The Clare Spark Blog

October 13, 2013

The Pledge of Allegiance, revised?

pledgeofAllegiance[Garrison Keillor:] “It was on this day in 1892 that the Pledge of Allegiance was recited en masse for the first time, by more than 2 million students. It had been written just a month earlier by a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy, who published it in Youth’s Companion and distributed it across the country. It was recited on this day to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. It was slightly shorter in its 1892 version: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands — one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

After that, it got revised twice, and both revisions made the Pledge wordier. The first was in 1923, when it was changed from “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America.” This change was made to ensure that immigrants were pledging to the American flag and not the flags of their home countries. The second change was to add the words “under God.” A few determined preachers worked for years to get it changed, but it wasn’t until 1954 that it was amended. President Eisenhower attended a sermon by the Reverend George Docherty, who said: “Apart from the mention of the phrase, ‘the United States of America,’ this could be a pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity.” Eisenhower was convinced and within a few months the Pledge was amended to include “under God” as a way to distinguish this country from the Soviet Union.” [end, Keillor quote]

If Keillor is correct, then Eisenhower’s deployment of “under God” was instrumental; he wanted to distinguish between American religiosity and Soviet godlessness and the amoral nomenklatura. He was not acting out of a belief that the Founding Father’s wished to exclude non-believers from the First Amendment. Such a stance is similar to Voltaire’s practice of anonymous publication of his heretical works contra Leibniz, while simultaneously Voltaire was supporting religion as the via media that would control what his class termed “the lower orders.”

Using “faith” pragmatically (i.e., instrumentally), as opposed to religious belief as deeply held conviction and practice, should offend every person of faith. It is more common than we think, and is a staple of tyranny that demands state-worship, or in the case of pantheists, in mystical Nature worship. The super-doctors at the David Geffen School of  Medicine at UCLA believe that “faith and healing” are the tickets to health: I wonder if that means faith in their skills and  in Nature writ large.

Pantheism symbols/spirals

Pantheism symbols/spirals

Current events and more:

August 20, 2012

Ernest Hemingway, Carlos Baker, and the Spanish Civil War

Orwell, 1938 dust jacket

This blog is not a defense of Trotskyism. The Spanish Civil War and its treatment by literary historians is important because only the “Trotskyists” of, say, Partisan Review or The New Leader in the late 1930s nailed the Stalinists and their fellow travelers for covering up such events as the purges of the old Bolsheviks (1936 onward), and for penetrating liberal organizations devoted to cultural freedom, turning them toward statism, dialectical materialism, silencing criticism of the Soviet strategy in Spain, and joining with the “only” antifascist forces, i.e, the Comintern and its docile filmmakers, novelists, screenwriters, and other artists.

The “liberals” (who succumbed to the Popular Front during the 1930s), and who continue to opine on the course of the Spanish Civil War, leave out the Soviet-directed destruction of Jose Robles, POUM, and the Anarchists, thus passing over these atrocities but also skipping over the twists and turns of the Comintern during the 1930s and early 1940s. (Examples: from 1928 on, Communists were devastating critics of the “social fascism” of the New Deal and of Social Democracy in general; but the Popular Front was effectively in charge from 1935 onward; then the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939) reawakened the older critique of the Western democracies as really imperialists, like Hitler; but then the Nazi invasion of the S.U. reawakened the Popular Front with the American bourgeoisie in order to defend the Soviet Union and to quash isolationist sentiment.) (See Stephen Schwartz’s article on Stalinist treachery in Spain here: )

Carlos Baker’s 1969 biography of Ernest Hemingway had no problem describing Joris Ivens as a Communist filmmaker: I don’t know enough about Baker’s own political allegiances to say why. Perhaps Baker agreed with those for whom the communists were just another form of enlightened and moral liberal, maybe a bit more serious about uplifting the masses and rooting out nativism and American sympathizers with Hitler and Mussolini. Such naiveté was how communism infiltrated the New Dealers and their populist sympathizers: Only the Stalinist Left was held to be serious about fighting fascism or criticizing the Neutrality Act of the Western democracies that prevented the supplying  of arms and oil to the Spanish Loyalists. “Trotskyites,” the Comintern declared, were in league with fascism and Nazism! The Comintern-controlled Abraham Lincoln Battalion is still presented as comprised of idealistic young Americans, for instance in the atrociously slanted and mendacious HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, most of which is devoted to the Spanish Civil War, and which ignored the bloody, faction-ridden history of that crucial conflict, without any political criticism from dozens of reviewers all over the world. (For a brief review of the HBO offering, see,)

Princeton professor Carlos Baker was oblivious to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938),* a deafness that allowed him to record, without comment, that Hemingway sent his editor Maxwell Perkins as a taste of what to expect in For Whom The Bell Tolls, “Pilar’s” account of the Anarchist massacre of the “Fascists” of [Ronda]. Worse, Baker described Gustav Regler only as a friend of Hemingway’s. But Regler’s 1959 memoir The Owl of Minerva (cited by Baker) did describe a conversation with Hemingway in 1940, wherein Hemingway chastised Regler, the former political Commissar of the Twelfth International Brigade, for deserting the Communists! Having read Regler’s fascinating memoir and having quoted from his book regarding Hemingway’s feisty defense of the Communists in Spain (see I was not amazed that briefly opened Soviet archives revealed that Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in late 1940, despite his strong criticism of André Marty and Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) in his popular novel—a criticism that did enrage such American Communists as Mike Gold or the reviewer writing for The Daily Worker.

La Pasionaria

And while well-situated liberals in the most prestigious newspapers might have thought in their own minds that they were allies to “the common man,” they were in practice tolerant of their friends on the Soviet-controlled Left. After the war, these same Popular Fronters hated to be associated with (vulgar) McCarthyism, so that the identification of communist penetration of American institutions left the nailing of an American Fifth Column to the far Right. Since the Soviets had defined the Right (Big Business) as fascist, the “liberals” would characterize these “loons” as paranoid extremists, a label that persists to this day, notwithstanding the archival research of Mark Kramer, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, to  name a few.

And that is how we lost the Cold War and the struggle for hearts and minds—until the Soviet Union collapsed from within. Sadly, it was too late for the better American universities. The Popular Front had done its work and generations of Americans were disabled from seeing into the wildly successful cultural work of the Soviet Union and/or Communist China.

*[Added, August 23, 2012: A dispute has broken out in the Comments section to this blog, regarding Orwell’s intentions in his novel 1984. John Dos Passos wrote a biographical chapter on Orwell in his Century’s Ebb (1975): “Orwell’s mind was shaking loose from the Socialist dogma. He began to see history whole: ‘What is obviously happening,’ he wrote in his offhand way, ‘is the breakup of laissez-faire capitalism and of the liberal-Christian culture. Until recently the implications of this were not foreseen because it was generally imagined that Socialism could preserve and even enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are now moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships–an age in which freedom of thought will at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction.'” (p.64). Dos Passos finishes with this thought (relating how Orwell had become an invalid, afflicted with tuberculosis): “Relapses took him to hospitals. All the while he stuck with ferocious tenacity to the novel he was writing. 1984 was a bitter parable of the totalitarian world he saw developing out of German Nazism, Russian Communism, and the decay of the spirit of liberty in Britain….(65-66) I.e., Dos Passos sees the parable as the last stage of Orwell’s gradual disillusion with the libertarian promise of Socialism and Communism. The following chapter is a scathing account of the indifference of Hemingway and Gellhorn to his search for his friend Jose Robles, using fake names.]

January 9, 2012

Denying the Nuclear Age

Thanks to Tom Nichols, political scientist, for this guest blog.

I love teaching, and I especially love teaching undergraduates. (Watching young people discover something for the first time is an exciting part of the job.) But it’s a frustration beyond words that younger Americans have no historical memory at all. That’s probably why no one seems to care about nuclear weapons anymore. Not only do many of my students no doubt think that my accounts of the Cold War sound like “crazy grandpa” stories about the Kaiser and the Huns, but they seem to think we’ve solved all those problems now, and that the biggest threats to the planet are things like carbon emissions and Wall Street’s executive bonuses.

In other words, they worry about things that could make us uncomfortable and change our lives by a few degrees over the next 50 years, and remain oblivious to the things that could increase the planetary temperature by ten million degrees in the next 50 minutes.

I suppose there’s plenty of blame to go around. The media, of course, are always a good choice: when Ronald Reagan was president, there wasn’t a day that went by that news anchors like Dan Rather didn’t tell us all to have courage even though that nutty old man was going to blast us all to bits. Once the Cold War was over, and Clinton told us all it was the economy, stupid, nukes went away (just like the homeless, who seem to vanish from the media during Democratic administrations). Journos didn’t rediscover the nuclear danger until George W. Bush started up about nuking the “Axis of Evil”  — a self-inflicted wound typical of the Bush 43 administration — but by and large, the media doesn’t understand nuclear issues and doesn’t care about them. (And yeah, FOX News, I mean you, too.)

Now we’re facing the possible creation of an Iranian nuclear bomb, which would be an epochal event that could get a lot of people killed a lot faster than a notional rise in beach temperatures. No one seems to know what to do about it; Rick Santorum says he’ll bomb them, Ron Paul says we should mind our own business (and that the Iranians are just afraid of the Jews, anyway), and the President, as presidents do, is expressing “deep concern.” (On that last one, I recommend we all cut President Obama some slack: this situation sucks, and it’s not of his making. I don’t want him to say anything definite one way or another; I’d rather let the Iranians have to wonder about that, rather than seeing POTUS paint himself into a corner. That’s how deterrence works — I hope, but that’s an issue for another day.)

But on the bigger issue of nukes in general, I have a bigger worry. I think people don’t care about nuclear weapons because we’ve just gotten used to them. We’ve learned to accept things that no sane person should accept.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I was an anti-Soviet nuclear “hawk” in my early career in the 1980s, because I believed that the sons of bitches –that’s a political science term — who ran the Kremlin didn’t scare easily, and if nuclear weapons were needed to keep the peace, so be it. I had no love for anti-nuclear activists, whom I thought of in the main as harebrained political menaces. No one remembers Helen Caldicott, the then-famous anti-nuclear activist, but I do: she was (I am not kidding) an Australian pediatrician.. She was also a person of staggeringly silly politics, and I firmly believe that if she had been listened to in her time, we’d all either be working in Soviet lumber camps or rooting around for canned goods in radioactive ashes. The Cold War was already a nerve-wracking series of games of chicken, and the last thing we needed back then were screechy kibitzers grabbing the steering wheel and telling us to just make nice with Yuri Andropov and the other murderers in the Soviet Communist Party.

But even then, we were in danger of being infected by our own propaganda. It’s one thing to warn the Soviets not to screw with us or our NATO allies, it’s another entirely to think you could go, as Major Kong said in Dr. Strangelove, “toe-to-toe with the Russkies” and pull it off. I knew guys back in the day, during the height of the last stage of the Cold War, who really bought into things like “limited” scenarios where “only” 10 or 12 million people die on Day One. This tended to be the kind of thing the middle-level nuclear operators and wargamers were especially fond of, but Reagan’s senior advisors weren’t that crazy; before he died, Paul Nitze — not exactly a wobbly liberal on this stuff — admitted that he privately told Reagan never, under any circumstances, to use nuclear weapons, not even in retaliation for a nuclear attack.  (I think the reasoning here is that if all was lost, there wasn’t much strategic, or moral, point in massacring 100 million Russians on the way down.) It wasn’t something you wanted to say out loud in earshot of the Soviet marshals, but it was certainly the right thing to believe.

The ease with which we think about this stuff today, however, does not speak well of any of us. We don’t need to play this game of nuclear stoicism any longer. I once gave a lecture a few years back where I described a hypothetical attack on the U.S. land-based missile force, and I said it would probably kill 40 million people. A young Air Force major walked out of the lecture with me and with a disapproving look said something like: “Well, you know, sir, that number’s high, it’s probably only 8 million or so.” And I said, with all the dryness I could muster: “What a relief. For a moment there, I thought it was going to be really bad.” He didn’t get it. Among the many casualties of the Cold War, irony was clearly one of them.

We live in a better world today, no doubt about it. In 1968, the United States had over 30,000 nuclear warheads; today, it has 5000. By treaty, we and Russia will only deploy 1550 each. But here’s the thing: That is still an insane number of weapons. If we and the Russians ever lose our minds and exchange just a fraction of that, say 500 weapons each, we’re going to exterminate the Northern Hemisphere. We can’t even clean up New Orleans after a flood, for heaven’s sake. We’re certainly not going to “recover” from a couple of hundred nuclear strikes. (Don’t get me started about missile defense. It doesn’t work, and will never work enough to matter in a nuclear crisis. The Russians know it too.)

Even China can ruin our day, with its little arsenal of 25 or so ICBMs. Some people a lot brainier than me over at the Federation of American Scientists and the National Resources Defense Council have estimated that if we try to take out those Chinese missiles, we’ll kill something like two million people, and that’s lowballing. And if the Chinese get one missile loose against a U.S. city — and I mean just one — they estimate that 800,000 Americans will die, and that doesn’t even count the long-term effects of things like the destruction of infrastructure, the loss of irreplaceable records and national treasures, and all the other things that will stick around long after Los Angeles is a red zone. For reference, that’s more than the total U.S. casualties of World War II, and we’re talking about it all happening in minutes, not years.

People don’t realize that the momentum for change is actually on the side of nuclear reductions. If Bush 43 dropped the ball on military intervention as a means of stopping proliferation, Obama has likewise let American leadership on nuclear reductions dissipate the same way. It’s not a sexy enough topic, and it costs a president, any president, a lot of capital to champion it; to be fair, Obama’s not going to get mired in nuclear issues now that he has the Republicans climbing up his leg for destroying the U.S. military, which is — Irony Alert, Part Two — actually not an accurate claim. You don’t see it much, but if you scout around, you’ll find a lot of the progressives are venting in the leftist media about how Obama has reneged on what they thought were his promises to them to slash the military. (They’re right, but that’s a good thing.) And let’s face it, nobody is going to occupy Zuccotti Park over this. (Irony Alert, Part Three: People used to hold sit-ins against nukes, back during the Cold War — at exactly the time they shouldn’t have. The Soviets loved that stuff and even instigated some of the protests themselves, the clever devils.)

For most people, nuclear weapons are just “out there,” an undefinable problem that’s too technical to grasp. Younger voters would rather listen to Ron Paul’s crackpot conspiracy theories — I am deeply queasy over how many of his supporters are young people who are attracted to his simplistic nonsense — than tackle something that really could change the world. Right now, the nuclear “club” has 10 demonstrated members: The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea, and South Africa. (Yes, South Africa. The crazy white regime built six of them before dismantling them when apartheid collapsed.) There are over 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and at least one more country determined to get them. And credit card ATM fees are our big worry?

The old Cold War hawks know the nuclear threat better than anyone, because they helped build it. And that’s why people like Henry Kissinger, William Perry, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and many others are now desperately trying to tell us to get rid of the damned things. But no one’s listening.

Last May, Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, and Nunn hosted a major conference of retired generals, diplomats, statesmen and others in London to try to re-energize the nuclear reduction movement. Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans noted ruefully that there wasn’t a person there under 65. (For the record, I am 51, the same age as the President.) Evans lamented that people from all political parties, from every country (including Russia, I would add) have managed to put aside their other differences to concentrate on this apocalyptic threat, but that no one currently in power seems to be interested in seizing the moment. At the conference, former British defense minister Des Brown summed it up: “People who used to be something really want to tackle this issue. The trouble is that those who are something don’t.”

I’ll just close with a moment from a great old Cold War movie, Seven Days in May. It’s a classic, about a military coup in the United States, staged by General Scott (a glowering Burt Lancaster) against President Lyman, who Scott wants forcibly removed from power to prevent the signing of an arms treaty with the Soviets. Once the plot is put down, Lyman says:

“He’s not the enemy. Scott, the Joint Chiefs, even the very emotional, very illogical lunatic fringe: they’re not the enemy. The enemy’s an age – a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man’s faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, and out of sickness a frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness.”

We can turn our eyes from it, but we still have that helplessness; it’s a learned response. Right now, there are hundreds upon hundreds of nuclear weapons around the world on high alert. One mistake, one miscalculation, and there’s going to be hell to pay, quite literally.

The late Lawrence Eagleburger, one of America’s great diplomats, said shortly before his death a few years ago: “One nuclear war is going to be the last war, frankly, if it really gets out of hand. And I just don’t think we ought to be prepared to accept that sort of thing. But I’m not at all sure that there are very many people who look on this as being as terribly dangerous as I do, so I may be exaggerating the whole thing. But I just don’t think we can tolerate it.”

He was a great American, a conservative, and a tough and smart U.S. diplomat. And he was right. If people showed a little more concern about the future of humanity, and did a little less complaining about student loans and their smartphone data plans, we might actually be able to get something important — really important — done before it’s too late.

Tom Nichols is Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College. He blogs at The War Room ( His opinions are his own and do not represent the U.S. Government.

September 11, 2009

Oil politics and Obama’s “Israel”

Herbert Feis, economic advisor to FDR

Since James Traficant, ex-Congressman from Youngstown Ohio, newly released from jail, appeared on Fox last night (9-10-09) on Greta Van Susteren’s program, and since he explained recent American interventions in the Middle East as a product of omnipotent Jewish machinations (machinations that eventuated in the understandable attacks of September 11, 2001!), I thought it appropriate to review 1. the importance of oil to American interests as early as the middle of the second world war; and 2. Obama’s abysmal ignorance of the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, let alone the diplomacy surrounding the founding of Israel and America’s ambiguous role in it.

Here is a passage from Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, subtly reiterating the hostile Arab narrative at the end of the second world war (i.e., the Holocaust was Europe’s doing, and Arab states should not be asked to bear the burden of the sins of others: the Jews should disperse and return to their countries of origin. This argument has never changed).  I believe it is an indication of the Obama presidency’s likely attitude toward the U.S. role in mediating the conflict between Israel and her neighbors. He briefly reminisces about his trip to the region:

[Obama:] “I talked to Jews who’d lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignation of checkpoints and reminisce about the land they had lost. I flew by helicopter across the line separating the two peoples and found myself unable to distinguish Jewish towns from Arab towns, all of them like fragile outposts against the green [sic?] and stony hills.

We have an obligation to engage in efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East, not only for the safety and security of the people of the region, but for the safety and security of our own children.” (Audacity of Hope, p.322. Can you decode these statements without me, readers? The U.S. was never neutral, and is not now. The conflict was not about two peoples fighting over the same piece of land–the cycle of violence frame to the conflict– but was about the fears of a disunited group of Arab states fearful of their own impoverished populations, and terrified of an advanced democracy, keen on economic development, planted in their region. All other explanations come from corporatist liberals who think both sides are irrational and susceptible to mediation by the neutral intervention of more rational and compassionate powers. On corporatist liberalism, see . Heaven forbid that Israel should conduct negotiations with its neighbors without U.S. bullying.)

In these three sentences (I found no other pages on the subject), could we have made inferences about Obama’s likely foreign policy, or his grasp of the politics, history, and geography of Israel and its environs prior to the election? Will it be continuous with that of Roosevelt administration official Herbert Feis, one of Roosevelt’s economic advisors? This is what Feis wrote in his concluding thoughts on international cooperation regarding Middle East oil, published in 1946, but referring to failed U.S. government initiatives in 1943-44 and centering on Saudi Arabia:

[Feis:]”…no program having merely to do with the protection of oil resources can prevent them from becoming a cause of dispute if the great powers quarrel about the political control of the region. If any one of them takes measures hostile to the others or encourages threatening attacks against established political positions of the others, then each oil field in the Middle East will be the scene of turmoil, plot, and counterplot.

Within the next year this may become a grave danger. Arab opposition to further Jewish immigration in Palestine might express itself in a repudiation of existing American and British rights and a search for Russian protection in such measures. This is highly unlikely; but if such a situation arises, it must be ardently hoped that the USSR will not exploit it. There will only be “order in oil” if the large powers work with, not against, each other in the management of the political affairs of the Arab states. Otherwise, any international agreement on oil will be without future. Its phrases would be merely weapons to wound.

Here lies the test of future diplomacy. If it fails, there will be no harmonious way of assuring the availability of Middle Eastern oil to the United States. Whether or not we protect established American enterprises in the regions against the troubles that may beset them will become primarily a matter of military calculation. We shall have to bend over those plotting boards on which the rights and destinies of nations are measured solely in units of force. In other words, we shall be in the anteroom of war.” [Herbert Feis, Seen from E.A., pp189-190]

As I will show in future blogs, the U.S. was concerned solely with protecting oil supplies that would be vital for the restoration of Western Europe as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and this entailed maintaining the alliance with Great Britain, a shaky one as the war ended. (If you don’t believe me, read Skidelsky in vol. 3 of his Keynes biography.) Hence during the various UN interventions in the conflict between the aspiring, then actual, Jewish state and its neighbors (1947-49), the U.S. looked to its own long term interests. The notion that the U.S. elites were ever a disinterested, morally motivated friend to Jews and Israelis, let alone supine in their acquiescence to New York Jews and their votes or Hollywood and its propaganda, is a convenient myth for populist politicians in the U.S. and anti-Western forces elsewhere.

In my view, the primary reasons that a Jewish state exists today are 1. the temporary diplomatic and material support of the Soviet Union (secret arms shipments from Czechoslovakia that angered Bunche, who saw the Israelis as likely communists and undoubtedly expansionist), deployed in the expectation that  Israel would join the Soviet bloc, while throwing Great Britain out of the region; and 2. the willingness of Israeli Jews to take huge casualties to defend its tiny nation. It was only Israeli military victories in defiance of UN interference that brought Egypt to the negotiating table in early 1949, and the armistices that were mediated by Ralph Bunche were not for peace and defensible borders, but for a halt in the fighting, for Israel was expected to conquer yet more territory. [This latter interpretation is based upon my reading of the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA, collected by Sir Brian Urquhart as he wrote his biography of Bunche. For another blog on this subject, see]

It is crucial to understand that without oil from the region, the Marshall Plan would have failed, for oil was central to the economic recovery of Western Europe. America’s own supplies were already drying up. It was not just romantic Arabism in the U.S. State Department that determined U.S. policy, but the Cold War. Current misconceptions about the love of the U.S. for “the Jews” or for Israel only lead us away from the economic-political reasons for U.S. policy. Isolationists and populists from the likes of Traficant or Patrick Buchanan or, to climb up a notch in the status ladder,  Walt and Mearsheimer, are patently absurd when they claim that the “Israeli lobby” determines U.S. foreign policy. It is even more shocking when Jewish leftists or left-liberals echo their ignorance about the history of the region.

These are my thoughts on the anniversary of the attacks of 9-11-01, and I fear that they are all too relevant. Norman Podhoretz is going around complaining that Jews are too liberal. I wish that he would complain about the ignorance of diplomatic history or the indifference to it, as evidenced in the schools and in the media.

[Added 4-11-10: see this recently declassified document Although heavily redacted, it validates my analysis that the Cold War context was crucial to writing diplomatic histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that the U.S. was ready to intervene if Israel attempted to expand its borders beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Throughout the State Department document, the desire for “stability” in the region is paramount. U.S. policy is clearly stated.]

Blog at