives in charge of tax bureaus; the chiefs of police forces; the monopoly-financed marketers of chemicals; the ‘well-connected’ providers of ordnance; the lead designers of everything in existence; the list is extensive of such brokers of the common experience of humanity whom one might elect not to insult or speak out against. Moreover, truly, those on the government side of this listing exchange places regularly with those in the commercial end of operations.

Orwell notes the effects of such caution against the multifaceted powers-that-be. “Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

As a matter of course, one might make too much of such a thing. The composer of a diatribe against, among other things, the passive voice, creates a minimum of sixty-one clauses with a passively-voiced verb or infinitive; this in a relatively brief essay in which 4,000 words are his own rather than excerpts or quotations. He then distinctly points this faux pas out to those who listen in.

“So what? Maybe it’s random.” Such voices as this also exist. They might make one giggle. Perhaps such a characterization is a ‘straw man,’ for which, if so, I apologize—just making sure that we agree in this case that Orwell’s is a pointed ‘admission against interest’ on his part.

At a minimum, in this impassioned note against a certain foible that is replete with that very error, we could stipulate that Orwell’s discovery and admission suggests something or other. Maybe we might wonder what this meaning might be. In any event, for a Grammar Nerd, such conundrums are irresistible.

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For whatever the observation is worth, quite a bit of dyspeptic accusation and disputation happen over both Orwell’s imprecation against passive voice and the general issue of using passive verbal construction. These writers  occasionally really insult and assault each other. At other junctures, they scoff at Orwell.

Once more, what all of this signifies—in a wider, omniscient scheme of things—is almost certainly never going to be completely discernible. As well, though I would find such a choice discomfiting, one could argue that the upshot of all this is that, in our writing, either passive wording will remain ineluctable or such inscription is fine and dandy for the most part.

The first item in this little series made the case, as a default, for opting to write actively. Whether one agrees or disagrees, a rational statement of why such an election could be best-practice is possible, and all sorts of writing teachers also offer just such analysis. For our purposes, today though, we shall simply note some of the assertions in these irascible narratives and test their resonance, see if they seem accurate or probative.

No less an authority than The Columbia Journalism Review has a typically ‘balanced’ view. It cites no less an iconic manual that mandates stylistic selection than the Chicago Manual of Style. “’The choice between active and passive voice may depend on which point of view is desired. For instance, the mouse was caught by the cat describes the mouse’s experience, whereas the cat caught the mouse describes the cat’s.’”

One can only beg pardon, but another view is possible. “The mouse ended its days in the jaws of the cretinous little feline.” “The mouse suffered a terrible death, bleeding and in shock from its encounter with the cat.” “The mouse died because of the cat.” Or, “the mouse could not escape the cat.”

Are such choices better? Who knows? But they certainly convey the sense and intensity of what is happening, from the poor little fuzzy mouse’s POV too.

CJR itself states the matter like this: “Passive voice is better when the object of the action is more important than the subject performing the action, or when the subject performing the action is unknown. ‘Joseph Doke was shot as he walked to work’ is necessary if the person doing the shooting is unknown. You can write ‘Someone shot Joseph Doke on his way to work,’ but that puts the emphasis on the shooter instead of the shootee.”

Once again, we’ll beg forgiveness. Here’s another alternative to passive verbs for lamentable Joseph Doke. “Joseph Doke first froze, and then slowly fell, with an unknown shooter’s .45 bullet in his head.”

Perhaps the unfortunate Joseph died many hours previously. “Joseph Doke, face a peaceful mask, lay where some shooter had killed him from ambush.” Similarly, “Poor Joseph’s corpse, his face a grotesque grimace of pain, lay where someone shot him down.”

As always, one can select, “Joseph Doke was shot as he walked to work.” One has committed no sin against the Grammar Gods. Just as reasonably, however, one can choose otherwise, as would I.

One might ramble on interminably about all of this. The examples are, if not infinite, close enough to limitless to represent more than a lifetime’s labors to ponder comprehensively. Next month, Happy Union Grammar Nerd will exemplify, very specifically, the reactionary consequences of many common usages of passive voice.

Are such aggressively self-righteous and conservative, often irredentist, results intentional? Readers will have a chance to decide for themselves.

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This work has already made clear how ubiquitous these types of expression are. Moreover, that one may in fact like them is beyond dispute. However, also demonstrable is the likelihood that on average readers will see as stronger, clearer, and generally better actively voiced sentences.

Orwell’s Passivity

In sixty-one sentences, at the very least, dear George exhibits what he decries. Was this the result of draconian difficulty? Did it emanate from inevitable reflexivity? If one examines these very identifiable complete thoughts, or phrases and ‘dead clauses,’ only to find that eliminating passive voice is quick and easy,, then the answers to the above queries would seem likely to be, well, “No!!

Here are six of those collections of words. That is a sample of roughly ten per cent of the total, more or less at random.

  •  ”(I)t is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.” The first instance: “The general assumption is that doing anything about it is impossible.
  • ”Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” Also early on: “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which writers can avoid if they are willing to take the necessary trouble.
  • ”As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed.” One of the first items after the ‘political turn:’ “As soon as writers and thinkers raise certain topics, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of anything except hackneyed turns of speech.
  • ”In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining).” A little later in the ‘political heartland:’ “In addition, the passive voice almost universally predominaates in preference to the active, and noun constructions replace gerunds (examination of instead of by examining).”
  • ”(Modern writing) consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.” In the explanatory section: “(Modern Writing) consists in gumming together long strips of words which some hidden interlocutor or force of nature has already set in order, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.
  • ”Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists.” From near the end: “Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which the jeers of a few journalists effectively destroyed.”

This entire exercise, including composing the paragraph that houses this material, finding and cutting and pasting, and correction required plus-or-minus seventeen minutes.

One would hope that agreement here would be fairly straightforward. Explanation such as what the above interrogatories imply does not account for Orwell’s ‘passive tendencies,’ so to speak. Or perhaps one might convince a thinker otherwise. Eh? Inquiring minds do like to inquire.

Exceptions or Choices?

Situations that purport to ‘mandate’ or in general favor passive voice supposedly exist. Highly authoritative pontification on both why we must have or must avoid such writing is omnipresent in grammar and style circles.

The point of these ‘Grammar Nerd’ ramblings is not to mandate. However, the HUGN does prefer active writing. He has chosen to compose so as to identify things without use of passive forms.

Thus, those who contend that passively voiced text is, even occasionally, superior do irritate him. One further example facilitates our exit for the day.

Wikipedia’s entry on the subject includes a section, “Advice in Favor of the Passive Voice.” Three of the four examples there, as we shall see, are precisely like every single prose defense of such usage, at best a matter of choice.

However, the cases on display do include the ‘exception that proves the rule,’ as it were. In poetry, passive construction—at least in English, when rhyme and meter matter—is often no more avoidable than gas is to those who like beans.

From Wikipedia: “Passive writing is not necessarily slack and indirect. Many famously vigorous passages use the passive voice, as in these examples.”

The Grammar Nerd feels differently, with the ‘metered’ exception.

*Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. (King James Bible, Isaiah 40:4)

God shall exalt every valley, level every mountain, straighten all that is crooked, and smooth the rough places.

*Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York. (Shakespeare’s Richard III, I.1, ll. 1–2)

The metered exception does exist.

*For of those to whom much is given, much is required. (John F. Kennedy’s quotation of Luke 12:48 in his address to the Massachusetts legislature, 9 January 1961.)

For those who receive so much must also give back in equal measure.

*Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Winston Churchill addressing the House of Commons, 20 August 1940.)

Never, in all history’s conflicts, have so many owed so much to so few.

And that, as the saying goes, is that.

“United in Blood” Against Empire

Neruda, Jara, & Chilean Culture’s Social-Solidarity Impact


crossposted from


As always, one might present the nub of today’s script simply.  One chronicler has stated the matter under consideration like this: “The division of labor among nations is that some of them specialize in winning and others in losing.  Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throat of Indian civilization.”

The winners are frequently easily recognizable, among them the likes of Henry Kissinger and Citibank; Richard Helms and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Guggenheim interests, the Rockefeller interests, and the panoply of well-heeled conquerors who dot the modern prospect.  The losers often seem less obviously noteworthy or famous—Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and Rene Schneider simply don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Richard Nixon does.

Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams.  Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals.  They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment.  They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire.  Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.

As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy.  One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections.  One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.

With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document.  Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.

Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge.  They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away.  Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem.  We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.

Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination.  Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.

“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”

One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox.  The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue.  At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.  They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.

These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger.  One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present.  Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.

At one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade.  The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.

Victor’s face blanches.  He must sense what is pending.  At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.

Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded.  Two men restrain him from rising.  A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling.  Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists.  Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.

Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly.  He begins to weep.  Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.

At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo.  One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.

On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed.  Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-contemporary ambit—not in Palestine, not in Ukraine, not in the South China Sea, not in South Asia, not in Africa, not in any other geographic location—have such lethal dynamics come into play with more ferocity than until recently they did in Latin America.  Not for nothing has Eduardo Galeano described the entire region as a body of “opened veins.”

Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine.  This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.

This Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more.  Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism.  In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.

The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara.  Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.

Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.

The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward.  For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere.  Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.

Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed.  With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact.  With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer.  So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.

Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict.  In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.

The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment.  Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimes against humanity.

These pronouncements are quite specific.  They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes.  Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.

To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought.  This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone.  In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a “good neighbor policy” that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.

An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows.  As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded “sing for us now, poet”—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.

media 24Prefatory Matters—Monroe’s’ Doctrine’ to ‘War’s Racket’ Writ Large in Cuba

The all-too-standard view is that history is disposable, at best.  “I don’t care about history.  I don’t like history.  History sucks.”  No matter how toxic or tragic, such perspectives probably resonate with a majority of citizens.

When adults hold such views, this resembles a mature child who despises its parents.  In a fashion that an earlier investigation here on Contributoria employed, such an attitude is like a panicked traveler who is seeking directions to ‘Portland’ without knowing where he is.  Or, these beliefs mimic the difficulties of one who desperately wants to ‘find the way to Portland’ but doesn’t know where she came from to get wherever in hell she is.

Here we all are, in a world in which one empire-of-the-Americas has inordinate influence over the fates of every living human, and yet we really don’t come close to comprehending how this has all come about.  Maybe at least a brief foray into the developments that took us from past to present could serve our interests.

In this regard, vast armies of dedicated scholars might spend many lifetimes deconstructing the conquest of the Americas by Europe.  In doing so, the observer would want to account for the significant differences that distinguish Hispanic America from Anglo America.

Unfortunately, accomplishing such a task effectively and briefly is likely impossible, yet a few salient aspects of such interpretative work would at least suggest the parameters that an annalist might establish to examine these obvious differences.

  • A key element would likely be the relative importance of extractive versus agricultural and then industrial economies, which in turn affected everything in the spheres of production and trade.
  • The greater capacity for resistance, or at least persistence, of Chile’s Mapuche and the entire region’s indigenous population, is also likely important; one Spanish potentate whom Chilean Indian rebels captured early in the colonial fray, after they slaughtered all the soldiers who had accompanied him in his attempt to assert the continued enslavement of native laborers, may have died as a result of the Mapuche’s pouring molten gold, which he so craved, down his throat.
  • What one might call this ‘culture of conquistadors’ also probably played a role in establishing a landholding class that practically speaking predominated in much of Chile, and much of Latin America, until the past century or so; of course, the working classes that underlay such a system would differ at least slightly from the ‘regular people’ who formed the masses of folks further North in North America.
  • One might continue: geography, proximity to Europe and the ease of immigration, the different social developments that characterized England and Spain, and much more would tend to lay the basis for what ended up being quite distinct social and political communities in the Western Hemisphere.

In any event, these sorts of factors would indeed have established foundations for the way that actual relationships evolved as modern times approached and came to pass.

In this vein, from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking Americas, this initiation of the realm of the present, more or less, must emerge from the severing of colonial dominance from Madrid.  Over the course of twenty years or so after 1800, every piece of Spanish America broke away from direct European dominance, with a few exceptions like Cuba and British Guyana.

Even cursory glances at the writings of such ‘rebels’ as Simon Bolivar illustrate that this process was not obviously similar to what happened in British colonial North America.  In one letter or tract after another, El Liberator wrote of the lack of networks of power, of crushing debts that the means of production would not alleviate, of leaders so venal and greedy that they would likely turn on each other and defeat themselves given time and space to accomplish their natural inclinations.  The end result of all these difficulties was an Iberian and ‘Holy Alliance’ counterattack on the erstwhile independent States in the early 1820’s, focused especially on Peru.

“Everything (in Lima) is in disorder; there is no government, no army.  President La Mar has always been a godo(a selfish idiot), and most of the army heads have always been godos, and the naval commander at Callao as well.  The chief of staff, the commanding officers of engineers, and the commanding officer of artillery are also godos.  In these circumstances…(a) large(r) number of troops (than the 3,000 that Bolivar dispatched) is not being sent for the present because it is impossible.  I have no ships, no provisions, and no troops here.  We have already spent a hundred thousand pesos, and we are just beginning the enterprise.  In order to send the next 3,000, God knows what we shall have to do, for we are burdened with debts, and we do not have the slightest credit.”

Bolivar’s vision was of a United States of South America, and his will that it should come to be was powerful.  “(I)t shall be done, cost what it may.”  Yet the leaders under his command conspired against each other as readily as—or even more readily than—they united to fight Spanish attempts to reassert its rule.  They negotiated separate arrangements with England, the United States, and other rising industrial economies.

Chile’s place in these ventures—plus-or-minus 1823—was complex and not at all uniform.  On the one hand, years earlier, Bolivar had considered Chile particularly apt to adopt ‘republicanism,’ especially under the aegis of Bernardo O’Higgins.  For many years, Santiago had diligently supported federation and seemed a reliable bastion against Spain’s attempts to overthrow the young republics and to defeat their union.

One of Bolivar’s chief subordinates, J. Gabriel Perez, corresponded with Chile’s plenipotentiary to Peru in May, 1823.  He laid out the strategic and geopolitical context that was developing, in which the “United States of North America” might join with Spain and Portugal themselves in recognition of the new rulers.

The complications in this situation centered on demands from Continental European powers—Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the so-called Holy Alliance—that Spain reinstate the Bourbon King and return his colonial imprimatur at the same stroke.  “England has authorized her minister in Madrid to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance with Spain… .to induce (it) to recognize the sovereignty of the South American states…(a necessity) if we are to interest ourselves in this tremendous struggle or if she is to provide herself with an immense new market for her industry and manufactures.”

England’s work behind the scenes with anti-Bourbon Spaniards and anti-royalist Portuguese would serve to advance the English imperial domination that had been a primary result of Napoleon’s defeat eight years before.  Yet the Spanish in the colonies often enough remained completely committed to another Bourbon ascendancy and to the renewal of colonial plunder that was mercantilist and thereby excluded England.

Bolivar obviously hoped that Chile would provision and maintain a troop contingent in Peru of 2,000 men or more “not only (to) counterbalance Spanish power united there, but…also (to) give Peru greater strength than her enemies and provide more reasons to be recognized and more justification for English intervention on her behalf.”  The basis for presuming Chile’s agreement to such requests concerned the Andean nation’s desire for more territory—soon enough to come to fruition—and its ongoing courting of both English and United States commercial links in its seafaring enterprises.

Just two years subsequently, despite Bolivar’s insistence that only a union of the newly independent states could salvage their ongoing viability, Bolivar added a postscript in a lengthy missive to Francisco Santander, the Vice President of Colombia.  “Chile is in a state of frightful anarchy.  Freire has gone to Concepcion, and Pinto to Coquimbo.  The province of Santiago is governed by its intendant.  Reports have it that the Chilean Congress will send a deputation to recall O’Higgins,” which would favor the faction that backed a confederation and Bolivar against those whose interests were narrower and more in tune with strengthening North American and British connections.

Though inherently truncated and superficial, these depictions ought at a minimum to create a template for viewing how Latin America developed.  Its attempts at union having come to nothing—with United States approval for the multiplicities of jurisdiction clear-cut—its dependence on U.S. and, especially, English capital and markets having increased, these divided nation-states unavoidably fell into the orbit of one imperial ambition or another.

This became especially problematic when, unlike Chile, the just-formed political entities themselves eschewed republican commitment-to-commerce-over-blood and sought to impose monarchies of one sort or another.  In Brazil, such moves might prove tolerable to those in Washington whose growing strength ‘manifested an imperial destiny’ that would seemingly encompass the hemisphere and might eventually bridle the entire globe.

But when this longing for royalty took place across a border that gringos increasingly crossed with an intention to own whatever they might purchase ‘free-and-clear,’ in other words in Mexico, then such developments might appear almost insufferable.  Moreover, Mexican sociopolitical choices invited European involvement in their monarchical fancies, which U.S. officials unequivocally rejected.

Thus, on the American side, the debates about how to respond to this spate of rebellions and the promulgation of James Monroe’s famous ‘Doctrine’ would mark the coming of a more or less contemporary attitudinal and political nexus toward our ‘neighbors’ to the South.  In Washington, no matter the fierce debates between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, regardless of quibbling over how to couch trade with territorial expansion, almost universal agreement existed both that significant, or even critical, “American interests” were at stake in how the hemisphere developed to the South of the U.S. borders at the time and that the capacity to extend force, as in the development and extension of especially naval operations and commerce, would constitute a necessary component of this overarching ‘interest.’

The secession of Texas from Latin America, its annexation by the United States, and war with Mexico manifested destiny in ways that continue to resonate in almost every arena of contemporary American life.  That Mexico’s caste and class divisions were vastly more critical in causing the inevitable war with the United States to be an unmitigated disaster than were the military prowess or tactical proficiency of U.S. armed forces is important to note, of course.  So too is the point of crucial import that the to-the-death fight over slavery that rent the U.S. in many ways began with the entry of Texas as slave territory into the union; in any case, most of New England and substantial parts of the Eastern U.S. stoutly opposed the war against Mexico.

The end result of the conflict, nevertheless, was the establishment of an ‘Uncle Sam’s’ strategic force that was capable of becoming behemoth, whose territorial extent, growing industrial prowess, and combination of capitalism and social free-for-all for men of European ancestry inaugurated the rise of Pax Brittanica in the Western Hemisphere even as it ultimately threatened to replace England’s rule with its own vigorous combination of bigoted self-confidence and practical productive savvy.  In this way, the Monroe Doctrine formed a wedge for British industrial products and capital, on the one hand, and for the ready extraction of necessary resources, on the other hand.  Even the ‘scandal’ of England’s offer to purchase Texas could not derail the ‘special relationship’ between U.S. expansionism and English commercial and naval supremacy.

The wild yarn of William Walker complements the tale of Texas, where U.S. agents and opportunistic interlopers combined to bring an on-paper-only Mexican rule crashing down.  Walker in 1854 exemplified filibustering that newcomers North of the Rio Grande had field-tested in the early 1830’s, an important outlet for those in the United States who hoped to institutionalize slavery as a key part of Western Hemispheric capitalism.

Walker first led comrades in an invasion of Baja California.  When anticipated popularity did not materialize—in other words, no additional mercenaries showed up to fight off the paltry Mexican forces that opposed him—he ‘surrendered’ to U.S. authorities just across the relatively new U.S. California border.

He made his mark as an adventurer in Central America.  He and a few dozen armed and trained soldiers-of-fortune allied with local gunslingers to depose and then dispatch the President of Nicaragua in a firing squad.  He abrogated the prohibition on slavery and instituted a ‘constitution’ that mimicked the likes of Tennessee and South Carolina.

Viewing Walker’s filibustering as either an aberration or as individualist heroism represents the preferred surface explanation for these events.  What actually transpired is much more modern, spookily so.

The issues at hand combined logistics—transportation between Eastern and Western North America primarily—and marketing—determining which products would find a way to consumers and final purchases.  Specifically, the owners of the primary delivery operation across Nicaragua deployed Walker to shift the Central American State’s licensing permissions for transiting the Isthmus when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s stock manipulations in New York were eliminating Walker’s employers’ ownership of the company.

Vanderbilt reacted with typical efficiency to this challenge.  He oversaw the organization of British and different Central American and dissident Nicaraguan counterattacks against Walker’s ‘Presidency.’  They permitted the dapper Tennessean to exit and warned him not to return.  When instead he organized another filibuster and came back, they captured him and shot him to pieces in Honduras.

A half-century later, after a sectional bloodletting imposed a tepid emancipation of African-Americans and revolutionized the productive forces of the U.S. at one and the same time, a continental capitalist gargantuan erupted that had only been nascent during Walker’s day, late in the 1800’s tied together by rails and telegraph lines.  In fulfilling this ‘sea-to-shining-sea’ destination, any further expansion, inevitably, had to occur outside Yankee borders.

More and more, like England after Waterloo, the United States needed an “Open Door” for its industrial and agricultural products and ‘freedom of access’ to natural resources in foreign jurisdictions.  Miraculously, in less than a century, the tiny thirteen original states had spanned North America, and the Stars & Stripes prepared to take on the task of governing the world.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s note about the ‘frontier’s’ role in all this process, equal parts fantasy and description, resonates still.  He spoke of the way that Americans saw themselves, to an extent, and totally of how ‘Uncle Sam’s’ rulers wanted to present themselves.

“Another wave rolls on.  The men of capital and enterprise come.  The settler is ready to sell out and take advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn.  The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen.  Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crapes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue.  Restaurants, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue.  Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.”

However, the inevitable offshoot of such a dynamic was the ‘restless’ search for, even necessary acquisition of, markets and resources outside the ‘small-village’ ambit.  After all, this sort of development ended with the ‘closing of the frontier.’  In this context, voila!  All manner of divided and ‘underdeveloped’ polities lay close at hand, ready for propositioning or even more aggressive incursions.

Thus, war with Spain became an inevitable crusade, righteously defended in the name of liberty but operationalized in terms of industrial plantation agriculture and the decimation of grassroots, legitimate liberation movements in Cuba and the Philippines.

And the seeds that promised revolutionary growth in Cuba thereby percolated in fertile soil.   None other than Che Guevara spoke of how this ‘duty’ in relation to Havana and its surrounds had played out as a historical pattern.

“(W)e all know the nature of that duty.  (T)hat same duty took to account a sovereign nation, which is Mexico, for its expression of indignation at the violent and bestial economic aggression unleashed against Cuba.  This duty of the United States is the same duty that compelled it to assassinate the patriot Sandino and put into power in Nicaragua the justly hated Somoza.  The duty of the United States was to give arms and planes, first to Batista and then to those who continue his work. …Thus do the rulers of the most powerful nation in this hemisphere understand their duties.  These are our ‘good neighbors,’ those who would defend us, who place a military base on our soil and pay us two thousand pesos a year for it; the sower of atomic bases on all the world’s continents, the barons of oil, tin, copper, and sugar—the heirs of monopoly.”

25 iraq projThrough all of this maturation of empire, from the first presence of U.S. Navy forces off Chile in the 1820’s, as part of the regime of various trade necessities—in California and Asia both—to the massive investments far to the North of Santiago that took place as World War was guaranteeing at least temporary demand for Chilean Nitrate and copper, Washington’s relations with the slender Republic that stretched from Peru to Antarctica were relatively benign.  Nothing disturbed a surface bustle that dealt with commerce and resources and a tendency to ‘leave well enough alone.’  At the same time, knowledge of such developments is less than sparse.

“Few however have pursued contemporaneous U.S. capital flow into overseas frontiers such as those in Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere.  ‘The Americans who invested in Chile were interested in any good proposition,’ notes Wilkins, ‘whether it lay in the arid lands bordering the Andes, in the Russian Caucasus, in Northern Mexico, or in the hills of Montana.’  By 1914, the Guggenheim mining group had spent $169 million in getting the Chilean mines off to a roaring start. …By 1929, U.S. investments in Chilean copper and Venezuelan petroleum had surpassed American efforts in both of those industries in Mexico.

That such an agenda in fact typified the U.S. imprint in the region generally is obvious on the surface.  Its placidity and businesslike amicability were only skin deep, however.  “Banana Republics” is not merely a catchy phrase.  Dozens of military invasions took place in the half century from the end of the U.S. war with Spain and the rise of Chile’s “New Song” and Salvador Allende’s dream of elected socialist power.

soldier 23Eduardo Galeano speaks eloquently to such contentions: “After invading Panama, (George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991)…declared, ‘The world is a dangerous place.’  This pearl of wisdom has remained over the years as the most irrefutable justification for the highest war budget on the planet, mysteriously called the ‘defense budget.’  The name constitutes an enigma.  The United States hasn’t been invaded by anybody since the English burned Washington in 1812.  Except for Pancho Villa’s fleeting excursion during the Mexican Revolution, no enemy has crossed its borders.  The United States, in contrast, has always had the unpleasant habit of invading others.”

Thus, a ‘Good Neighbor’ façade held little in the way of promise for social progress or popular power.  In 1919, while he was advocating a League of Nations to assume the ‘duties’ that nations risked war in assuming, Woodrow Wilson stated the foundations of such ‘friendly’ viciousness succinctly.  “Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?”

One of the most fascinating witnesses to this ongoing processing of commercial hegemony regardless, and military imposition as necessary, twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He served for the better part of a decade as Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps.  Then he resigned to write War Is a Racket and seek a different way of approaching the production and control of life’s goods and services.

In fact, Smedley Butler acted very much like a socialist, or even a communist.  His fiery populist statements, mostly applicable to Latin America, drew on thirty-odd years of military service.  “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps.  I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General.  And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.  I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time.  Now I am sure of it. … I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914.  I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.  I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street.  The record of racketeering is long.  I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.  I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.”

In keeping with Butler’s observations, Roosevelt’s and the American elites’ conception of Latin America was as a repository of resources for the conduct of Yankee assumption of the imperial crown that Britain had worn for so long.  This was the nature of the U.S.-Chilean conjunction seventy-five years ago, as World War Two launched an ‘American Century,’ much more modest than Germany’s hoped-for ‘thousand year reich.’

In this manifestation of economic servitude, and all the social stew that accompanied such patterns, that exemplified Chile’s development as of the last half century or so, truly astounding cultural and literary expressions were mushrooming West of the Andes.  Not that this was utterly atypical of Latin creativity, on the contrary, the region has burgeoned with film and poetry and music and drama and more for a long century or more.  But these gardens of story in Chile were especially fertile in producing their blossoms.

One such set of materials form the subject matter of Sebastian Allende’s work, La Influencia Anarquista en la Literatura Chilena(“The Anarchist Influence in Chilean Literature).  A central argument in his efforts revolves around the idea that anarchism and socialism, and even communism, have often conflated in Chilean culture.  The ultimate goals of human liberation and worker solidarity transcend ideological niceties.

Another publication, more standard and encyclopedic in its orientation, but redolent of the extent and power of Chilean stories, is a sixty year old volume from Francisco Dussuel.  Historia de la Literatura Chilena covers four centuries of tales that have emanated from Santiago and environs, though it does not emphasize indigenous mythology or all sectors of society equally.

A vastly larger compendium of explorations of Chile’s output might appear here.  But that would divert us from reaching our goal of exploring the work of Victor Jara and the New Song Movement, both of which were en route to social transformation when the CIA and Augusto Pinochet and company cut off Jara’s hands and shot him dead, in many ways effectively decapitating the movement.

We are going to arrive at Jara’s critically important contribution to human life via an examination of his friend and comrade in struggle to achieve a better Chile, the Nobel Laureate and poet, Pablo Neruda.  Amazingly though, Neruda’s was not the first instance of the Swedish committee’s notice of Chile.

Gabriela Mistral was an austere school teacher from a humble family in the dry foothills of Northern Chile’s mining regions, who also, miraculously given her far-from-upper-class roots, served as an occasional diplomat—a not infrequent practice that showed the reverence for culture that at times typified Chile and Spanish-speaking states more generally.   “She pushed her way out of poverty and obscurity through publishing poetry and a range of teaching materials for use in schools.”

She wrote simple and ethereally beautiful verse.  Often not overtly political, she nonetheless advocated for listening to Bolivar’s advice and decried the depredations of empire and fascism in her region and the Spanish Civil War.  Before he died, Garcia Lorca wrote a dedication to her that alluded to her love of land and Leo Tolstoy’s brand of peasant social anarchism: “When you lie still – ay, Gabriela, Gabriela – the Andes will cradle you – as if in a mint – and will make you a clay sarcophagus – that you may always have land.”

She corresponded with wealthy literati elsewhere in the Southern Cone, who sought her out and considered the issues of the day in tandem with her, especially as she acted as one of Chile’s diplomatic corps.  She fulminated on the rights of women and children and found herself caught in the grip of uprisings of anarchists and communists and the reactionary counterattacks of the rulers of the established order.

Both her fundamentally progressive mindset and her achieving the highest award in literature—the only woman from Hispanic America and the first Latin American to do so—directs the onlooker to consider the man whose poetry remains more memorable, but not necessarily any more important, in understanding Chile and its cultural gifts to all the world.  Certainly, Pablo Neruda would have responded with both joy and grief to her ferocious insistence that justice required radical transformation.

“The whole world has gone astray.  Selfishness, lust for power, and ignorance being the reasons why.  The greater number of us are a burden on the few, the ones who rule with a startling brazenness and inhumanity.  Fear, weapons, violence and concentration camps are turning man into a veritable puppet, stripping him ruthlessly of his greatest possession: his freedom to think and act and his creative mind.”

Reckon - flickr

Reckon – flickr

By Way of Introduction—Pablo Neruda’s Revolutionary Spirit

In this context of Chilean magnificence, the poetry and politics and lusty loving nature of Pablo Neruda form a seamless whole.  Moreover, his origins, as much so as any Nobel Prize winner ever, illustrate the way that humble roots can percolate a body of work that, so to speak, caffeinates truly radical words, insurrectionary verses that touch on every realm of life.

The hope here is not even to approximate an exhaustive portrait of this poet, both earthy and heartfelt, whose massive output and tremendous love for humanity continue to astonish anyone who notices.  On the contrary, a relatively few brushstrokes should serve this narrative’s needs.

The primary purpose of Neruda’s inclusion in this essay is to draw parallels between the lives, literary output, and moral sensibilities of two great creators—one a Nobel Prize winning poet, the other a revered folk singer and dramatist.  Chile’s working class, its lusty earthiness, its grand isolation amid astounding natural beauty, the Spanish language, and the dire struggles of wage-earners for dignity and justice joined Neruda and Jara, as if nature had conjoined them at the hip.

Like Gabriela Mistral, Neruda’s poetic name resembles his given name not in the least.  His father worked Chile’s rails in the time before trucking, when the only way to traverse almost three-thousand miles was via trains that the British had financed and built.  His mother died of tuberculosis before he had reached his second birthday.

He adored his stepmother, ‘Mamadre,’ who adopted the half-sister whom his father conceived with a lover while she was still nursing their son, the future ‘Pablo’s’ half brother.  He loved words from the age of ten at least, though his father discouraged him from fantasizing about seeking to support himself with his wrist.

Nevertheless, he began to publish little bits and pieces on the sly, from the age of thirteen on.  Perhaps miraculously, in the guise of fate if nothing else, the principal of the girl’s school adjacent to his academy was none other than Ms. Mistral, on the way to a Nobelist’s renown of her own.

She encouraged the fifteen year old, whom she directed to read Russian writers whenever he could.  From this guidance came his discovery of the Czech poet, Jan Neruda, whose patronymic he adopted, along with the common ‘Pablo,’ a change of his name that he hoped would keep from altogether alienating his father.

In the event, his talent transferred a soulful passion for life to the page in raging, fiery, delicious, lusty verses that caused his receiving almost instant recognition as a scribe.  Following his graduation from University, and the publication of Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair, Chile sent him abroad, indulging its more-than-occasional practice of awarding writers with diplomatic assignments—his first posting was to Burma.

In Argentina for a time in the 1930’s, he opened his eyes to the sociopolitical realm, even as he was composing the most abstract verses of his life.  He befriended Garcia Lorca and ended up with an attaché’s position in Spain shortly thereafter.

He powerfully propounded the Republican movement.  So much so did he support this anti-monarchical cause that Chile recalled him from his post.  However, he returned to Europe in 1938 where, from Paris, he helped to find Spanish refugees places to live in the Western Hemisphere.

His popularity was skyrocketing at this point, as was his income, yet he had already begun to circle the Communist cause that was to define the remainder of his life.  He served Chile in Mexico in the early 1940’s, returning to Santiago to run for the Senate in 1944 and win, as a Communista.

His criticism of a dour and reactionary President—albeit a man whom he had supported in the election, and whose party won in an alliance with the Communists—contributed to Gonzales Videla’s outlawing the Communist Party and issuing a warrant for Neruda’s arrest.  He lived underground for nearly two years, before his comrades and supporters helped him to escape the Andes for half a decade.

He spoke publicly and fully for the first time, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of this experience.  He rode through the Andes for as much as a week, crossing icy rivers late in the Southern Winter.  Four rural roustabouts guided him through trackless forests surrounded by glaciers and massive peaks.  These horsemen hacked trees to mark their return path.

When they passed makeshift bowers that marked some fallen sojourner, they would each cut new branches to add to the bedding for the dead.  Crossing a mirrored, snow-fed waterway, his horse nearly shed him as it swam in water over its head.  One of his companeros had followed with a lasso in case the poet fell, in waters that had years before swept the young guardian’s father to his death.

Fleeing prison, perhaps demise, he and his comrades came upon a flower-strewn meadow that bloomed with Spring’s approach.  There, they encountered a natural chapel that housed an open, ox-skull altar where each of the travelers placed dried fruit or bits of money, gifts that bypassers might find in the dead beast’s staring eye-sockets.  They each danced to honor the deity that lived in the bones, hopping a circle around the gleaming bleached horns, with only the sky and the rocks and the wind and the trees and the snows to winess.

Shortly after, they saw a rocky redoubt where entire trees burned more or less constantly to warm and provide process heat for Argentine workers who made cheese at sixteen thousand feet and sang and shared their lives and their food and their wine with Chileans who welcomed the opportunity to douse themselves in volcanically heated baths and treasured the chance to sleep inside, safe from police or soldiers or freezing to death.  When Neruda sought to give money to these creators of processed food, his generous hosts, they refused.

He continued his ruminations about what this experience of life had taught about simplicity and solidarity and plenty more besides.  “(I)f the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.  If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity.  Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”

Throughout his life, Pablo Neruda—who legally changed his name in 1946—openly celebrated the erotic and carnal fires that he and his adored companions lit with each other, in each other, through each other.  Darker visions blended with these volcanic expressions of life’s core, forming a fabric of desire and loss, joy and pain, that appeared in much of his work, expressive attributes that he shared with all kinds of other Chilean and Hispanic wordsmiths.

Returning to Chile in 1952, he had become even more staunchly Marxist and committed to the Communist cause, at the same time that he engaged in stern critique of Stalin after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 condemnation of the dictator.  All over the world, people translated and bought his poetry.  He continued to carry around his copy of Whitman’s Song of Myself, one of his muses.

He ran as a Communist candidate for President against Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri, the CIA darling in 1970, siding with Allende in the runoff.  A passage from his Nobel speech thirteen years later illuminated such a choice.  “By extending to these extreme consequences the poet’s duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides.  I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats.  In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations.  And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Neruda’s glorious oeuvre graces very few literature courses below the graduate level in the United States.  Such a distancing is consciously political on the part of Yankee institutional ‘objectivity.’

“’No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,’ observed New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman.  Numerous critics have praised Neruda as the greatest poet writing in the Spanish language during his lifetime, although many readers in the United States have found it difficult to disassociate Neruda’s poetry from his fervent commitment to communism.”

Agelessly, Neruda’s monumental presentation to the audience in Stockholm serves as a gentle remonstrance to North American ignorance and arrogance.  “We have inherited this damaged life of people’s dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisiacal of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance – peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.”

A secondary rationale for including Don Pablo here is that he too died shortly after Pinochet’s minions ripped Chile’s social fabric to shreds and slaughtered and disappeared thousands of civilians who supported Allende.  Since one focus of the Pinochetista bloodlust was on communist artists, many people contend that the fascists killed Neruda in some fashion similarly as they dispatched Victor Jara and so many others.

However this is not likely true.  At sixty-nine, Neruda was in a Santiago hospital and fighting cancer.

Inevitably, he encountered mediated presentations of the dance of death that Pinochet and the CIA were delivering to his native land, where his political opponent-turned-comrade, the socialist Allende, had been President when he entered his sickbed.

His wife of many years, the love of his life, recalls some of what her beloved underwent in the twelve days that followed September 11th.  She had returned to his side when he had summoned at one point.  “I dashed up to his room and sat down beside him.  I was exhausted with nervous tension.  Pablo is very agitated.  He said that he has spoken with many friends and that it is incredible that I don’t know what is going on in the country.  ‘They’re killing people,’ he tells me.  ‘They’re handing over bodies in pieces.  The morgue’s full of the dead, the people are outside in their hundreds, claiming the bodies.  Didn’t you hear what happened to Victor…Jara?  He was one of those they tore to pieces, they destroyed his hands.’  As I had tried to avoid his finding out about all the hair-raising news those days, he thought I was ignorant of everything.  ‘The body of Victor Jara in pieces.  Didn’t you know that?  Oh my God, that’s like killing a nightingale.  And they say that he kept on singing and singing, and that drove them wild.’”

Most probably, Pablo Neruda in the end died a few day later of a broken heart.  The clinical record of ‘heart attack’ as cause of death would in that case be accurate.

Pinochet personally forbade any public display for his funeral.  For days, despite this ban, thousands of people gathered to honor Pablo Neruda and bring flowers and song to his grave.

Core Matters—Poignant Paradox & Pointed Protests

Chile’s outsize cultural impact has already had a turn on this essay’s stage.  The work of Mistral and Neruda and others worked as antidote to heartbreak, even in the most woeful evolution of the world’s twists and turns.  This literary and artistic heft represents a multidimensional fabric that serves to support both Chilean society most specifically, Latin society with almost the same degree of clarity and completeness, and the wider world more broadly speaking.

A few additional notes can assist in launching this narrative’s central sections.  In each case, elements of the life and labor of Victor Jara are also part of the web that this briefing describes.

Frank sexuality and sensuality, as already alluded to, form a part of Chilean consciousness and enculturation.  That this happens in an arena where strict Catholicism holds sway is less paradoxical than one might imagine.

Isabel Allende, the assassinated President’s relative, not only composed entire novels through which a strongly feminine earthiness and lustiness expressed itself, but she also spun out briefer yarns that were even more graphic.  “Toad’s Mouth” is one of these.

It tells the tale of a vast sheep preserve in Chile’s South, practically inaccessible and owned by a pair of married British investors.  With few exceptions, all of the locals are men, strong but lonely, whose sole sexual outlets are either autonomous or bestial: both sheep and skinned seals serve on occasion.

Into this realm comes a powerful dervish of a woman.  She serves as confessor and consort to all of these men.  The particular customer of any give moment depends on who wins the games that she invents, one of which involves tossing a coin at her vaginal opening as she sits in a circle with legs spread wide.

She gyrates her hips in such a way that only rarely does a man gain a blessed hour or two with her as a result of this contest.  Along comes a slender, diminutive Argentine, taciturn and fierce of mien.

He has arrived in search of her.  He has an intuition that she is his mate.  In the game, he pitches his coin with such accuracy that she accepts him as her partner for a couple of hours or so.

They do not emerge from their embraces till the long afternoon and evening and night have yielded to a new dawn.  She packs her things and the newly inaugurated couple ventures forth toward a joined fate.

Strongly feminist and strongly anti-machismo are the lines of Allende’s stories.  This quality matches Mistral’s work, as already noted.  Many other feminist and lusty women also share these attributes with the author of House of the Spirits.

One other especially notable is Maria Bombal, whose metered paragraphs burst with longing.  She gives voice to a woman’s fierce desire, which, if unmet evokes complete chaos.  Such emotional and spiritual passion characterize her two brief novels and also intertwine with every line of her astounding short story, “The Tree.”

She ends this abbreviated mythic paean to music and carnal love almost with a manifesto.  “They had stolen her intimacy, her secret; she found herself naked in the middle of the street, naked before an old husband who turned his back on her in bed, who had given her no children. …Lies!  Her resignation and serenity were lies; she wanted love, yes love, and trips and madness, and love, love.”

A powerful contextualization of intuition and the average person’s capacity to see and to seek is also readily apparent in both Chilean music and literature.  While as ever one might find dozens or even hundreds of cases to exemplify this, two writers offer exemplary insights about this aspect of the Chilean Canon.

Robert Ampuero’s detective novels, literary gems, display this all-consuming yearning for knowledge.  Only his most recent installment in a multi-volume series is available in English, as The Neruda Case.  Undoubtedly, some kind of epistemological motivation is inherent in the detective genre, yet the contours of this longing is especially provocative in this series.

“If Cayetano’s case is driven by the poet’s quest for closure, the novel also reexamines the disjunctions between political philosophies and personal politics during that long tour from country to country.  The closing chapter, returning readers to 21st-century Chile, provides an ironic and potentially redemptive coda to the book’s vivid depictions of troubled histories.  Closely related to all this, Cayetano’s musings on detective fiction quickly show how the investigative techniques of first-world novels don’t apply to the uncertainties of the Latin American landscape.  Unlike in the rational and logical world of Maigret, ‘in Latin America — where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day — everything was possible.’”

Much better known, already dead though he just barely attained his first half century, Roberto Bolano also manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life.  Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives2666, and Chile by Night.

In a different formulation of what Chile has to teach us, Roberto Bolano—or for that matter Isabel Allende, whose work the youthful Roberto attacked with brutal vitriol —might easily take center stage.  For now, a few further lines will do that this additional masterful yarnspinner from the Andes served up as forthrightly as he might announce his name.

“What twisted people we are.  How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down.  How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what?  To hide what?  To make people believe what?”

This leaves altogether out of the mix the author’s poetry, which he considered his literary life force even as he turned to fiction in order to make money for the family that he knew that he would soon leave behind as a result of liver disease.  In any case, this vocalization of the incongruous and wild aspects of everyday life capture a core piece of literature’s magic, in all of which his roots in Chile —he returned from Mexico just in time for 9/11/73, escaping by happenstance—play a powerful role.

A consistent recognition that class and power-relations underlie the nature of story itself becomes rapidly apparent in Ampuero’s and Bolano’s writing, as it also does in Mistral’s, Neruda’s, and other Chileans.  Before we move on to the way that these components of the Chilean contextualize the life and work of Victor Jara, we ought to mention the body of work of Jose Donoso.

“Donoso, whose first published stories were in English, could have become a Latin American Joseph Conrad had he adopted English as his literary language.  Instead, he returned home and began to craft his intricate, minute, and brilliant fictions about the Chilean Bourgeoisie.”

“The Walk,” an eerie and discomfiting short story that he wrote in the middle of Allende’s brief stay in power, combines themes of psychological and psychosocial oppression that pervade upper-crust life with characterization that grapples with these difficulties like a stubborn wolverine.  The spinster sister takes to ambling about with her dog after the beast urinates on the parlor floor.  Her perambulations end up with her being out at all hours of the night, returning disheveled and gay instead of like her brothers, who are almost mad with worry and fear of a breach of decorum.

Then, like thousands of Chileans soon enough, she disappears.  Her nephew ponders all of this with amazement, a combination of fear and longing that aptly describe what many Chileans were seeking, despite the risks, during Allende’s abortive reign.

Whatever the merits of Bolano’s savaging of Isabel Allende, her work, more so than any other writer’s—with the exception of Neruda and Jara—embraces the political aspects of human life.  This is no accident.  “The bloody military coup that resulted in the death of her uncle, the first democratically elected Marxist President in the hemisphere, was the confessed turning point of her life.  Forced to face and, ultimately, to flee a systematically imposed reign of terror under the Pinochet regime, Allende emigrated with (her family) to Venezuela.”

Out of this nexus of love and loss, hope and terror, have grown lyrical and popular literary labors.  Out of this cauldron have appeared her “overtly political (work that) address(es) through a love story the horrors of the ‘disappeared,’ who were taken off by the …authorities to be secretly tortured and murdered, but whose bodies were never returned.”

One could easily continue, but these additions to the groundwork of previous sections will further anchor what we have to learn about the bard from the barnyard, Victor Jara.  For his rise to prominence depended on this supportive hammock that Chilean literature and music and culture has provided to its people, despite all the contradictions and tensions and polarities that were also present.

Mural_Victor_JaraVictor Jara’s Iconic Presence

Once in a while, a man’s life, or a woman’s existence, so crystallizes an age that its narrative can become a key component of consciousness.  Victor Jara embodies core themes of contemporary existence in this way.  His dirt-poor rural roots; his soulful transformation of deeply religious teachings into a revolutionary social message; his joyous capacity to sing and perform and communicate with people that led him to attain truly a global audience that included all but fascist social milieus; his rising above the machismo and chauvinism that were a powerful component of his culture, so as to revere women as equal partners; to achieve the insight necessary to identify messages critical to human advance, even survival, and then to show the skill to craft those ideas in accessible ways, in various media, and then to demonstrate the courage essential to voice these views despite threats and assaultive violence; these were all characteristics of this actor and director and folklorist and folksinger and social justice activist.

The youngest of six boys that a tenant farmer and his wife conceived and bore into the world, his was a world from the time that he began to walk of nature and work.  His father foresaw that six male children would permit his accumulation of land that would allow for social elevation for his family.  As such, he fully intended to deny his youngsters schooling.

This caused a conflict with Victor’s mother, Amanda, who was a wedding singer and a popular folk musician in the region to the South of Santiago where Victor grew up.  She knew the power of words and wanted “at least the letters” to be available to her sons.

Whatever manifold complications and difficulties beset the Jara family, the father ultimately began drinking heavily, and fights between the parents ended with the dissolution of their marriage.  Existence became economically marginal but never lost fulsome spiritual and cultural joie-de-vivre.

When Amanda Jara took work in Santiago in the early 1940’s, she discovered that she had a natural talent for making spaces and operations functional.  Soon enough, she sent for her boys, and the two youngest received disciplined and rigorous training at Catholic elementary schools.  Victor showed early acumen and got a scholarship to more advanced education.

What might have been a rags-to-riches story of a more conventional nature unraveled when his mother died when he was only fifteen.  Not only did this profoundly afflict the youngster, but it also landed him in a seminary where he appreciated the community and the rigor but was able to discern that he lacked anything like a true calling to be a priest.

Within a fortnight of his exit from this training ground, he found himself under the obligation to serve a stint in the military.  Physically, he excelled as a inductee, but his natural shyness and lack of macho made this period extremely difficult.

Upon exiting, however, a series of chance opportunities in the early 1950’s led to his being part of a national choir and having performance options in both theater and dance.  His early scholastic training stood him in good stead, and soon enough he had scholarships to the National University, where he excelled both in folklore pursuits and in drama.

In one of his roles as an actor and dancer, he played opposite Joan Turner, his future wife.  Shortly after their work together, he received a year’s appointment to England, where he continued to excel, to the extent that more than one theater troupe invited him to remain, six thousand miles or so away from his home.

Even at this point, in his early-to-mid twenties, however, he knew that his calling in life was to serve Chile’s and Latin America’s people, so sooner rather than later he returned to his studies and his homeland.  He received offers to direct where he had been studying soon enough.

Upon graduation, his capacity to engage and bring out the best in people led to repeated successes as a director.  So much so was he magical in this ability to orchestrate dramatic production that An Appearance of Happiness, one of the first plays that he produced more or less on his own, ended up touring four other Latin American countries.

One of those countries was Cuba, and he immediately recognized that what was happening in education, in agriculture, in health care, and in the organization of social relations generally, were all apropos to what his family and friends and neighbors had long needed on the West coast of Latin America.  An affiliation with communism matured into an identification as a Communist.

After the early 1960’s, his theater work became more and more political.  His were works that suggested the possibilities for change, the tragedies of reactionary thinking, and the fundamental, core problem of empire—or as he would put it, of “Yankee imperialism.”  In the late 1960’s, he produced a version of Viet Rock that ended up being wildly popular, one of several other touring gigs that took him to Western and Eastern Europe and Russia and the United States, as well as traveling on other occasions to various Latin American venues.  He even met with and dedicated a song to a Vietnamese delegation in Scandinavia as the war there was turning decisively against the United States.

Parallel to his theatrical labors, he continued to collect and curate folksongs and folk stories of Chile.  His voice’s sweet tenor clarity, his glorious good looks, and his natural enthusiasm on stage led to his making contact with such musicians and seminal Chilean performers as Violetta Parra, with whose son Victor formed a lifelong friendship.

Angel Parra purportedly was responsible for Victor’s rise as a folk-singing star.  The young Parra had started a club in Santiago—soon replicated elsewhere in Chile—where intimate spaces and freewheeling songfests began to draw regular and enthusiastic crowds.

At one such outpouring of song and energy, Angel supposedly threw a guitar to Victor in the audience and commanded, “Ahora, a cantar!”  Before long, recording contracts, international chances to play, and a lifelong adoration of Pete Seeger translated into people’s more commonly recalling him as a songbird rather than an actor and director and producer.

The key point in this regard is that all of this effort was much the same for Victor.  The purpose of his life was the engagement with communities, the creation of performance and touching of consciousness in such a way as to impel common folks to develop a regard for their power, an understanding of their lives and problems, and a willingness to try to do things on their own behalf.

Again and again, the still young singer and creator made this clear in his public articulation of his life.  He was a servant of the people, and success—with its measures of love and joy, challenge and conflict—was something that he measured in terms other than those of the music business accountant.  His was a mission to shift the world rather than to become, in the American paradigm, “rich and famous.”

‘New Songs,’ New Politics—Salvador Allende’s & Unidad Popular’s Social Roots

The huge role that the so-called ‘New-Song movement’ played in the popular embrace of Salvador Allende’s faith in democratic socialism would be difficult to overestimate.  While plenty of intellectual Marxists—and even, despite their suspicions of the petty bourgeois, communisty thinkers and strategists—supported this longstanding political activist, his Unidad Popular Party was overwhelmingly a working class and grassroots movement that increasingly also drew adherents from among poor rural populations.

A to-some-extent fortunate confluence coincided with this development as the 1960’s came to a close.  The Communists had long supported folk musicians such as Violeta Parra, as well as new groups such as Quilapayun also affiliated with party goals and played at events and festivals that were radical and progressive.

But only when the party pressed a few hundred Long-Play records and instantly sold them all did this energy become a phenomenon that could truly finance a campaign.  After helping to elect Allende, in fact, the Communist ‘label,’ DICAP, was selling nearly a quarter million albums a year.  Moreover, after the U.P. electoral victory, Allende’s cultural ministry partially nationalized the primary large commercial recording operation in the country, owned by RCA, which led both to expanded volume and sales—the ‘local’ operation had held down its output to promote North American products—to further inroads by radicals of various stripes in the cultural realm.

A hugely successful annual folk festival, cosponsored by the Catholic University, started in 1968, and this too advanced the Nueva Cancion Chilena further still.  As chronicler Nancy Morris points out, Jara from its inception became even more popular than he already was, splitting a significant prize at the first gathering for the Best Song.

Nor did this suggest even a tiny diminution of political fervor or poignant social commentary.  Plegaria a un Labrador, or Prayer to a Peasant, was the winning number, and it very explicitly advocated rural/urban working class unity, a strategic goal of import on the part of both U.P. and the Communist Party.

Angel Parra and Victor Jara both had played for Allende through his 1964 and 1970 campaigns, the first one a narrow loss that resulted in part because of CIA propaganda and fiscal support for Eduardo Frei.  The rise of a broad based movement stemmed from a mixture of this political connection and the deeply felt working class identification of an honestly community-based musical upsurge.  The cultural dimension of politics became central to developing winning coalitions and strategies.

Though one might find reason to explore much more broadly and deeply in this matter of the cultural connection in Allende’s rise to power, one further point bears special note.  The party’s rousing campaign song, Venceremos!, or We Will Win!, was addictive in its tuneful harmony and roused crowds of many thousands, or tens of thousands repeatedly during the campaign.

One annalist of ‘victory’ put the case thus.  “When the socialist politician Salvador Allende dramatically won Chile’s presidential election in 1970, a powerful cultural movement accompanied him to power.  Folk singers emerged at the forefront, proving that music could help forge the birth of a new society.  As the CIA actively funded opposition media against Allende during his campaign, the New Chilean Song Movement rose to prominence, viscerally persuading voters with its music.  Víctor Jara, a central protagonist at the time, became an icon in Chile, Latin America, and beyond for his revolutionary lyrics and life.  Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and other musicians contributed by singing before audiences of workers outside factories or campesinos in Chile’s rural countryside.”

Nor did the fervor of this eruption of popular folk culture diminish after Allende’s ascension to the chief executive’s position.  On the contrary, it at least held its own through 1973, acting to expand its lyrical and performance outreach in both theater and poetry and dance as well as song.  Lack of commercial pressure meant that more people were listening, seeing, and otherwise participating in an actual artistic scene, instead of more money flowing to profit centers because of more sales of commodities that had only a random connection to either artistry or human need.

“Within this climate of affiliation with art, popular musicians moved decisively toward the creation of instrumental music with high levels of sophistication. Three factors came together in the rise of instrumental music within the context of NCC: the existence of instrumental music in Andean culture, which fed strongly into the NCC movement, as we have seen, and appeared in the work of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara; the use of instrumental music as incidental music for theater and dance; and the exploration of the possibilities of the guitar, NCC’s central instrument.”

The evidence of this phenomenon—musical, visual, and documentary—rouse a sense of wonder at the power of el pueblo.  Astonishment at the capacity of people to mobilize and connect with self-expression and artistic creations, for their own purposes rather than for commerce, offers an object lesson in what the intersection of culture and politics might be.

In the event, one might legitimately advance a thesis that part of what Pinochet guaranteed his Yankee sponsors was that no more of such a nonsensical practice —people-powered, grassroots, not-for-profit art—would occur under Augusto’s august and violent imprimatur.  Whatever the case may be, after assassinating the political elite of the Unidad Popular, a substantial number of the prioritized contract killings were against artists, of which Victor Jara’s is the most infamous.

One of the new juntas first acts was the precise outlawing of Nueva Cancion Chilena itself.  Artists fled the country as fast as news of Jara’s severed fingers spread —or perhaps Junta thugs had merely battered and broken Jara’s hands.

In addition to providing yet another proof that ‘free markets’ are at absolute best fraudulent poses, a further upshot of this unfolding, CIA-sponsored mayhem, was a complete marginalization of community culture or grassroots artistic participation.   “Under the military dicatorship, the task of Canto Nuevo(N.C.C.’s successor) has been to communicate the reality of a people whose outlets for group expression and social interaction have been intentionally and systematically restricted.  As such, Canto Nuevo has been inherently dissident and marginalized since its inception.”

As Operation Condor took shape in the aftermath of Washington’s and Santiago’s collaboration in crimes against humanity, the spread of ‘new-song’ camps might have experienced some degree of a tempering of what had appeared to be likely to show up as a wildfire event in much of the region.  Pinochet’s thugs and the torture that they practiced do not permit an answer to this question, for what had blossomed in Chile had succumbed to scorched-earth tactics at the behest of Yankee capital.


A Crushing Coup—Murder’s Signature Centrality to U.S. Imperial Sway

As noted above, rational disagreement about the broad parameters of what actually happened in Chile over the decade 1965-75 is impossible.  Murder and mayhem, spycraft and sabotage, lies and deceit, fraud and depredation against a democratically socialist Chile established the ‘order-of-battle’ in such a fashion that the United States never deviated from this criminal construction of plunder and plutocracy.

Joan Jara, Victor’s wife and the author of his biography, Victor Jara: An  Unfinished Songsummarized that the final authorization for overthrowing Allende, a directive that was a death warrant for her husband, probably resulted not from Unidad Popular’s problems but from the fact that the majority of Chileans were better off despite all-out economic warfare on the part of the U.S. against Chile.

Ms. Jara called U.P.’s gaining of seats and popular votes in Chile’s midterm elections, both of which happened early in 1973, “almost unprecedented” in Chilean history.  Moreover, anti-feminist attacks on Allende had backfired, as women were continuing to vote their interests and not reactionary, Church-backed fantasies.

In this context, Victor Jara, though very anxious and ‘out-of-his-element’ as a public speaker, took to the stump to warn of Yankee and plutocrat plans for plunder. “(F)or the first time in his life … he made campaigning political speeches.  It wasn’t a moment to hang back and say, ‘No, I can’t.  I’m an artist, not a politician.’  It made Victor very nervous because he wasn’t used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed.  The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”

But the writing was literally ‘on the wall’ that fascism was the treasonous Chilean elites’ general response to such social improvement.  “Djakarta’s coming” warnings sprouted everywhere, spray painted graffiti, dripping blood red threat, “a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.”

Peter Kornbluh’s work through the National Security Archive at George Washington University has led the powerful exposition of the U.S. thuggery in recruiting, financing, and operationalizing mass murder in Chile.  This is not how Professor Kornbluh would state the matter.  He is a careful scholar.

“That the secrecy surrounding Chile and U.S. relations with Pinochet has been maintained for so long reflects both the controversial nature of this past, as well as its continuing relevance to the ongoing and future debate over American interventions abroad and the moral foundations of U.S. foreign policy.  The declassified documents in the following pages are, in essence, a dossier in atrocity and accountability, addressing not only the general and his regime, but also the shameful record of U.S. support for bloodshed and dictatorship.”

In the eleven years since he published The Pinochet File, the director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project has become more forceful in his accusations.  Just recently in Foreign Affairs, he gained access to the establishment forum’s pages to make his case quite strongly indeed.  He was responding to an earlier article, “What Really Happened in Chile?” that argued that the entire mess was in the nature of a series of unfortunate events, a combination of errors all around and overreaching on the part of Santiago’s armed forces.

“In (Jack Devine’s) view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences.  But that is not what really happened in Chile.  …(I)n the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. …Devine benignly characterizes (this) as a misguided covert action.  In fact, (it) centered on a violent criminal scheme.  The plan was to kidnap Chile’s commander in chief, General René Schneider, who firmly opposed the idea of a military coup.  ‘The CIA was aware of the plan,’ Devine notes, as if the agency were an innocent bystander, simply gathering intelligence on the operation.  The truth is far more sinister.  The Schneider operation was a CIA-sponsored plot: CIA officials pressed the agency’s station in Santiago to come up with a way to ‘remove’ Schneider because he was standing in the way of a military coup.  CIA representatives met repeatedly with the conspirators, led by a retired Chilean army general, Roberto Viaux, and an active-duty brigadier general, Camilo Valenzuela.  On October 19, CIA headquarters sent the station six untraceable submachine guns and ammunition in a diplomatic pouch, to be provided to the plotters.  The agency also provided $50,000 to Valenzuela to bankroll the operation and thousands more to Viaux to keep the operation ‘financially lubricated,’ as one CIA cable stated.  Given the risks involved, the CIA issued the plotters life insurance policies.”

Nor does Kornbluh focus only on the early days of Allende’s regime and the attempts then to unseat the nearly-elected President.  Both in his book and his various other writings on this massive crime against humanity that the United States orchestrated, he details the way that U.S. operatives and their counterparts in the Southern Cone established the necessary protocols for either a ‘surgical removal’ of Allende, or, if he refused to cooperate, his assassination.

In his just-published article, this careful scholar notes, “A May 1973 memorandum to CIA Director James Schlesinger noted that the agency had ‘accelerated efforts against the military target’ in order to ‘better monitor any coup plotting and bring our influence to bear on key military commanders so that they might play a decisive role on the side of the coup forces.’  Moreover, the CIA was not the only part of the U.S. government bringing its influence to bear.  The U.S. Department of Defense also maintained contact with the generals.  Indeed, a full year before the coup, U.S. military officials met with Pinochet and his aides in the Panama Canal Zone.  A declassified intelligence report recorded Pinochet’s belief that Allende ‘must be forced to step down or be eliminated’ and a clear message from U.S. Army officers in response: the ‘U.S. will support [a] coup against Allende with ‘whatever means necessary’ when the time comes.’”

In other words, as Victor Jara sweated over his ‘toastmaster’ duties and his wife worried about implicit threats to their lives, the U.S. was one hundred percent behind the conspiracy to torture and maim and kill and ‘disappear’ those who stood for social progress in Chile.  Moreover, hundreds of thousands of pages from the State Department, the CIA, earlier investigations such as the Church Senate Committee Hearings, and more, further amplify the vicious impunity with which the ‘leaders of the free world’ have conducted themselves toward our ‘good neighbor’ to the South.

These records, likely now representing a majority of the once uniformly classified and unavailable documentation of U.S. and Chilean elite-perfidy, are far from all the assessments that indict the Nixon, Kissinger, Pinochet, and the entire array of lower-level personnel and institutional arrangements that characterize the ‘Military-Industrial-Complex,’ the ‘Intelligence-Establishment,’ or any of the other descriptors of United States empire.  While we needn’t explore anything like a complete range of such items, a few additional investigations do implore citizens to take note and pay attention.

The stalwart folks at School of America’s Watch convey to the interested researcher that plus-or-minus one-in-seven of Chile’s officer corps in the 1970’s had studied at the so-called School of the Americas.  The nickname ‘School of Assassins’ was in large measure a rational descriptor.  Augusto Pinochet was not one of them, but the U.S. has named a building at the ‘campus’ in his ‘honor.’

The Spanish language training manuals from SOA detailed for enrolled officers the niceties of infiltrating popular organizations, planting agents provocateurs, planning assassinations, conducting tortures of various sorts, and so on and so forth.  This was the training for democracy that the U.S. Department of Defense conducted at its facility in Panama, which eventually relocated to Fort Benning in Georgia, where it remains to this day, a target for an annual mass demonstration just before Thanksgiving.  The protest opposes teaching ‘public servants’ the crafts of murder and mayhem, and the gathering commemorates the millions of SOA victims, including those from Chile, such as Victor Jara.

A substantial spate of publications from the period prior to substantial declassification, as well as additional investigators since President Clinton’s orders in 1999 and 2000 to open up the secrecy vaults just a tad, has also proffered data and analysis of the horrors that U.S. authorities planned and financed against untold thousands of Chilean—and later other Latino—victims.

To suggest the import of what is accessible, we will examine a single such article from Atlantic Magazine in 1982.  Legendary investigator Seymour Hersh delivered “The Price of Power—Kissinger, Nixon and Chile.”  Twenty years prior to Peter Kornbluh’s work, with only informants and clever acuity in documentary research, Hersh assembled a powerful case—based on documentation, testimony, and circumstance—that the U.S. had criminally deposed Salvador Allende.

The able author assembles a litany of facts and analysis to show criminal conspiracy, accessory to murder, and general skullduggery on the part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser.  Others too played occasionally crucial but often ancillary or support roles.

One of Hersh’s witnesses was a Navy Yeoman who had just replaced a civilian secretary in an extremely optimum job for finding things out.  He assisted the Admiral who acted as liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Security Council.

While this lengthy and deeply reported analysis contains many revelations, this young Mormon enlisted man, in pursuit of a commission and a career in service to his country and his God and freedom, gives readers a dose of the horror and tragedy that have typified American foreign policy for well over the last century.

His superior officer “was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens…who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election… .  Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen.  It was a real blow.  All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.’  Admiral Robinson and his superiors were ‘wringing their hands’ over Chile, Radford says, ‘almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children.’  Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office.  Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende.  One options paper ‘discussed various ways of doing it,’ Radford says.  ‘Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves.  I was stunned; I was aghast.  It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.’  The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election.  ‘They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,’ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways.  The thrust of the option was clear: ‘I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.’”

Additional context for what this young recruit discovered about his country was that all of this planning to crucify Chile’s democracy was taking place in “one of the CIA’s success stories” from the 1960’s.  The agency had manipulated elections, bought media and politicians with equal alacrity, and generally run the country like a casino for the copper companies and purveyors of soft-drinks and telecommunications services.

From an entirely different background and perspective Peter Winn also has an immense trove of data and insight to convey to willing readers.  Studying Chile while on sabbatical from Yale when the coup happened, he might nearly have found himself alongside Victor Jara at the notorious stadium and its killing fields.  He was trying to collect oral histories—of which he already had several hundred—from the just recently dispossessed workers who had maintained control, before Allende’s murder, of the giant Yarur Textile Mill near Santiago.

In early December, “I was denounced anonymously, detained by the Army, and taken at bayonet point to a regimental barracks, where I was interrogated at midnight by its commander.  After three days of interrogation and investigation, he informed me, ‘We have no proof that you have committed a crime, exactly speaking, Professor Winn, but talking with workers, interviewing union leaders, all this is very suspicious.  We do not want anyone talking to our workers.”

What the courageous academic conveys in his monograph, Weavers of Revolution: the Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism, is that under Allende the nationalized factory at Yarur, the largest textile operation in Chile was succeeding.  Despite the concerted efforts of every powerbroker and gatekeeper with whom the company had to deal as a labor collective, wages were up, productivity was up, efficiency was way up, and the enterprise was viable in terms of income and outgo.

Nor were these former wage-earners and current owner-operators alone.  Various other firms that Chile had turned over to employees were also making a go of things.  This was the context for the march—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Santiago in support of socialism—in the waning Southern Hemispheric Winter of 1972, exactly one year and one week before the unleashing of well-plotted homicidal mania.

“One month later, a work stoppage by a small group of truck owners in… .the far South…triggered a national walkout and lockout by merchants and manufacturers, professionals and shopkeepers, that rapidly engulfed Chile in a virtual class war, complete with paramilitary attacks and terrorist bombings.  At bottom Paro de Octobre…was a ‘general strike’ of the bourgeoisie, intended to demonstrate their power as a class, stop the advance toward socialism, and create the conditions within which Allende could be ousted—by military coup or Congressional impeachment.”

The “Demands of Chile,” the product of a year’s planning that in retrospect one can say definitely involved support from U.S. institutions, were non-negotiable.  Either Popular Unity would “reverse its revolutionary course, abandon its socialist goals, and surrender its political project,” or the deluge would ensue.

Salvador Allende died defending his theretofore democratic approach to revolution with a machine gun in his hands.  While some of his closest comrades joined him, most of the toilers at the cotton mill demurred at the notion of ‘armed resistance.’  The time for the training and equipping to effect such an eventuality was many months, or even years, prior to Pinochet’s pragmatic execution of mass murder.

Communists had advised against such steps as training and arming the work force to resist the military in the event of a coup “as provocative, and the Socialists and the MIR(Moviemiento de lzquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) proved themselves ‘just theoreticians, not practical revolutionaries,’ who failed to prepare for the military coup that they themselves had predicted.”

A few handfuls of plants and firms did resist the putsch.  The junta deployed its completely equipped modern heavy weaponry against these makeshift ‘barricades’ one by one and crushed them all.  “Within a week, the illusion of ‘popular power’ had been destroyed, leftist fantasies of a division in the military or a popular rising dispelled, and a military dictatorship consolidated.  The fighting was over, but the killing had just begun.  During the weeks that followed, some 25,000 Chileans were killed by their own armed forces.”

This would amount to plus-or-minus a million casualties in a nation the size of today’s United States.  This meticulous and clearly brilliant and brave young professor explained why these barbaric steps were essential from the perspective of the Chilean ruling class—and, behind the scenes, their gringo sponsors.

Chile’s increasingly organized and militant working class was the only social force that might muster the capacity to oppose the military.  Thus, calculated decimation was an important lesson to impart, along with firings and blacklists and permanent unemployment for as much as 20% of the industrial leftists who, unslaughtered, remained behind.

“The scope and intensity of the repression reflected the extent and depth of popular mobilization in Chile by September, 1973.  It was an ironic tribute to the success of the revolution from below.”

Did Pinochet at least ‘make the trains run on time,’ as the pundit apologists for Mussolini suggested about Il Duce?   This is in some ways the most noisome aspect of the whole affair.  The moderate and conservative members of the working class, the vaunted ‘shopkeepers’ and small business owners—many of whom nodded smugly at the butcher’s butchery—as well as the young and the old and anyone socially vulnerable, were all, within a decade of Pinochet’s predatory rampage, more or less utterly destitute, with prospects worse than ever before in verdant Chile’s modern history.

How and why this transpired, though, truly describes the parameters of a tragedy.  One assessment develops this reasoning clearly and incisively.

“Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement.  As Malcolm Coad pointed out: ‘This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s.  The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports, and debt crisis.  The state bailed out most of the country’s banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent.’”

And yet still additional sources ought to be on the conscientious observer’s radar screen so to speak.  At the very least, such repositories as the following need to be available for examination.

*The Defense Intelligence Agency’s and National Security Agency’s records without any doubt contain masses of still-secret datasets that would help understand processes and protocols in this case.

*Financial, industrial, and media archives that are either miraculously open or possibly liable to legal discovery—particularly among the food processing, copper, and services companies that already show up as part of CIA planning, need to be under scrutiny, and researchers need to develop plans to obtain such records.

*Massive archives in Spanish, not only in Chile, but in other Operation CONDOR States are generally not on the roadmap of English readers; this needs to change, and quickly.

*Cuban and possibly other State-level sources of data also contain material that could completely upend ‘plausible deniability’ in these matters; in addition to discerning what holdings might be accessible in Havana, the records of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela might be caches that a clever researcher might get hold of.

*Court and administrative records from both the United States and abroad, in both civil and criminal filings, are often full of attachments to motions and other pleadings; with the right leverage and plenty of diligence, at least some of such materials might yield occasional treasures.

In considering such monumental tasks as this essay introduces, in even making ourselves aware of the information that exists if we’re willing to ferret it out, the basic question that comes to mind is simple to state: “How much do we want to know about how the world really works?”  And we might add, “How badly do we want to find out?”

The Spindoctor not only desperately loves to probe how things operate, but he also can’t help himself: he wants people to start acting like they want to be responsible citizens despite how risky that seems, despite what a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass the whole process can be.  He asks that readers who manage to get this far, at the very heart of this narrative, listen to a young woman from Chile, one of the interviewees for this project.  She is the great granddaughter of the junta’s first possible victim, Arturo Araya III, who died on July 27, 1973 with a bullet in his lung, while the ambulance that his in-laws had summoned failed to appear for nearly an hour.

Here is the question that Josefa fielded from us.  “As someone born after 1990, what role do you think the dictatorship has in your life, and that of your generation?  Does it affect you, and if so, how?”

And this is how she answered.  “It affects us tremendously, and for many reasons. More than anything I think it’s a thing about a common history, and building a collective identity; we are located in a social context that is marked everywhere by the things that happened during the dictatorship.  Everything from the laws that govern our country and shape our lives up to the fact that the dictatorship left the social fabric fractured.  For me, the dictatorship is a very deep wound in Chilean collective memory, perhaps the worst in our history, because it made Chileans confront and seek to destroy each other.  I think that in order to heal the wound much is still missing: it is a process that is not yet even half accomplished.  People of generations that did not live through it (nevertheless) live in the aftermath (that it) left and … continues to manifest.  We all carry the weight of what happened during the dictatorship somehow—some in more direct ways and others more indirectly, but we all live on(in this world that comes from then) after all.  We know people who had relatives who disappeared as prisoners, or people whose parents or grandparents were involved in the disappearances.  (Not just) at a social level, but all areas of the Chilean social life are marked by what happened.”

Resisting State-Sponsored Terror—Inside Chile & Out

Direccion de Intelligentsia Nacional, or DINA, evolved as a result of such institutional expressions of U.S. hegemony as the Central Intelligence Agency, of course.  Moreover, however, the already-mentioned Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former School of the Americas, continued to provide training to its special agents.

Many socialists and communists from Latin America see the Allende administration as an experiment.  In such a view, perhaps a non-violent mechanism for achieving fundamental social change would be possible.

This underlay the decision not to arm workers, despite all the signs that the U.S. would support a vile killing thrust against a democratically selected group of leaders, and despite all the evidence of history that then vast numbers of innocents would likely face torture and painful death and disappearance at the hands of plotters and psychopaths and efficiency experts in charge of electroshock and clean-up.  That the results of this science project in the political arts do not look favorable to friendly approaches to social change is, to say the least, an understatement.

Nor did the aftermath of the first months of slaughter attenuate such a dire perspective, as Professor Winn made clear above.  Two very brief additional bits will round out this section.

One was the inability of the ‘theorists’ at MIR to mount a successful underground resistance to Pinochet’s fascism.  Within a year of the putsch, more or less, Miguel Enriquez and other leaders of the organization were all dead or effectively no longer present and accounted for in Chile.

The other was the much wider scope that Chile’s terrorism assumed in the years following its mass killing of its own citizens.  This basically concerned such joint ventures as mutual assistance among assassins in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, which we now know as Operation CONDOR.

The assassination of a Chilean military man in Argentina who remained loyal to Allende, Carlos Prats, caused a significant outcry at the time.  Lawsuits against the perpetrators have made their way through the Federal Courts of the United States.  Some evidence suggests that various official agents of the United States played roles in the work of the cooperating Southern Cone intelligence agencies.

The second instance of a broadening of the reach of Chile’s ‘terror police,’ the DINA, involved a massive car bomb on the streets of the District of Columbia.  The assassination of an opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, not only severed the former diplomats legs but also killed his assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, and caused crippling injuries to Ms. Moffitt’s husband.

jara-etcFrom Cautious Democratic Resurgence to Attempted Truth & Reconciliation

Many generations might need to pass before anything like general or routine comity could be possible.  John L. Rector’s The History of Chile concludes with a sober note that, even after thirty years, recriminations between Communists and the “far right” of the U.D.I. continue—if not unabated, then still powerful.

A retired Naval officer from Chile, Arturo Araya IV, also noted this tendency.  “All many people want now is to be victims and to blame Pinochet and the government for their problems.”  He also mentions how, in his estimation, “almost all” the former adherents of the dictator skulk about “with guilty expressions on their faces, turning every corner as if they suspect they will soon be arrested.”

He himself initiated a lawsuit against the military for its possible role and likely cover-up of the killing of his father, the Naval attaché whose connections with Cuba may have played a part in his targeting.  He and others in the family, who had in general accepted Pinochet’s rule when it happened and on occasion strongly backed it, gathered together after Señor Araya had issued a press release that announced the Court’s acceptance of this litigation.

Moreover, the recent trials and possible convictions of some of the men responsible for Victor Jara’s torture and murder have come to pass.  His widow, his children, his supporters still honor his life and celebrate such steps as these developments, which they view as something resembling moves toward justice and validation.

Joan Jara, who lost her husband forty-one years ago, has also initiated a civil suit in the United States, applying the Alien Torts Claim Act and other theories.  She is seeking damages for the extrajudicial torture and murder of her husband by Pedro Barrientos, who now lives in Miami, one of the lieutenants in charge of the folksinger at the stadium that now bears Victor Jara’s name.

Whatever transpires in such matters, the original amnesties for military personnel that Pinochet negotiated in 1989 no longer apply uniformly.  Just now, President Michelle Bachelet—whose father of course was a victim of the Pinochetistas—has announced while visiting Mexico to show solidarity for disappeared students there the sentencing of eleven former agents of the junta.  Manuel Contreras, the leading killer among them all—each of whose convictions were for promoting “forced disappearance”—faces 426 years in prison for his crimes.

Yet other interviewees suggest that “nobody is much interested in all that old stuff.”  And, no doubt, ‘life goes on,’ as the saying would have us believe.

Still, though one might develop a much longer discourse about this set of issues, even a cursory glimpse of contemporary Chile does prove that some citizens continue to struggle with the concepts of truth and reconciliation.  That such a focus persists may offer the only hope for avoiding a repeat of 9/11/1973.

A distinguished Chilean scholar has expressed this idea most forcefully.  Manuel Carreton argues that without “an official commemoration, we have no country.”  The award-winning sociologist specifies both the what and the how of such a process.  ”A great need exists for a formal collective memory, transmitted through the educational system, quantified by measures of justice and truth, but also of punishment.”

He completes his presentation with concepts with which arguably every American, whether Northern or Southern in origin, needs to be familiar.  “The national conscience must become one about this, one that condemns the military coup and the violation of human rights.  Making a purely political assessment of our historical past, and not a moral one, will do more to divide us than to unite us and help move Chile forward.

book hor2

Concluding Concepts—Imperialism & Humanity Can No Longer Coexist

Near the end of a long journey, this narrative would hope that readers consider six points in conclusion.  Prior to stating those items, the narrator asks folks to ponder a chilling bit of nihilism that one of history’s hypercapitalists expressed over a century before the here and now.

In essence, if we are to avoid eviscerating ourselves, we must avoid fulfilling the prophecy of robber baron Jay Gould.  “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

With the possible exception of Costa Rica, the United States has joined with ruling elites in every Hispanic or Portuguese speaking country in the hemisphere so as to cause Gould’s ghoulish prediction to transpire.  Che Guevara, in speaking of the U.S. attempts to unseat Cuba’s revolution, articulates this notion in terms that are national in their scope and yet obviously entail one sector of workers’ seeking to destroy another proletarian contingent.

“From the beginning, it was generally understood in Latin America that the United States backed the invasion (at the Bay of Pigs), and that it would therefore be successful (of course, it was not),… a fait accompli… .  (Total puppets) Haiti and the Dominican Republic … had already broken or suspended relations with Cuba… . Honduras joined the anti-Castro camp, suspending relations in April and proposing the formation of an alliance of Central American and Caribbean nations to have it out with Cuba by force.  The proposal—which was also suggested independently by Nicaragua—was quietly dropped” when the rest of the hemisphere either vacillated or actively and strongly opposed any such scheme of using the working class soldiers of the hemisphere to snuff the Cuban rejection of imperial domination.  Notably, in Chile, “the government found strong opposition in all circles to open military intervention by any state against the Castro regime.”

In these presentations, Che Guevara was quoting from a lengthy U.S. State Department cable that the Cubans had intercepted.  Later in this missive, the gringos demonstrate further their playing the role of Mr. Gould in seeking to set one set of toilers against another.

“In every respect, (despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation), the member states of the OAS are now less hostile toward United States intervention in Cuba than before the invasion, but a majority of them—including … more than half the population of Latin America(in Mexico and Brazil)—are not willing to intervene actively or even to join a quarantine against Cuba. …(Especially), (a)s long as Brazil refuses to act against Castro, it is probably that a number of other nations, including Argentina and Chile, will not wish to risk adverse internal repercussions to please the United States.”

As the rambling cable draws to a close, it expresses why a nation, like Gould, might want to hire ‘half the working class’ to destroy the other half.  “The most immediate danger of Castro’s example for Latin America might well be the danger to the stability of those governments that are at present attempting evolutionary social and economic change, rather than for those that have tried to prevent such changes, in part because of the tensions and awakened hopes accompanying such social changes and economic development. …The Alliance for Progress might well furnish the stimulus to carry out more intensive reform programs, but unless these programs are started quickly and soon begin to show positive results,…they will not be enough of a counterweight to increasing pressure from the extreme left.  The years ahead will…witness a race between those forces that are attempting to initiate evolutionary reform programs and those that are trying to generate support by the masses for fundamental economic and social revolution.”


Of course, Che was not Chilean.  Nor were clear violations of international law against Cuba attacks on Chile.  But these evident admissions impel the thinker to a first inference that flows from this essay: the decimation of Salvador Allende and allies like Victor Jara both intended to hurt and sought to undermine Cuba’s revolution, and by extension the possibility to obtain social democracy in Latin America’s ‘real world.’

In similar fashion as the poet and singer whose profiles appear here, Che was the loathed serpent in capital’s faux edenic garden, where at least the rich lived like emperors and empresses, and more or less everything was on sale for money to purchase.  He was Fidel’s comrade and persisted in advancing the idea of a hemispheric armed uproar against gringo wealth and hegemony.

Moreover, real links joined Havana and Santiago.  One of Che’s chief financial advisers in restructuring Cuban agriculture and industry was the Chilean, Carlos Romeo.  A member of the inner circle of Chile’s national bank under both Frei and Allende, Romeo demonstrated both technical excellence and socialist fervor in his practice of economics.

Pablo Neruda also promoted the Cuban revolution as a model; more importantly, he foresaw that the consciousness of Cuban success would free his countrymen and working people around the world from any slavish devotion to ‘free markets,’ which were never free, to commoditized models which ultimately impoverished workers to exactly the extent that they enriched the owners of everything, to holy righteousness that suppressed the true spirit and lusty wonder of human life.

And Victor Jara himself formed friendships in Cuba.  He and Silvio Rodriguez sang together.  Cuba received him as a distinguished guest.  He also traveled more than once to the Soviet Union.

Moreover, even though Cuba’s more-or-less victorious uprising against capital’s various ‘mobs’ depended on armed and aggressive action, Cuba’s leadership in general suggested that Chile’s citizens commit themselves to a peaceful path to social democracy.  Such statements were often enough completely explicit.

In 1971, “(s)tanding shoulder to shoulder with President Salvador Allende, Castro advised workers that Chile was not Cuba and that, in light of that country’s history, a parliamentary path, not a revolutionary one, would represent the ‘Chilean road to socialism.’  The result was the disarming of workers, who were thus unable to undertake an independent revolutionary struggle and were left unprepared for the military and right-wing parties led by the infamous General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew Allende and installed a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of workers.”

Finally, two of the people that this essay’s developers interviewed about this matter also mentioned the importance of Cuba.  One of these has requested anonymity.  Monica Hayden, the other, had married the son of the naval attaché, Arturo Araya, Junior, whose murder on July 27, 1973, may have been the first strike against those members of the military who eschewed the coup.  She pointed out that her former father-in-law had often worked with the Cubans and had that very evening returned from what he described, immediately before an assassin cut him down, as a “critically important” dinner at the Cuban Embassy.

In all kinds of ways, therefore, both the emanation of Chile’s Marxist moment and its evisceration by a U.S. organized terrorist operation resulted from, or at least felt the substantial influence of, Cuba’s inputs.  That attacks on Allende also assaulted Castro is clearly evident.  And such interconnections form the heart of what we can conclude about empire as seven billion cousins approach the third decade of the second millennium of the present pass.


Closely related to the initial culminating thought, we ought to acknowledge that anti-communism guarantees anti-solidarity.  The applicability of this idea to Latin America stems from events well before Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rampage.  Pablo Neruda’s flight from his native land was a clear case of anti-communism.  These tendencies became particularly powerful under the aegis of the young CIA during Eisenhower’s two administrations.

Even earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.’s ‘fanaticism’ in invading the nascent Soviet Union in order to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle,” U.S. leaders noted the utility of anti-red thinking in Hispanic America.  Republican Secretary of State Frank Kellogg made this point with crystal clarity in 1927.

“The Bolshevik leaders have had very definite ideas in respect to the role which Mexico and Latin America are to play in their general program of world revolution.  They have set up as one of their fundamental tasks the destruction of what they term American imperialism as a necessary prerequisite to the successful development of the international revolutionary movement in the New World. …Thus Mexico and Latin America are conceived as a base of activity against the United States.”

This sort of attitude had practical implications.  In Chile, as we have seen, the CIA shortly after Cuba’s consolidation of its independence initiated sophisticated and potent actions against Allende’s 1964 campaign, based on the notion that he was communist.  Recent scholarship has explored this situation in some detail, explaining precisely how such activity harmed solidarity among workers and other groups that might otherwise have found easier methods for working together.

“In order to prevent Allende’ selection, the U.S. government massively intervened in Chile’s 1964 presidential election (in the form of) the Scare Campaign.  The Scare Campaign was a multimedia propaganda blitz that used fear to convince Chileans that they should vote for Eduardo Frei and against Salvador Allende.  Working in conjunction with Chileans, the U.S. government developed, designed, financed, and implemented the Scare Campaign.  The campaign attempted to convince Chileans, especially women, that Allende’s triumph would lead to the destruction of the family and the undermining of women’sroles as mothers.  By incorporating ideas about femininity and masculinity into its efforts to oppose Allende, this U.S.-sponsored propaganda campaign engendered anticommunism in Chile.”

Other analysis demonstrates that in the run-up to and aftermath of the murder of Allende and Jara and more, the CIA’s operations targeted staunch Catholics.  In the event, many priests and churches were among those that facilitated people’s accepting this barbaric coup as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ given their inclination toward anti-communism that the U.S. had specifically amplified.

The practical upshot is simple, therefore.  If the best interests of U.S. citizens is that Chilean citizens despise and turn on each other, then we should encourage anti-communism.  Otherwise, we should fight it more or less religiously.


Out of such ideation emerges an acceptance of the necessity of internationalism, and in the context of this storyline the absolute primacy of multilingual capacity, the ability to sing in many tongues, so to speak.  This is, thus far in any event, a mostly pragmatic and common-sense perspective.

The role of cultural outpourings in favor of liberation and justice in one place means that the likelihood of outsiders’ willingness to crush these developments would rise inasmuch as the interlopers lacked the ability to understand the words and stories and songs that were promoting positive transformation.  A quick search of the literature finds no expert concurrence that an idea of exactly this sort would contribute to progress.

Related notions, primarily concerning the operation of academia or the ability to follow literary narratives, do find a place in the recent canon.  In any event, intuitively and rationally, the events of the 1970’s in Chile argue in favor of insisting that more Americans learn Spanish and more Chileans and other Latin Americans understand and speak English.

No matter what else one believes, anyway, the fact that two disparate bodies of knowledge—both of which contain millions of pages or more of documentation and evidence about the realities and beliefs which surround Santiago in 1973—exist, one Spanish and one English, militates in favor of a radical bilingualism.  Nothing else can ever make sense, till the day arrives when the tower-of-Babel itself rises no more.


In promoting this deconstruction of Babel, as it were, we would also accede to the utter toxicity of secrecy.  Varied pages from history’s annals reveal a few of the cases that evidence such a contention.

One of the ways that the Bolsheviks totally infuriated their erstwhile ‘allies’ against the Kaiser was in bringing to light the many hidden agendas that World War One’s elite combatants had shared.  Such revelations undermined the sense of a ‘gentleman’s club’ that aristocrats and plutocrats alike wanted to be able to operate without any requisite naming of names or public scrutiny.  Comprehensive histories of intelligence highlight that such presumption always serves as a prominent perquisite of ruling classes, especially in the modern era.

In the current context, multiple non-governmental organizations express their primary objectives in terms of bringing ‘government into the sunshine.’  The entire concept of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ is that democracy necessitates this sort of access to what is happening.

James Madison states the issue most clearly, though he was writing nearly two hundred years ago.  “A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”

In relation to Chile’s past half century, multiple threads portray the hideous results that attend fatuous belief in keeping secrets.  The problem is that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “everybody knows that the dice were loaded.”  Citizens are the only parties whom duplicity keeps in the dark, so that regular people fail to realize that the allegations against their leaders are true, that the ‘people who hate us’ have good cause to do so, and so on and so forth.

In the final analysis, a widely reviewed monograph—generally extolled by those who favor democracy over secret arrangements for terroristic control, and hated by so-called ‘conservatives’—exhibits the chilling results of governing-by-secret-agendas.  The volume’s title and subtitle summarize this reasoning incisively: Killing Hope: U.S. Military & CIA Interventions Since World War Two.

Augusto Pinochet himself also indicates the way that secrecy and corruption, hypocrisy and horror, fit as seamlessly as a hand in a custom-made glove.  Pinochet—whose murderous ways are now so thoroughly documented that trying to make excuses for the recently deceased homicidal butcher only makes his defenders appear to support killing-in-support of profiteering—enriched himself at every turn of his bloody career.

That this kind of allegation is not allegorical but completely concrete becomes clear when one looks at Pinochet himself.  A 2005 “US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation.  It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.”  Moreover, as noted in the section above on the dictator’s rule, this self-dealing was part of the payoff that he received for absolutely destroying the Chilean economy in service to profit maximization.

Without much effort, an investigator could make hay in whatever sunshine might be possible to cast on these dark fields for hundreds of thousands of pages or more.  After all, we live in the age that has begun with the initiation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the revelation of Daniel Ellsberg, to mention just a pair of instances at the beginning of the last fifty years, and that has ended, literally over the past few instants, in whatever new leak or cover-up or attempt to hide an agenda makes its way to the headlines of the moment.

The conclusion that democratic citizens could make about such events and patterns ought to be possible to state in a way that ordinary folks would nod agreement.  “Since the primary ‘secrets’ in these cases are those that regular people don’t know, and since the harms of such lying hypocrisy almost always affect ordinary people at the same time that they enrich the cognoscenti, we should do away with such governance altogether.”

At the very least, we ought to be debating such propositions.  Instead, the presumption of secrecy’s necessity continues.  Meanwhile, the entire human race could die in a war that such mendacity makes, ultimately, inevitable.

Without the least doubt, another view entirely might also make sense.  We could accede that rich fascist thugs will always practice dark arts of subterfuge and immolation, and that popular resistance to these killers must also therefore deploy the most murderous techniques and hidden methods in order to depose the Nazis and their minions.

If this kind of view appears less than salubrious, one might ponder what we should expect under the circumstances that prevail.  In such a context—in which lies and half-truths in favor of the wealthy rule every policy and statute—citizens, at least arguably, have little choice but to revolt.  An absolute ban on secrecy and a complete affirmation of transparency are the only operational decisions that make any sense in the alternative.

In such a case, Victor Jara might have lived as long as his murderers: Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, for instance.  Otherwise, simple demands of self-defense turn the artist’s and the humanitarian’s thoughts toward dark and dire deeds indeed.


Having attained a vantage which, in most cases, allows our contextualization of reality based on the potential for as complete a compilation of knowledge as is possible, we should praise the power of enculturation and artistic expression and foster persistence in expressing such efforts at storytelling and articulation and depiction.  And here, more or less precisely opposite the situation in regard to the third conclusion bubbles up.  Instead of finding little or nothing in scholarly and authoritative sources about this point, the flood of data and hypothesis would require a lifetime of endeavor to delve in even a rudimentary way.

For example, one might consider the following search.  Storytelling OR narrative OR “literary invention” importance OR critical OR utility, gathers a hundred and thirty-six million citations, more or less.

If we are to make sense of the horrors that seem ubiquitous in recent and historical memory, then stories about these matters arguably could serve humanity better than another tale about superheroes or another film about returning from heaven to console one’s lonely spouse.  Victor Jara’s and Pablo Neruda’s continued place of honor in Chilean society speaks well of a nation with plenty of problems still and all kinds of potential for backsliding.

How about the good old U.S.A.?  Different views are undoubtedly possible in responding to such an inquiry.  Whatever the upshot of such conversations ended up being, however, that the U.S. needs a powerfully grassroots-driven storytelling revival—one that looks fearlessly at such subjects as the ‘original 9/11’—ought to be obvious.


Finally, in this fashion of generally examining what seems reasonable to conclude, we might pronounce as critical the belief that atonement and accountability, so long as the actors in a struggle still live, can never arrive too late in a process.  This is another conclusion that one might spend centuries perfecting.

However, the intuitive moral and ethical voice that drives this author’s thinking makes this assertion feel like a no-brainer.  Does a world of victimization and revenge serve us well?  If not, then coming up with processes that forestall this cycle of decimation and mass-collective suicide would seem to make sense.

Anyhow, simply searching for data about these things is instructive.  Googling “mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” for example elicits slightly more than 400,000 hits.   Merely adding one word to this string, the name of a country—“mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” chile—increases the useable results to almost 2,700,000.

Can one infer a clear interest in such processing of human pain from this?  Not only is such a deduction ineluctable, but one might also add that the more specific the desire to make amends, the more likely we are to find a tremendous sense of need, a longing to achieve closure, to find a sense of justice, to reach a place where acknowledgment, if not compensation, is available in some shape, form, or fashion.

In addition to these specific effects of a broader and deeper understanding of Victor Jara and Chile, this essay definitely follows a rubric in which three components lie at the core of this sort of work.  Every article that has a Spindoctor cast will contain each of these elements.

First is a deep reporting of what history has to tell us.  The past so permeates the present that delving into the records and evidences that yesterday left will always make sense.  Therefore, though many readers might object that they ‘just want the facts’ of the here and now—that, in essence, they ‘just want to know the way to Portland’—essays like this one proffer all manner of unexpected and often unexplicated pieces of the long ago, with some thoughts about how their impact continues this very second, and, assuming that people survive, on into the distant future as well.

The second is an attempt always to show the political economic—legal, military, technological, and other related inputs—realm in which any social eventuality unfolds.  Thus, the C.I.A. background forms a part of this narrative.  The industrial and trade elements of whatever one labels the United States—liberator or empire—also make appearances.  The legal aspects of Chile’s and U.S. courts come to the fore at different points as well.  One might easily continue.

Third comes a weaving together of the social relations that underlie occurrences—matters of class and caste and color and gender and plenty in addition besides.  Certainly, Victor Jara’s sharecropper-parents in juxtaposition to his comrade Salvador’s upper-crust upbringing present definite instances of this sort of examination.  The Weavers of Revolution characters in relation to their bosses and the military cadres who oversaw them after 1973 show another kind of this type of effort.  And one could mention many other instances.

Coming to these conclusions and activating the general approach that this investigation suggests, obviously enough, will not likely yield instant popularity or overnight success.  This kind of work goes against the grain in more ways than a writer would want to list.  Nevertheless, adhering to such systematic rules, and in doing so being able to assert some fairly fundamental pointers to complete this work, does lead to the potential to learn how and why things have evolved as they have.  This is true whether one examines the Ukraine, Chile, or any other place or aspect of social life and human political and economic development.

Such conclusions as result in all these matters can be risky in all sorts of ways.  Whether one focuses on bringing to light what those in charge would just as soon leave in the dark or invests some hopeful alternative with meaning that elites have little or no interest in bringing to fruition, one takes chances that could be dire in doing this work.  Still, inasmuch as inquiring minds do want to know, one may legitimately wonder, “what exactly would be a viable different option?”


In a similar vein, everthing in Victor Jara’s statements and actions showed that he understood quite fully what he was risking.  But the alternative so sickened him that he kept confronting the potential that he would end up ‘in the belly of the beast,’ so to say.

In 1969, he wrote, “US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe.  With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear.  Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people.  The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused.  I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.’”

No magic formula prohibits a resurgence of the homicidal fury in pursuit of power and lucre that characterized the crimes against humanity that took place as Salvador Allende tried to run a democratic government.  This potential persistence of monstrous depredation remains true despite the lethal effects this would clearly be likely to have on hemispheric comity or even on human survival.  In essence, we can collectively stumble toward mass collective suicide, or we can countenance democratic insistence that people share with each other.

The present situation in Cuba remains the most obvious example of this point.  The wealthiest and most powerful empire in history has seen fit for fifty-four years to threaten and bully an island nation that, when it revolted against and displaced venal and vicious U.S. puppets, was one of the poorest places on Earth, with the lowest life expectancy in the hemisphere.

The plots to assassinate Fidel Castro are beyond dispute.  Government documents admit as much in various forums.  Had he dealt with these attacks in the same liberal manner as typified Salvador Allende’s dealings, he very probably would have ended up as the man whom he admired in Chile did: shot in the back, executed for defending democratic transformation.

Meanwhile, Cuba has advanced to be one of the more resilient economies in the region, and its citizens live nearly as long as—and arguably much more fully than—do U.S. residents.  Yet, the ‘blockade’ against Communism remains in effect.

Fidel Castro, imprisoned in 1953 for seeking to overthrow the plutocratic puppet and killer, Fulgencio Batista, delivered a renowned presentation to the court when he faced twenty-six years behind bars—the title was “History Will Absolve Me.”  Therein, he laid out an argument that was analogous to the economic program of Salvador Allende. “The nation’s future… cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices.  The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a few golden calves (which) cannot perform miracles of any kind.  The problems of the Republic can be solved only if we (reject) ‘(s)tatesmen’ like Carlos Saladrigas, whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital,’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’… . Those ministers can chat away in a Fifth Avenue mansion until not even the dust of the bones of those whose problems require immediate solution remains. …A revolutionary government backed by the people and with the respect of the nation, after cleansing the different institutions of all venal and corrupt officials, would proceed immediately to the country’s industrialization, mobilizing all inactive capital, currently estimated at about 1.5 billion pesos, through the National Bank and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, and submitting this mammoth task to experts and men of absolute competence totally removed from all political machines for study, direction, planning, and realization.”

This process of expropriation and transformation actually happened in Cuba.  A nation of fewer than twenty million people, mobilized and overwhelmingly supportive of defending a revolutionary process, withstood the massed power and fanatical hatred of the world’s premier imperial machine.  The lesson that capital learned was stark: under no conditions would they tolerate “another Cuba.”

In fact, much of the violence against human development in the hemisphere—whether under the guise of ‘neighborliness’ or ‘allying for progress’—stems directly from the loathing and fear that capitalist elites still feel toward Cuban socialism.  If recent events in VenezuelaArgentinaHonduras, and Mexico—to name just a few obvious cases—provide any indication, truly barbarous upheaval persists as a preferred means for advancing U.S. corporate and imperial agendas.

Moreover, as the reader will have noticed already, a significant—arguably central—aspect of the U.S. decision to foment mayhem and death in Chile, flowed directly from Allende’s and his collaborators’ seeking deeper ties with Cuba.  Victor Jara revered both Che and Fidel.  Cuban poetry and performance followed Jara’s template, often enough, of “revolutionary music.”  One purpose—and some would argue the primary objective—of the brutal example that Pinochet’s thugs made of Salvador and Victor and thousands of others was to destroy without mercy any hope of emulation of what Cuba had won.

Nevertheless, both in Chile and throughout the region, cultural dynamism reflects the human capacity for resistance and solidarity. Cuba just recently held a conference to increase the reach of local television networks and production, attended by over sixty nations.   Rock, rap, and other ‘folk’ music acts from Mexico to Chile and Argentina have railed against imperial preponderance and powerfully asserted human rights and elimination of neo-colonial patterns of dominance.  Film festivals that advance social democratic messaging are occurring more than occasionally in the various localities of Latin America. Literary awards proudly assert the ‘magic’ of Latino fiction and poetry, even as such Chilean authors as Isabel Allende, the niece of the butchered President, articulate a vision much more in tune with social justice than with the dictates of profiteering that ITT and PepsiCo and their financial and corporate cohorts promulgate now as much as they did in 1973.

An interlocutor like Ms. Allende, however, for all her hope in regard to a socially decent human prospect, does not shrink from describing the hideous horror that imperial imprimatur has yielded.  “The Cuban Revolution was enough; no other socialist project would be tolerated, even if it was the result of a democratic election.  On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet.  Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror.  This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right.  In every instance the military acted as mercenaries (for) the privileged groups in power.  Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration campscensorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices.  Thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”

Her uncle, from beyond the grave, also encourages thoughtful participants in social affairs to learn, to speak up, and to act on their own behalf.  He consciously presented his plans for Chilean socialism, which the Chilean people chose, and which the United States confronted with monstrous murder.

Now the question is, “Who is going to use whom?” …(T)he answer (obviously) is the proletariat.  If it wasn’t so I wouldn’t be here.  I am working for Socialism and through Socialism.   As for the bourgeois state, at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it.… Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism.  We already had success in creating a democratic, national government that is revolutionary and popular.  That is how socialism begins, not with decrees.

Bruce Springsteen, for the fortieth anniversary of the original, Chilean, 9/11 catastrophe—in which the attacking ‘terrorists’ are easy to identify and find, though they often remain at large, abroad, in the United States and elsewhere—went to Santiago to honor his fallen friend, Victor Jara.  Before a rapt audience that interrupted his Spanish commemoration with frequent applause, he sang Jara’s anthem, “Manifesto.”

Springsteen, struggling to maintain his composure and to remember the Spanish which he had memorized, spoke simply.  “’In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts.  We met many families of desaparecidos, who had pictures of their loved ones.  It was a moment that stays with me forever.  A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration.  It’s a gift to be here that I receive with humility.’”

Jara’s words, however, provide the most fitting exit from our assessment of this magnificent human being, who held up the hands from which his killers had just severed his fingers and raised his voice in song.  Of course, he knew what that would yield, but he did not falter.

On September 7th, 1973, an interviewer asked him what ‘love’ meant.  His response is iconic: “Love of my home, my wife and my children./  Love for the earth that helps me live./  Love for education and of work./  Love of others who work for the common good./  Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity./  Love of peace in order to enjoy one’s life./  Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of others’ freedom, but rather the freedom of all./  Love of freedom to live and exist, for the existence of my children, in my home, in my town, my city, among neighboring people./  Love for freedom in the environment in which we are required to forge our destiny./  Love of freedom without yokes: nor ours nor foreign.”

Democracy’s Death Without Open Communication

F.C.C. Comments Submitted by Jim Hickey in Regard to Docket Number 14-28—Protecting & Promoting the Open Internet

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means

of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their

own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

So wrote James Madison as he fought for the United States Constitution.

Without doubt, our fourth President’s thinking applies to today’s issue—what should be the nature of the Internet going forward from this moment? The bottom line is simple to state: if we are to survive as a democracy, then more citizen control of media must become the norm, precisely the opposite of what the Federal Communications Commission proposes, with its ‘Fast-Lane’ and ‘Paid Prioritization’ processes more or less sacrosanct.

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe rationale for rejecting the F.C.C. approach consist of three elements. The first is historical. The second relates to achieving social and economic justice. The third concerns the political possibilities for democracy versus the increasing likelihood of plutocracy. These represent just a few among many reasons why people should reject the present paradigm and its extension in adopting Internet protocols that guarantee that wealthy corporations own, and dictate access to, what must become more, not less, of a stronghold of people’s control and empowerment, what James Madison termed a sine qua non of popular governance.

Summarizing the historical basis for rejecting ‘Fast Lanes’ and their ilk might include dozens of facts, but the following are definitely critical.

• First, folks should learn about the Radio Act of 1927 and the way that it destroyed community radio in favor of advertiser outlets, meaning that union radio, community radio, people’s radio fell by the wayside, laying the basis for the better part of a century of what journalist Edward Murrow termed “a vast wasteland” in commercial radio and television.

• Second, the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission, which both lay the basis for a ‘revolving door’ between government and media oligopoly and established the bureaucratic underpinnings of what continues to characterize the FCC, is noteworthy.

• Third, the delay in television’s coming to the fore shows how established media empires—in this case in radio—manipulate the media landscape in their favor, technological possibility and social need be damned.

• Fourth, the manner in which the cable television industry evolved, like radio and television, from publicly supported efforts to become completely a realm of finance capital and oligopoly following the Cable Policy Communications Act of 1984 clearly relates to what we are now facing.

• Fifth, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the dispersal to media monopolies of the architecture and governance of the Internet itself serves in many ways as the proximate cause of what we are confronting in the push to institute a ‘pay-to-play’ philosophy in relation to the web.

One might go on, at great length. However, even this briefing ought to give pause to anyone considering support for an end to ‘Net Neutrality.’

Examining the socioeconomic factors that call for opposing all of the coddling of the corporate elite tantamount in ‘Paid Prioritization’ ought to contain such evidence as

• First, folks might note the profound ignorance that characterizes students and young people in the United States, where the ability to articulate a reasonable understanding of history, culture, and politics is worse than in any other ‘industrialized’ nation.

• Second, observers have no choice but to see the causative relations between poverty, powerlessness, and such social ills as unemployment and a lack of access to media, which would inevitably grow worse in a commercialized, bottom-line orientation to everything on the Internet.

• Third, as literally thousands of other commentators have noted, the impetus to innovate and create would suffer enormously in an environment that made access and development largely dependent on the ability to lay out cash for the right to prioritize efforts.

• Fourth, encouraging monopolistic predominance will ultimately destroy the most substantial engine—some would say the only bright spot outside of prisons and the military—for economic progress that has been apparent over the past twenty-five years or more.

• Fifth, not only will increasing inequality unavoidably attach to the skewed rights and access of ‘paid prioritization’ and the like, but also such patterns will guarantee the enlarging of the pool of the poor and benighted.

Once again, such analysis could easily continue. Once more as well, even this short contextualization provides plenty of basis for insisting that ‘Net Neutrality’ expand instead of end.

Considering just a portion of the political reasoning in favor of greater democratic web-governance rather than less, an observer might list various component points.

• First, citizens ought to take account of the fashion in which monopoly and privatization inherently censor grassroots, unfunded, or underfunded efforts to reach out to others, a censorship-in-fact that guarantees that political conversation is outside the capacity of most individuals and many community networks.

• Second, a consequence of ‘Fast Lanes’ and such will be that, even more so than is already the case, only ‘establishment’ narratives and reportage will reach the surface of the web that almost all its users skim for data and news.

• Third, not only will the resources of information and knowledge be vastly more difficult to obtain, but also the capacity to generate funds for local initiatives and collective efforts to improve community welfare will fall catastrophically.

• Fourth, the ability of ‘whistleblowers’ and ‘watchdogs’ to catch and publicize government and corporate corruption and malfeasance will practically disappear.

• Fifth, in the vein of Madison’s reasoning, those who want to participate cannot help but notice that a slower, less robust, more attenuated access to data and analysis and networking will crush citizen and local initiative to heal and expand democratic governance and the hope of equity that, despite all evidence to the contrary, remain dear to the hearts of many Americans.

As before, citizen analysts could continue, but these simple notions not only give plenty of ammunition for eliminating every attack on Net Neutrality but also offer compelling ideas in favor of making such a policy both stronger and more certain.

Unfortunately for those who might find this reasoning compelling, the political ‘facts on the ground’ remain daunting. Oligopolistic financial and industrial interests dominate both the leadership and the grounds for discussion at the FCC and throughout the halls of government. What really is at stake here is whether citizens of the United States, in the words of James Madison, “intend to be their own governors.”

If they truly want and plan to have such a democratic future, then they will have to start doing a lot more than commenting in forums where the deck is already heavily stacked against them. They are going to have to take steps to return the public’s dominion to what has always begun as, and in all but the theory of monopolist enterprise, must forever stay part of the public domain—whether comprised of print media outlets, broadcasting networks, cable franchises, or Internet governance regulations.

Ways to submit:

1. This link provides instructions, etc

2. This is the direct link to the comments submitting area

If Copying Is Wrong, What’s a Copyright?

An Initial Brief

None other than William Blackstone, storied British jurist and intellectual progenitor of much of the contemporary nexus of ownership and production, had a very astute insight.

“There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.”

book sq5In few places in the contemporary arena is ‘Sir William’s’ notion so resonant as in matters of ‘intellectual property’ and copyright.  Unfortunately, this ‘exercise of despotic dominion’ has for some time been having the opposite effect as the proponents of authorial ownership propound—creators are making less, or less than nothing; information monopolies in such areas as textbooks and science preclude public access and the ‘flowering of the arts’ that copyright exists to induce; only very well-heeled ‘owners’ end up availing themselves of either registration or remedies.  These anomalous, or perfectly routine, results effect serious economic, social, and political detriments, which ought to cause a union of writers to discuss matters of so-called intellectual property with open minds and not assume that established practices and protocols are beneficial to working writers.

book sq1The economic nightmare associated with contemporary copyright is also a windfall of course.  I.P. has for some time been the prime source of exports for the oligopolistic media-and-technology establishments.  However, for law students and other such strivers; for high school pupils in less-than-prosperous neighborhoods; for writers and creators who don’t have sixty-five bucks—now only $35 through the new eco portal–to invest every time they write something and thus will never be able to ‘remedy’ infringement; for communities here and elsewhere who desperately need access to information that they can only obtain in a legally ‘monopolized market’ of often exorbitant prices; and for many others, both scribes and citizens, the operation of the current copyright regime is, at best, suboptimal and at worst a disaster. Of course, these policies do encourage the rich to get even richer, but why should a labor union back rules that help big business and harm a substantial proportion, perhaps the vast majority, of everyday wordsmiths?  Inquiring minds might want to consider such queries, even as I and every other union member absolutely commit to fight like fiends for writer-members’ legitimate copyright claims.  The point is, that commitment is not nearly enough.

book sq5The social impact of today’s copyright morass represents a complex and multifaceted mess that largely elicits negative consequences.  One need only consider that a substantial majority of the planet’s teenaged-and-older inhabitants, were a strict enforcement regime in place, would at least technically and potentially be felons under today’s copyright rubric.  Moreover, rather than fostering creative congruence and generosity, copyright now operates to cause everyone to hide ingenuity away, to treat the potential for cooperation and sharing with disdain or suspicion.  In a networked world that absolutely requires joint, multidisciplinary, cross-border, intergenerational, multicultural ventures to solve a host of hideous problems, fostering a psychology of “it’s-mine-and-you-can’t-have-it” is likely suicidal.

The political outcome of the legal thicket in place today is equally insidious.  An invasive police apparatus has to be legitimate if ‘sacred property-rights’ are at stake.  The further polarization between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ means that electoral democracy becomes a charade and participatory democracy becomes either a crime or an impossibility.  At the very least, the plutocrats’ lobbyists write the legal caveats that further ratchet up the rapine of the present process; ordinary citizens become cynical, ripe for the latest divide-and-conquer scheme or, perish the thought, ready to find some ‘strong man’ who will always end up being a straw-man and a puppet for the forces that originated and gained from the system as it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat should be the National Writers Union stance in such a pass?  One answer would be to foster a lot more dialog, call for the equivalent of a ‘Writers Constitutional Convention on Copyright,’ and generally to dig deep into the archives of government and the annals of history to facilitate a nuanced and rich comprehension of these matters.  Amelia Andersdotter, a member of Sweden’s Piratpartiet and member of the European Parliament, summed up simply when she said, “Copyleft and Copymore Instead of Copyright and Copyless.”  Her analysis is at least persuasive, deserving a lot more attention at all levels of the union than it is currently receiving.

The current legislation is adapted for, and even wants to promote, scarcity of information.  You won’t find users of information services or indeed any citizens at all who have a relationship with information corresponding to a scarcity model.  When thinking carefully about it, you will probably find that having such users and citizens isn’t even desirable. So our information management laws need to change.  Essentially, legislators and lobbyists all over the world will have to abandon the idea that restricting access to individual pieces of, or copies of pieces of, information is good.  It’s not.  We need laws that encourage abundance of each piece of information, and make use of the wealth derived from the fast spread of those pieces.


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A Bibliographic Promenade

I am a public intellectual.  One thing I might do at this point would entail fleshing out and deepening the simple, and inevitably oversimplified, thesis in the first five paragraphs.  However, I’m going to follow another approach.

What follows in a sense does imply argumentation.  But it will show up in the form of a tiny slice—a small fraction of a small fraction—of the data and analysis that others have been providing.  It will be akin to a literature review or a bibliographic essay, two types of writing that I’ve done in one way or another for lo these forty-odd years.

ResearchFolks may well trust that I am all too capable of seeking to be exhaustive in such efforts as this.  In these posts, on the other hand, I will point out again and again how initial and partial and exploratory are the links and information that I proffer.  One critical piece of taking action is to make a start from which more powerful subsequent work can flow.

What will consciously not be here, at least for the most part, are mainstream views, corporate propaganda passing itself off as ‘expertise,’ and other defenses of or attempts to extend further the present-day standard operating procedure.  Working people, unions, and grassroots communicators need such repetition of the fatuous ‘received wisdom’ about as much as we need tiny little holes drilled into our skulls.

What would I like readers to do?  Ideally, they’d find the reasoning, data, and linkages that show up here useful.  More importantly, they’d jump in and proffer correction, disagreement, amplification, or any “special knowledge” that they have about this topic area.  Anyone who e-mails me useful, pertinent links and ideas will generally see their input appear in edits of these main threads.  Most importantly, though, visitors here would also willingly help to facilitate and participate in ongoing dialog that leads to powerful grassroots action about these matters.

solidarity handInstead of complaining and waiting vainly for others to rescue the world from extremely troubled times, we have to take part in learning and struggle among ourselves to figure out as clearly as possible what has happened to cause the present pass.  Then, should survival and a decent existence and the prospect of grandchildren-or-something-similar appeal to us, we have no choice but to put what we’ve learned into action, somehow or other insisting that we, the people, are in fact the ones who are in charge.


educationNeither the future nor the present can cause the past.  A first step in orienting ourselves, therefore, has to be a general awareness of the order in which things have taken place.  Here are some gateways to timelines on the web, followed by very rudimentary benchmarks for readers to note in any circumstance that involves a copyright discussion.


book sq6Plenty of legal analysis is in the marketplace that nods in the direction of history.  Recently, however, an upsurge of critical examination has happened.  A teeny bit of this shows up here.

  • from — a very scholarly but also very thought-provoking and outside-the-box monograph, freely downloadable, from Open Book Publishers
  • from — a law review article that considers disconnects in current practice from a historical and constitutionalist perspective
  • from — the historical chapter from R.V. Bettig’s classic on the political economy of copyright
  • from — a 1904 book from the American Publisher’s Copyright League of legal cases
  • from — a classic in the young field of copyright history
  • from — chapter fifteen of Privilege & Property, by William St. Claire and important enough to list in its own right
  • from — a Princeton professor’s factual and richly detailed examination of media, politics, and social relations, a volume essential to include in any such discussion as this


no trespassing signAll too often, those to whom the present occurs like a load of bricks falling from the sky fail to consider issues such as this.  Here’s some help, in that regard.  At some point, of course, we should all be talking about what we mean by, and what we know about, the parameters of political economy, without which the discipline of economics is arguably fatuous fantasy.

  • from — one link to Ronald Bettig’s central study, Critical Perspectives on the History & Philosophy of Copyright
  • from — Christopher May’s brief overview, bracing and radical
  • from — another brief by William St. Claire, which provided key contextualization of many issues of knowledge, power, and law
  • from — an exploration of “Copyright’s Hidden Assumption,” that a lengthy inheritable property interest makes sense instead of being an absurdity, except for its profitability
  • from — a “withdrawn” GOP White Paper attacking the party’s corporate masters
  • from — a Media, Culture, & Society article with this many interesting points to make.


typewriter3Here, where the terrain is especially complicated and difficult to tease out without immersing ourselves, just a couple of links should suffice.  This matter—concerning all manner of culture, class, color, and conflict pointers, would be well worth a colloquium and more, however.


Even the most hallowed experts are often enough decrying the SOP and bemoaning ‘unintended consequences’ that quite logically are part of the purpose of the system.  In any event, a few such old hands’ critiques emerge below.


Plenty of help is available to our union to assist in fomenting positive change, to foster creative and empowering alliances, to develop strategic programming and action.  But we will probably never reach most of these potential ‘fellow travelers’ unless we’re willing to climb out of the copyright hole that we’re presently occupying.

  • — an incisive critique of present practice, radical and Marxist to boot
  • — movement overview and analysis of its likely benefits to the likes of union writers
  • from — technical writers’ and programmers’ solidarity with copyleft perspectives
  • from — a neutral, thorough overview of the processes in these arenas


A variety of ideological methods contain useful ways of thinking as we writers struggle to make sense of things and find ways to reformulate and transform this morass of pain that is the way things happen now

  • from — an overview and analysis of Critical Legal Studies as a ‘game-changer’ in helping to create democratic information and distribution systems and networks
  • from — a forum on politicization, information law, and CLS
  • from — subtitled “Copyright, Consecration, & Control,” this article seeks to deconstruct intellectual property regimes in a reconstitutive way
  • from — a Marxist assessment of often negative impacts on the possibilities for education under the current rubric
  • from — a philosophical and legal Marxist assessment of the ubiquity of self-dealing among standard legal-economics assessments
  • from — a plethora of possibly useful and indubitably thought-provoking assessments of various aspects of culture and cultural production


Useful materials are present that grapple with our problems in innovative and unanticipated ways.  We just have to do some downloading, find ways to lay our hands on e-readers that make engagement palatable, and start reading

    • from — a precis of a McLuhan work that is widely accessible elsewhere
    • from — an excerpt from Lewis Mumford’s Technics & Civilization, which readers can also find in its entirety in various spots
    • from — a recent Richard McChesney analysis; his Rich Media, Poor Democracy remains a must-read
    • from — a potent explication of media and political hegemony, in which the author makes this chilling point:

“Together, these points suggest a scenario in which elites are simultaneously the main sources, main targets and some of the most influenced recipients of news. If this is so, it could be concluded that a major function of the news media is not merely to reflect political differences but to act as a communication channel for the regular conflicts, negotiations and decision-making that take place between different elite groups. This is also to the exclusion of the mass of consumer-citizens. Decisions, which involve such things as the development of institutional policies, corporate strategies, legislation, budgets, investment decisions, regulatory regimes and power structures, take place in communication networks in which the mass of consumer-citizens can be no more than ill-informed spectators.”

  • from — one of Doug Kellner’s many piercing investigations of media and society, in which the reader sees clearly how basic assumptions are so often wrong and pathways to liberation are opposite from the standard prescription


Wall-StreetBy there nature, established institutions—major foundations, universities, international or national organizations—cannot help but make deep bows to the ‘gatekeepers’ whom we want, openly and forthrightly, to displace from their places opening and closing ingress and egress to the common citizens whom they view as ignorant fools.  Nevertheless, a wealth of information—some of it useful, a small bit of it truly profound—emanates from such locations.

  • from — a place to start were one to hope to defend supposed free-markets, precisely because of the incisive and open critiques that so often show up here
  • from — Christopher May’s monograph on the current international regime, with plenty of critique built in, available for free from WIPO as an e-book
  • from — one of the plus-or-minus ten WIPO Journals that is freely available, all full of data and analysis from many points of view


wnacting worker repression guy

The best that a person can hope for, in some senses anyway, is that he or she has interesting problems to solve.  A final note to ponder is how we all too often merely shrug and give in to whatever is prevailing in the current regime.  Johan Soderberg makes this point well, in a way that might provide both closure and encouragement to continue digging and fighting.

“Mainstream writings and official commissions treat intellectual property as exclusively a financial and legal technicality; they operate within the consensus that intellectual property is an indisputable entity.  Those writers that do recognize intellectual property as a contested terrain also write to campaign against it.  Approaches in the latter camp originate either from the experiences of hackers or from academic Marxist analysis, and the two branches are equally detached from each other.”

Before we move forward, in other words, we’ve got to talk about these things more thoroughly.

Media, Mergers, Capitalism, and Popular Democracy:

Or, Why AOL Is, Apparently, Perfect for Huff-Po and, Decidedly, Horrible for Majority Rule

UNIT TWO: What in the World Is AOL Anyway?

Chapter One–The Scientific, Technical, and Social Roots of Online America

Herein, readers will continue the mediated journey through modern media that began with a historical and contextual background a couple of weeks ago. From the general overview that initiated the series, folks will today start examining the ‘Origins of the Internet’ from the carnage of WWII and its evolution, from the dawn of the Cold War to the 1980’s.


Today’s text introduces Unit Two of this five Unit series. This initial chapter of Unit Two leads on to three sibling sections that will, in as thorough and incisive a fashion as this humble correspondent can manage in a relatively short space, explicate what constitutes the corporate entity that has ‘branded’ itself AOL and considers itself the epitome of America in its online guise.
Where we left off, big-business media was mushrooming up from the cow paddies of routine politics. How exactly did America Online, as of now not yet done with its third decade, emanate from the historical and political economic background of modern times? The purpose of this quite lengthy section is to manage a tale-of-the-tape that offers an intelligible, and relatively complete, response to this inquiry.
Like so much of what citizens now consider this virtual age, the roots of AOL lie in the way that the conflagrations of the 1940’s responded to the deflationary death spiral of the 1930’s. In 1945, at the dawn of a new epoch that shined with a nuclear glow, as the Cold War heated up, and nearly everyone still breathing wondered where to bury a hundred million or so corpses and how to avoid the next tally from being higher still, the captains of capital looked forward to an unstoppable ‘thousand-year-reich’ of commodities and markets that only lasted a “glorious thirty” years, with everything antithetical hidden behind ‘iron curtains’ of one sort or another.
These leading lights of the ruling class foresaw an age of ubiquitous convergence. Communication and computation and observation would yield, in every sector of the economy, times when markets would work as their proponents had always promised, even as they continued to seek the institutional succor of government instead. This new age would not eschew governance so much as it would make the public sphere subservient to corporate, which is to say commercial and imperial, mastery.




The observer might not easily see the connection between AOL and a project named the ‘Manhattan Engineering District,’ but Vannevar Bush joins the two like a rivet connects discrete plates on an aircraft carrier. Not only did this MIT wizard unite the industrial and financial powers-that-be behind publicly-funded science, but he also insisted on the durability of this formula after the war. In the event, he also succeeded in promulgating institutionalized funding and management models that followed corporate guidelines and priorities.

In essence, Bush is the technical and intellectual father of the Military Industrial Complex. His Science: the Endless Frontier links markets and profits and prosperity and power-politics and empire and innovation as a set of relationships that nations sunder at their peril.
What is more, he both, on the one hand, very precisely conceived of the world wide web and many of its technical attributes as an aspect of this industrial militarization of politics and, on the other hand, proffered a guidebook–almost a recipe–for their initiation and growth. In “As We May Think,” also written just after WWII ended, Bush envisions personal computing, Wikipedia, hands-free 24/7 virtual connectivity, and a swirling constant interchange that many feel is still a possibility if the World Wide Web survives a corporate takeover.

Moreover, this meme still resonates powerfully. The term, ‘meme,’ is itself something like Bush’s name for his concept.

“Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ‘memex’ will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” No wonder entire symposia keep flowering that orbit around Bush’s now long-ago article in Atlantic Magazine.
Equally applicable as connective tissue between such trendy(or declasse, as the case may be) eventualities as today’s AOL and the inception of the war machine is the fashion in which Bush’s ideas have become almost biblical in their expression of the current canon. The American empire, American well-being, the very essence of the American way, in such thinking, are inseparable from the uninterrupted perpetuation of an ever expanding plethora of the hot new way, an endless frontier of endless frontiers.
Needless to say, whether one appreciates the artfulness with which its principals have undertaken the task, America Online–with former Secretary of Defense and general corporate booster Alexander Haig leading the charge to invest–has depicted itself as the quick-and-easy path to such innovativeness. When that way of conceiving things began to seem positively fuddy-duddy, AOL, driven by the relentless necessity of monetizing something, cast around for ways of reinventing itself as ‘trendier-than-thou.’
That such an evolution, in a society under the sway of finance and industrial monopoly, inherently revolves around opportunistic cash-outs and market wedges, not to mention a tendency to sweep up the competition and the newest confabulation simultaneously, should come as no surprise. Indeed, all manner of analysis recognizes such ineluctable expressions of capital’s conceptualization of virtuality.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington very recently confirmed this contemporary relevance of dear Uncle Vannevar. In a brief essay entitled, “An Endless Frontier Postponed,” the author warns that a lack of consciousness about the union of academia, capital, and government makes possible an ideological commitment to sundering this troika, which in this SOP POV threatens any hope of continuing political-economic predominance by the United States.
And indeed, this is now one popular trope. A much less common thread is that the collective financing and support for the internet means that it should actually operate according to common goals, and under democratic guidance. This is what Michael Zweig means when he suggests that “being charitable to the poor” means far less that “arranging that they have power, one obvious element of which is media potency. Whatever the unfolding of this dialectic, that the taxes of working people funded the creation and evolution of the World-Wide-Web is incontrovertible fact.


Multiple intersecting timelines play key parts in the manifestation of virtual life that so characterizes the present pass that many people can no longer conceive an ‘unwired’ existence. Computers, military and academic laboratories, telecommunications, printing and publishing all have an arc of expansion that, as one, has yielded the montage of interfaces and devices and distracted human beings who meander over the earth today, both actually and electronically, both as flesh-and-blood and as avatars.
The recognition of this interrelated interdependence is critical to any rational understanding of a phenomenon such as AOL, or its swallowing of Arianna Huffington’s self-styled bastion of progressivism. Neither could have been more than a foggy, opiated pipe-dream but for the work performed on the public dime, as it were. NASA, the nuclear-weapons-lab complexes, major research universities, and the corporate vanguard, without exception either were direct chain-of-command elements of the State, or, in any event, they would have withered and blown-away without government dollars.
Thus, MIT researchers came up with the first video game while doing missile and other military research; Bell labs invented push-button telecommunication techniques in part as a result of decades of walkie-talkie military deals; the Advanced Research Project Agency(ARPA) was a Department of Defense response to Sputnik–soon yielding the first generation WWW through ARPANet; under the purview of government contracts, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange(ASCII) grew out of Bell labs and American National Standards Institute efforts–and still underlies the basic coding on which AOL, et al. depend to this day.
Almost without exception, the nodes and methods of the web, of being an American online, as it were, only happened because tax-dollars financed them. Even in such ‘venture-capital’-worshipping materials as Piero Scaruffi’s A History of Silicon Valley, again and and again and again, over and over, “almost without exception,” the hand of the government appears as central to this amazing transformation toward virtuality that typifies life today.

Immediately prior to the assumption of an institutional form more or less recognizable as the direct predecessor of America Online, additional important developments took place on the nascent internet, as of 1972 controlled by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The first e-mail, for instance, sallied forth in 1971 as a result of one investigator’s efforts that sought to make military research communication more efficient. Though it did not modulate in chipper tones, “You’ve got mail!,” that cheery quip emanated from State-funded efforts.
Shortly thereafter, big improvements in FORTRAN, the machine language developed for military and scientific purposes, happened, followed shortly by Bell Lab’s first issuing of the much more intuitive C-programming language. Soon afterward, Xerox’s DOD-funded Palo Alto Research Center, on its way to inventing “the office of the future,” created the Ethernet, many standards of which continue in force to the present moment.
Throughout the mid 1970’s, with the formation of Apple Computer and Microsoft and more, many of AOL’s predecessors availed themselves of the possibilities for private gain from public investment, even as the general economy reeled from one stagflationary whipping post to another. In 1978, the first Bulletin Board System came into being; the BBS model was important in various early attempts to cash-in on what social support for computing and networks had created, not to mention underpinning AOL’s ultimate success.
As with the rest, these BBS outgrowths trace their roots back to public inputs. File serving, downloading, the very protocols that allow a network to engage and remain operational, are the result of socialized inputs and relationships.

“Due to its prominent role, the history of TCP is impossible to describe without going back to the early days of the protocol suite as a whole. In the early 1970s, what we know of today as the global Internet was a small research internetwork called the ARPAnet, named for the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA or ARPA). This network used a technology called the Network Control Protocol (NCP) to allow hosts to connect to each other. …Due to limitations in the NCP, development began on a new protocol that would be better suited to a growing internetwork. … called the Internet Transmission Control Program (TCP). Like its predecessor NCP, TCP was responsible for basically everything that was needed to allow applications to run on an internetwork.”

William Gibson

Thirty-odd years of conceptual, practical, and often secret trial-and-error research, uniformly either conducted by or financed through U.S. dollars, laid the foundations for our ‘virtual’ world. In the years that witnessed the emergence of a company that would soon become America Online, this “information age” was just beginning. ‘Cyberspace’ and ‘virtual reality’ were merely phrases not yet on the lips of novelist William Gibson.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were just launching their inaugural efforts. They had both availed themselves of these decades of effort ‘on the government dime,’ so to speak. William Von Meister was interested in music and video games and had a way with words and money; he needed a bigger playing field, however, if his little operations were to become behemonth.


In other words, America Online did not emerge randomly. Nor did it occur as a result of individuals, rugged or colorful or otherwise, working separately and ‘individually.’ Nor was it in any way a primary result of ‘natural’ bourgeois inventiveness.
On the contrary, the growth stemmed from fields prepared by social stewards, using common treasure. The concrete components uniformly resulted from or depended on government-financed research. Every single stop on the ultimate information highway was only possible because of collective efforts that invoked federal financing.
John Hopkins’ Stuart Leslie, in his article, “The Biggest ‘Angel’ of Them All: the Military in the Making of Silicon Valley,” makes this argument dispositively. The ‘marketplace’ is no freer than a Soviet Five Year Plan, or, at the least, it is ‘freer’ in a different way; moreover, we might imagine other ways to ‘free’ things up.
This can lead to some interesting conclusions. They are factual, no more a ‘matter of opinion’ than the determination that United States Treasury dollars are necessary to run the Department of Defense.
Here’s one such deduction. Not only would the astounding wealth ‘created’ by the ‘free-market’-touting boosters at AOL have been inconceivable without social backing of the most extensive sort, but also, the smaller but still substantial sums that now line Arianna Huffington’s purses are only available for her accountants to count because of the taxes of everyday Americans, such as the bloggers on the site who will never make a dime from the deal.

What We Need Now


Anyone who has paid much attention to the world of late realizes that dire deeds are abundant, and precipitous disasters loom. More so than at any time since the 1930’s and ’40’s, the basic viability of human existence is in question. And, as crisis engenders emergency, and catastrophe leads to carnage, what we are to do about all of this ubiquitous calamity is, to say the least, far from obvious.

Part of the problem attendant on figuring what action to take lies in characterizing the central issues before us. A plethora of topics might serve as candidates. General concerns, like jobs and energy and environment, are, minimally, apt problems to consider; specific eventualities: such as the Fukushima meltdowns, the overlapping conflicts in Southwest Asia, murderous outrage in the vein of what happened to both Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis also rank high on many people’s tallies of key difficulties to ponder. Obviously, these sorts of lists could keep going, if not ad infinitum, then into the scores or hundreds of entries.

However, this humble correspondent conceives of the heart of the matter differently. Both pragmatism–in the sense of what will make a difference–and duty–in the sense of what we owe to ourselves and each other–guide this estimate. A question, complicated as are all the interlinked items to think about, serves to introduce this core conjunction. To wit:

How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet?

Now, this humble correspondent can almost hear the likely initial response to this interrogatory. “Do what?!?”

Before proceeding to explicate and justify the query, though, let’s just state an underlying assertion clearly. This question is more important than any other item on folks’ agendas.

  • It’s more important than who wins this or any other election.
  • It’s more important than ‘Peak Oil.’
  • It’s more important than stopping any of the many wars now afflicting us.
  • It’s more important than any court decision or legal or policy matter.
  • It’s more important than ending brutality against women or any other group.
  • It’s more important than the economy.
  • It’s more important than the incarceration of tens of millions of people.
  • Whatever the issue, it’s more important.

Again, before dealing with what the above question implies, this premise of preeminence requires a brief defense.

The basic rationale is simple to state. Only an organized and empowered citizenry can have even the slightest hope of addressing successfully any of the above points, let alone trying to tackle all of them, every one of which is in fact critically important. Thus, before we worry about any seemingly most crucial group of predicaments: discrimination or bigotry; nuclear or conventional weapons proliferation; the ‘War-on-Drugs’ or the Prison-Industrial-Complex and its deleterious impacts on people; the Citizens United ruling or other forms of electoral fraud or theft or overreaching; anything–we must first address the dilemma of a disempowered, disorganized, inchoate populace.

Of course, this reasoning in turn presupposes that democracy is a valid goal in its own right, either thinking along the lines of Churchill that “everything else is so much worse” or along the lines of Jefferson that majority-rule is the necessary state of civilized human existence. However, most readers would be willing to stipulate this assumption. Even those who in their hearts despise turning over rule to the ‘unwashed masses’ presently find politic a nod in the direction of democracy.

Therefore, we can now turn to the original inquiry, the elucidation of which is the primary purpose of this essay. The conclusion to which this discussion leads is substantial in its scope and thrust. Basically, the situation comes down to this: without grassroots organization and empowerment, homo sapiens are either ‘toast’ or facing a future of concentration camps and mass slaughter. Such stakes ought to make anyone want to achieve an understanding of the ‘rules of the game,’ as it were. Here goes.


The basic meaning of the complex interrogative sentence that is at the heart of this essay is straightforward. That’s merely a matter of breaking down phrases and clauses that currently conjoin into their own more simple sentences. Shifting from the interrogative to the declarative mode brings the overall implications to light.

Here’s a take on such a ‘translation.’ ‘The world’s average working people need to unite, not remain isolated and divided. Certain sorts of knowledge–about political economy, history, and social relations particularly–is currently missing, and yet essential to this consciousness that supports unity. Similarly, certain capacities–often technical, scientific, or logistical in nature–are also absent but critical. An organizational combination of this consciousness and ability must occur, permitting networks of wage-earners to form. Insodoing, these networks need to contend for the power to transform the world and take control of the political and economic spheres. This transformation must happen for the benefit of workers: “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The numerical preponderance of modern proletarians ought to make this whole process plausible.’

And voila, the importance of the inquiry should be clear. The rationale for propounding such meanings is less simple. However, equally clear goals and objectives, part of a ‘strategy for human survival,’ do underpin the thinking contained in the question.


The original inquiry starts out by stressing one sector, albeit far and away the largest, portion of humanity. Often enough, politicos and marketers hypocritically underscore their schemes in like fashion; and just as frequently, romantic and idealistic folks allude to ‘salt-of-the-earth’ needs and involvement.

Here, however, the basis for this emphasis is purely pragmatic. Since money and its numerous mandates cannot continue in charge if the bullet-point list above moves along a ‘progressive’ or socially democratic route, the present ruling class will never voluntarily incline itself in such a direction.

Similarly, the powers-that-be cannot maintain their sway if democracy prevails in action. The point fits in with a popular idiom of ‘protest’ for the past half century of so. “The people, united, will never be defeated,” or “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.” Just as these notions resonate with vitality, so too the obverse ought to make sense. “Divided, the people must fail,” or “dividido, el pueblo fallará.”


Action seems so essential that taking the time to learn may appear to embrace a ‘paralysis of analysis.’ However, without key knowledge sets and skills, all action will, as if by some kind of black magic, end up with things just as they were before we acted.

In relation especially to history, political economy, and social relations, this situation of ignorance is so patently ludicrous as to be truly hilarious, as if we were to get a call in the middle of night from a friend: “How do I get to Portland?” comes crackling over the airwaves.

Just awakened, we puzzle at this. Perhaps we clear our throats and scratch our heads. Perhaps we check to see where the call is coming from; and then we ask the obvious. “Well where are you?”

“I don’t know,” comes the jovially ignorant retort, “but I’d like you to give me good directions anyway.” Golly, but if we don’t know where we are, how in hell are we going to get where we want to go? And in life, ‘knowing where one is’ means knowing the past that has produced the present. It means knowing about the fraud of ‘free markets’ and the lie of ‘laissez faire.’ It means understanding the class nature of society. This consciousness, or ‘knowledge and capacity,’ thus lie close to the core of finding ways to accomplish social, political or economic shifts.


Modern human culture is awash in ‘groups’ of different sorts. So why we must concern ourselves with yet another manifestation of such collective reasoning and activity?

Two points are apt here. The first concerns the vaunted ‘individualism‘ that is perhaps the most forceful trope of modern American indoctrination. Simply put, none of us are ‘individuals’ in the self-made, self-sufficient sense that such propaganda propagates. Starting with what Ma and Pa do to get us launched, and continuing through caregivers and collaborators from cradle to grave, each of us is a cooperative enterprise. This humble correspondent will soon write more about this, so for now, this much will just have to do.

The second feature to ponder at this juncture is how decisive the overall orientation is, to a conscious grassroots empowerment undertaking. Given that such an interpretation has any persuasive resonance whatsoever, then joining forces, absolutely impossible without some systematic cohesiveness, has to appear not only sensible but also imperative.


Almost the entire planet depends on representation of some sort. Why this has become less and less sufficient has at least a pair of aspects, one resulting from a push, the other from a pull.

The root of what pushes us toward direct involvement is both that our representatives have so consistently failed us and that mechanisms of accountability are at best cumbersome. This humble correspondent will write next about the origins and purposes of the ‘American-as-apple-pie’ two party system to develop this contention more fully.

What pulls us, on the other hand, is that the techniques and technologies that permit participation have reached such a high point of development. The World Wide Web and the pervasive ‘self-improvement’ industry are just two clear examples of this material basis for people to take charge and act in their own behalf.


“Change we can believe in” hasn’t worked out too well so far. The notion of change itself is slippery, and this humble correspondent would join those who doubt the potential that any fundamental ‘change’ in anything can ever take place.

Again, this is a deep subject, and we haven’t time or desire or necessity, as it were, of digging a well just now. However, thinking in both evolutionary and revolutionary developments–in other words in terms of both reformist and radical approaches to political practice, the noun ‘transformation’ perfects what people must engage in if they are to accomplish their own and their progeny’s salvation, so to speak.


In the hideous pass that presently prevails, nepotism and self-centeredness seem such an integral part of things that all thoughts of ‘self-interest’ or selfishness may seem suspect. A single argument is enough, for present aims, to justify this element of the original question.

That simple point is that all working people face substantially similar–very often exactly the same–sinister sets of traps and tricks and machinations of the moneyed set that any effort to support ‘themselves and their kin’ inevitably redounds to the benefits of their cousins similarly situated. Only such idiocies as nationalism, or other forms of chauvinism, stand in the way of this cognizance.


Life expectancy is higher; more children survive infancy; primary education is accessible to 80-90% of humanity; most other indexes of quality-of-life suggest that conceptions of any actual ‘good old days’ are a fraud. Yet, at the same time, one may very rationally speak of the overwhelming majority of people–certainly more than three quarters and quite possibly upwards of nine out of ten–as oppressively deprived.

The deprivation is a matter of comparative quality rather than absolute quantity. When one examines most of the same indexes of quality-of-life, which establish the quantitative superiority of present-day expectations, vis-a-vis any period in the past, one discovers qualitative differences that range from a breach to a gulf. Such differences separate from almost any working person those whose wealth and income place them in the top one percent of property owners and earners.

Health, education, stability of social relationships, political participation, satisfaction with self and society, and more are arguably as far apart, and occasionally much further apart, than the same sorts of differences during the Roman, medieval, or Renaissance periods, for instance. Furthermore, one may cogently posit that only through disempowering those who rule and empowering those who follow them can any sizeable alteration happen to make the distribution of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ more equable, equitable, and balanced.


Quite probably, this introductory set of ideas barely advances us more than a single step. However, that step, however modest it is as a solitary stride, may be an essential one. In similar vein, a bit of salt added to a stew is only one ingredient, and yet the final product may taste markedly different lacking that addition. Or, as in a case when experimenters might choose to leave out important initial components of a complex mechanism, the entire process of the mechanism’s operation could fail as a result.

No doubt, a mere possibility in theory cannot prove any specific case. On the other hand, one may readily imagine intuitive, conceptual, and empirical assessments which would throw a favorable light on the idea that enabling the presently less-than-fully enfranchised is a key prerequisite of political reform, social progress, or even human survival.

If a viewpoint like that which shows up here has even a small degree of plausibility, it must be worthwhile to investigate it, at least so long as humanity’s potential to thrive makes any difference. For certain, a century or more of ‘reform’ has yielded little fundamental shifting of core relations and dynamics among life’s actors. For certain, ‘common folk’ have had little or no chance to play leading roles as one set of failed ‘improvements’ has replaced another. For certain, huge dilemmas confront our kind on our home planet.

Under circumstances such as these, capacitating the ‘beneficiaries’ of these seemingly never-ending reformist tendencies–activating the passive so that they become participants in shaping and implementing policy–could easily be a key component in successfully negotiating transformation. An approach of this sort would be a ‘no-brainer’ but for the powerful constituencies arrayed against it. At absolute minimum, a playful attitude of exploring the possible would dictate the operationalization of grassroots facilitation and participation.

In any case, such is the proposition that this humble correspondent promulgates. Its primary expression in this narrative is in the form of a rambling question. To repeat, then: How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Hunger & Games & Spectacle as Precursors of Revolutionary Consciousness

‘The world is so full of a number of things; I’m sure that we ought all to be happy as kings.’ Leaving aside the begged query of, on average, just how happy kings are, the poet’s point certainly is well-taken. The phenomena of everyday life, not to mention the mediated daily news spectacle, must all, at the least, astound and fascinate.

A particular recent case of this plenitude of amazement is the book series by Suzanne Collins that has resulted in the release of the film, the “Hunger Games.” After taking precious funds to bring my hyper-skeptical lens to the movie, I found that I had no choice but to find my way to Malaprops, the independent literary establishment in Asheville, in order to page through Hunger Games and glance at Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Rather than being able easily to rip into the falsity and distortion that I anticipated finding in the works, a whole host of questions and ideas competed for attention.

For example, what do mass murder in Norway, ‘anti-terrorist’ soldiers’ posing with body parts in Afghanistan, a boom in brothel-tourism in Spanish villages, a cusp-of-viral ‘wild-girls’ video entitled “Huge Group of Girls”, and half a million other recent news items involving women, power, violence, and ‘spectacular’ culture all have in common? In fundamental and important, albeit diverse and widely varying, ways, they all reflect the themes of degradation, resistance, and revolutionary potentiation that characterize both the film and text versions of Hunger Games, the literary and motion-picture hit that has caught fire in the current context.

In identifiably real ways, these developments reflect the differing watchwords that different founding fathers of the United States purveyed about power and revolution. For example, resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” And, “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

While such ubiquitous tripe as Fifty Shades of Grey flexes promotional muscle to move a few hundred thousand copies of its ‘let’s celebrate our enslavement’ theme –after all, ‘it’s so romantic!’–the Hunger Games(HG) extravaganza, admittedly also with plenty of PR assistance, has reached millions of readers and viewers. In fact, as of April 30th, nearly 30,000,000 tickets had sold for the film alone. The paper and electronic versions of the three volumes of Suzanne Collin’s HG trilogy, meanwhile, also recently approached the thirty-million-distributed-copies mark.

In parsing what is transpiring with these almost earthshaking numbers, let’s start with the obvious. The world teeters on the verge of meltdown. Environmental catastrophe, mass murder in multiple guises, and varied manifestations of totalitarian imprisonment of body and soul seem to lurk at every juncture. And the truth of the matter is that socioeconomic prospects are so grim and loathsome that a fair number–perhaps a majority–of folks are ready to say ‘to hell with the environment,’ ‘praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ for whatever genocide is ready to hand, or ‘sign me up for whichever prison detail feeds me best.’

Instead of palpable analysis about or tangible solutions to such noisome conundrums, today’s leading institutions and the functionaries who head them offer nothing but a combination of pablum, lies, distortions, and fetishistic horse manure in relation to conceptualizing or dealing with these real and unrelenting problems that face all humanity. Every day brings further travail and trouble. Every hour offers nonsensical and insulting bullshit as the supposed answer to people’s oft-spoken prayers for assistance and relief. Again, E.L. James’ virginal subjugation fantasy exemplifies this assessment. And its spiritual emulators are legion.

But this humble correspondent needs to add a qualification: “almost nothing” is more accurate in the accusation above. Suzanne Collins, for instance, whatever her motives and intentions in writing her amazing trilogy, whatever glorious profits that she has reaped, has also in fact proffered all of us a sobering and yet hopeful narrative–in the form of a simple yarn replete with allusions to mythic and psychic structures–that posits that the Earth’s human cousins may find ways to work together to survive rather than expire in a gushing rush of mass collective suicide.

The three volumes of the set clearly and harshly depict ‘the obvious’ points noted above. Just as disaster is the current motif of human existence, at the same time that metropolitan centers dally on the cusp of conflagration as if the favored minority resident there could command the apparent omnipotence of the HG arena itself, so too in Collins’ accounts–and, amazingly, in the first film of the series as well–oppressed and divided ‘districts‘ of the working poor slave and starve to feed ‘Capitol’ habits that tend to stylized self-aggrandizement based on technical mastery.

Viewers such as this humble correspondent, who have come to expect sickening fetish or superficial distortion or reactionary breast-beating or some combination of such from those in charge of mediating culture, cannot help but gawk in wonder and hope at Hunger Games, both the book and the movie. The premises of the work are sound. Social reality predominates, rather than fake little ploys that evince and elevate only the coy and the greedy, the supercilious and the selfish.

Perhaps most critically, from the start, unrelentingly, Katniss Eberdeen recognizes and insists on expressing that only authentic resistance–her volunteering as tribute, her letting fly an arrow among the coddled and arrogant, her covering the victim of the Anders-Breivik-lookalike-fascist’s spear with flowers after Katniss cuts him down, and on and on and on–can have any chance to overturn a system bankrupt and rotten to the core. She may dissemble; she may smile when she had rather slash; but her heart and soul are clear in their orientation to her own people against the leadership that assaults and oppresses her and hers.

To some extent, then, both Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross, the film’s director, must also be promulgating such a consciousness, capable of supporting revolutionary ideas and ideals. A critical insight near the end of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed intelligently and intelligibly articulates this notion.

“Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it. …Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men. As these dialectically opposed types of cultural action operate in and upon the social structure, they create dialectical relations of permanence and change.”

Nor is this self-reflective component utterly absent from the ‘singularity’ that Collins’ work has engendered. Actually, the search string, “hunger games” “revolutionary consciousness” OR “class consciousness” OR uprising, leads to 1.69 million links. Leaving off the popular term, ‘uprising,’ to wit “hunger games” “revolutionary consciousness” OR “class consciousness,” still brings forth over 25,000 hits. Even paring this down, by absenting Barnes and Noble and Amazon linkages, yields nearly 20,000 connections. Many of these at least want to walk the revolutionary mile, so to say.

On the other hand, typical reification and putridity has its say first on the list of presented citations. Fetish and individualistic nonsense, in this case in the form of ‘following Jesus’ to salvation, thus, in some sense, take the first swipe, so to say.

Other reviewers turn up their noses at the hardness that Collins depicts in her characters. They seem to find an easier kinship with the soft and coddled denizens of Panem’s ‘Capitol’ environs.

And ultimately, cooptation remains omnipresent. A ‘Patch’ piece, from one of AOL’s much celebrated little prep-school enclaves, exemplifies this taming and defanging of Collins’ message .

However, the film’s songs include “Girl on Fire.” Its lyrics reject both cooptation and diminution of the inevitable suffering attendant on all essential acts of insurrection. Nevertheless, the singers intone, we have no choice but to arise to the struggle against oppression.

As well, Ms. Collins’ story itself is unequivocal in its rejection of kowtowing. It insists on resistance. It understands the inevitability of rebellion and uprising. Such iterations of revolt’s pendency pepper the book like cayenne in a spicy stock.

At the ‘Reaping Day’ events: “So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong. Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.”

When Katniss views and comments on the summary-video that her vicious and venal captors have prepared about her exploits: “But I do notice they omit the part where I covered (Rue) in flowers. Right. Because even that smacks of (the) rebellion” that the leadership arrogantly eschews the merest mention of.

Perhaps of irresistible significance in this entire process of storytelling, production, and enculturation, the life story of Suzanne Collins peeks out from between the lines of her books. When imperial war put Suzanne’s career-soldier dad in the guise of stormtrooper and peacekeeper, Collins’ vain and self-centered mother in many ways left her brood of chicks to fend for themselves–a la Katniss and Prim with their mother in the film, after dad died in a coal-mining explosion.

Like Katniss’ soul-friend Dale, whom the intrepid young woman left behind when she took her sister’s place as the sacrificial ‘tribute,’ Suzanne Collins’ father may have taught of resisting the military juggernaut passively. Maybe, he would have sought to transform it by ignoring it.

That such matters–of history and empire and the militarization of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’–are arguably central to this exercise in yarn spinning and mythos emerges from multiple sources. Maybe the most unsettling and critical to note is the U.S. military itself, from the womb of which–so to speak– Ms. Collins herself has come to the world with her tales and cautions, her truths and premonitions. The Department of Defense is like a Panem avatar.

The United States Army Field Manual, Internment and Resettlement Operations, might have resulted from the Capitol’s mandates in Suzanne Collins’ all-too-plausible future. One need only substitute Collins’ dystopic appellation for ‘U.S.’

“An adaptive enemy will manipulate populations that are hostile to U.S. intent by instigating mass civil disobedience, directing criminal activity, masking their operations in urban and other complex terrain, maintaining an indistinguishable presence through cultural anonymity, and actively seeking the traditional sanctuary of protected areas as defined by the rules of land warfare. Such actions will facilitate the dispersal of threat forces, negate technological overmatches, and degrade targeting opportunities. Commanders will use technology and conduct police intelligence operations to influence and control populations, evacuate detainees
and, conclusively, transition rehabilitative and reconciliation operations to other functional agencies. The combat identification of friend, foe, or neutral is used to differentiate combatants from noncombatants and friendly forces from threat forces.”

These words apply to us. Loosely translated, here is what our savior soldiers’ orders entail, at least on those occasions when active fighting ensues. ‘Protest or any other form of resistance to authority equals war against order. The public relations difficulties of annihilating those who resist is such that the Army must incarcerate them instead. After appropriate shock therapy and attitude adjustment, selected rebels will have opportunities to return to their conditions of servitude, so long as they agree to shut up and do as they are told.’

Those of us who remain sentient must respond to such evidence of manifest tyranny and incipient fascism. Thomas Jefferson had plenty of issues, as well as plenty of money and land that his forebears stole from Native Americans. But he saw straight in many matters. He recognized the divine right and political necessity of revolution, even as he was aware that we will frequently resist the necessity of rising up till it is long past due.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience [has] shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable … But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

His advice would echo Katniss Eberdeen’s thinking. The following words are from the series Epilogue, at the conclusion of the third volume, Mockingjay. She is reflecting from the vantage point of victory, having assisted in ‘providing different guards for future security’ from those of Panem’s divide-and-conquer machinations.

“The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built, there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them at school … . How can I tell them about that world without frightening them to death? …Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away. I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years. But there are much worse games to play.”

This also fits with what Suzanne Collins father discovered in Southeast Asia. Perhaps he sought to teach this to his cadets at the military academy where he taught military history. In any event, it is the takeaway of the Hunger Games. We ignore it at our peril.

The Plight and Possibility of the Public Intellectual

 Public Intellectuals, while seldom rolling in riches, are often fabulously endowed with love. As such a one, this humble correspondent shouts, “Praise to All That Is for love!”

This humble correspondent’s wife and true love—bless her heart for casting in her lot with such a one—has embarked on a magnificent undertaking recently. This entry into the annals of the Southeast Review of Media, Culture, and Politics both invites readers to ponder this mission, as well as to consider supporting it, and provides a brief discourse on the nature of life in the realm of the ‘nerd-without-portfolio,’ the intellectual-without-institutional-backing, the Public Intellectual.

Public intellectuals(P.I.) are philosophers, researchers, investigators, scribes, or some combination of these and other occupations, whose only allegiance is to the need of their fellow cousins for information, ideas, analysis and so on. They do not necessarily receive funding from non-governmental organizations or foundations; they certainly are not on the payroll of any commercial enterprise; the availability of advertising dollars is rare or nonexistent.

They, like this humble correspondent(THC), follow the lead of Alduous Huxley’s character  in Point, Counterpoint, who, speaking to his disinherited lover—she, after all, had the temerity to adore a P.I.—says, “the likes of us have to live by our wits.” Making ends meet is a constant scramble.

The continuation of their work depends on this too. Thus, many P.I.’s have income unrelated to labor. They inherit funds; they marry money that avoids disinheritance; they win a lottery somewhere.

Alas, for some of the breed, as for THC and his sweet love, this cash from largesse is generally unavailable. So they cut wood, deliver pizzas, or sell their brains to clients and strangers who will on occasion pay for their wit. After all, P.I.’s today live, along with the rest of modern humankind, in the same market-economy that puts a price tag on just about everything.

Sometimes, a new mechanism appears that offers an opportunity to garner income for their work. This is the case with a website like KickStarter, which gives ‘creative’ sorts a chance to pitch their projects to all manner of family, friends, and barely-known others.

Neither THC nor his spouse had much optimism that the KickStarter project in question here would permit them to gather monies to move our work forward. Unexpectedly, a combination of long hours by Alicia and the generosity of some of her long standing friends and newer acquaintances, along with the assistance of quite a few random strangers, has brought us to within striking distance of our goal.

A patron of Alicia’s brilliance has promised to post the final thousand dollars of the $3,200 goal, if the program achieves the feat of getting pledges for $2,200. As of today, 2/1/2012, we are within about a thousand dollars of that goal, with two days remaining in which to prove our mettle and put together that additional funding.

Thus, this missive requests that readers consider what Public Intellectuals are worth. Alicia’s project—joining wood-canvases sculpted by weather and water with a reconfiguration of the work of J.M.W. Turner, one of the great rebels and visionaries of the artistic canon—is inherently worthy in its own right. It imagines artistic production as a statement about water and nature and people’s relationship to this web of life that has woven us in its skein.

In addition, the funding of this work proffers the best chance for the roots that we have begun to put down in Appalachia to maintain and deepen their grip. This enterprise of ours is bringing to the fore questions of social justice, community capacitation, and the development of Peoples Information Networks and Cultural Action Networks. Perhaps those who appreciate THC’s efforts in regard to Troy Davis, understanding Peak Oil, bringing to light the hidden spects of nuclear history, explicating the stories of true heroes like Smedley Butler, and more, will find in their hearts—not to mention in their consideration of their self-interest—a willingness to donate a small amount to this campaign, and to reach out to others to do the same.

We here in Western North Carolina are ‘in it for the long haul,’ as the saying goes. But the potential in this project, if it can come to pass, would certainly make the short-run seem a little more manageable. As well, of course, a tremendously beautiful and meaningful series of paintings would result.

What could be finer? A few dollars helps to advance people power and the manifestation of meaningful beauty.