POSTWAR: A HISTORY OF EUROPE SINCE 1945 – TONY JUDT – Marilyn Armstrong

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt

Available in paperback, hardcover and as an audiobook

FOWC with Fandango — Previous

I have run this review a few times before because I think of all the reviews I’ve written, this one in its current and previous version, is probably the most important review I’ve written and I cannot street sufficiently how important a book I believe it is.

Every time I write about history, this book comes up. I know it’s long and I know it’s a serious read (or listen), but it changed the entire way I looked at World War 2 and to a degree, World War 1. I mostly read “light and fluffy” these days, life being stressful enough anyway, but this one, I cannot possibly encourage you enough to read it. Even if you read it in pieces, bit by bit over a long period, I guarantee you will understand everything about today’s world a lot better than you do.

Lying national leaders are not new to our world. They weren’t new in 1945 and they will never be new. National politicians lie to protect themselves, to protect their country, to protect their belief systems, to hide the shame of what they or their countrymen did.

Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort.

This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had a grip on the material.

Dr. Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretense of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is really neutral. Every historian has an agenda. Whether or not he or she puts it out there for all to see is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she has an opinion about it. All history is slanted, changed by the historians who write it.

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ethnocentricity.

Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television, and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.

After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.

Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during the same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not or at least, maybe only partially. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.

If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European anti-Semitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach-churning. Pretty lies are easier to deal with than ugly reality. It’snot hard to understand why so much of what we know is wrong but I think it’s important to recognize that it is wrong. Sometimes completely wrong.

Map of Nazi conquest of Europe as of 1940

Even though I knew history, I didn’t grasp the impact of these years until Postwar made it real. I assumed, having lived these decades and followed the news, I knew what happened.

I was wrong. What was reported by American media barely scratches the surface of “truth.” The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of the war to modern Europe is more extensive, complex and far-reaching than I had grasped. These changes affect all of us directly and personally.

I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. Available from Audible.com, I recommend it to anyone with easily-tired eyes. It has excellent narration and is a fine showcase for the author’s conversational (and controversial) writing style.

Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, totally worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see Europe or World War II the same way.

Moreover, what is happening now will make a lot more sense, in an awful kind of way.

YOU’VE EITHER GOT IT OR NOT – Rich Paschall

Style, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have noticed that it seems to have died out.  You are probably glad of it too.  You did not like it.  You may even have been insulted by it, so it is so long and farewell.  It should be like many style statements we have seen over recent generations.  It is here for a while, then reason sets in.

Of course, we are talking about that so-called “fashion trend” that saw young men wearing their baggy jeans below their rear ends so that we could see their boxer shorts.  I am sure this did as much for makers of boxer shorts as it did for sellers of baggy jeans.  Perhaps these guys have started to realize just how crazy this was.  There may have been some cheap thrill in letting us see their underwear, but as a practical point of view it could not have been dumber.  At least you know these guys were not going to cause trouble.  It is tough when you have to waddle away from the scene of the crime.

Maybe the lack of a Justin Bieber tour helped to kill this idea.  Let’s hope that his next tour (if there is one) does not bring it back, or some equally strange wearing of clothes.  The alleged singer-songwriter stopped his Purpose tour without performing all the shows.  We are not sure of the Purpose or style yet, but we know he is unpopular at certain venues, but I digress …

rollingstone.com

When I was younger we had our strange fashion trends, which I am sure were heavily influenced by the entertainment industry.  If someone looked cool in the movies or on television, then I guess we wanted to look cool too.  I was too young to be influenced by the first wave of the British Invasion.  It did not matter to me what John, Paul, George, and Ringo were wearing.  For clothes choices, I got whatever my mother thought I should have.

As I got a little older I realized, as all kids do, that a little (or a lot) of whining would probably get me a few of the things I liked.  By high school, it was white Levis, madras shirts (plaid) and penny loafers.  I thought this ensemble was cool.  I guess I still do.  For a while, it was “skinny jeans.”  I don’t think we called them that, but they were the type that was difficult to put on and the opening at the bottom of the pants leg was barely big enough for your feet to go through.  I guess we thought we were sexy, like the boys showing off their boxers in more recent times.  Skinny jeans also seem to be quite popular at present, but mostly, it’s young girls.

It was just a few years and then that whole “preppy” look I loved so much was out. A whole collection of things that would not stand the test of time followed.  When skinny jeans gave way to “flares,” that is pants that had wider leg openings at the bottom, and then bell-bottoms we had a whole new look.  Yes, I got those, including the “hip huggers” style.  Those had a lower cut.  Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever wore any such items.

Your wide pants might go with a variety of looks, but maybe not with your Nehru jackets or shirts.   These items may have retained their popularity in India, where they are named after  Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who served from 1947 to 1964, but they were a brief trend here.  The jackets and shirts with the “mandarin collar” would make you look like a priest if you wore something dark.

Your 70’s hippie look did need “tie-dyed” t-shirts.  I guess those just keep coming back around the style block.  They were always popular with the Grateful Dead crowd and then with Phish, the Grateful Dead for the 21st Century.  I am glad to say I never owned one.  You may think that picture of you with beads, tie-dye shirt, bell-bottom pants and sandals that one of your friends posted on facebook on “throwback Thursday” looks really cool, but I have news for you…

All of this was followed by the regrettable trend we called “leisure suits.”  The polyester creations featured jackets that looked like shirts trying to be jackets.  Unfortunately, a number of pictures of my youthful self in these suits can be found.  My friends who escaped the camera at the time are pleased to point out how unfashionable that look is today, using one of my pictures as an example.  The worst looks were the ones with the leisure suits featuring a polyester, flower-patterned shirts with big collars.  Thanks to the internet and some Boys Club photo albums, I may never live that down.

It would have been easy to be an Urban Cowboy next.  Who does not love a classic American western look?  Following his success in making us all want to look like something out of Saturday Night Fever (which I saw more than once), John Travolta soon convinced us we should change to jeans and ride a mechanical bull.  Yes, the fashion bull kept galloping through our lives and many of us got trampled by it.

It probably would have been better to stick to standard looks that stay in fashion generation to generation.  Frank Sinatra always looked cool.  He has style throughout the ages, even if it was all pretty much the same.  A sharp suit and a fedora hat would have been good, but not as good as a tux with a carnation or other fresh flower and a hat tilted to the perfect angle.

If you do not understand, here’s your primer:

THE MYTHOLOGY OF AMERICA FOR AMERICANS – Marilyn Armstrong

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

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American history is no different. It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

Getting the people excited enough to take up arms is hard work.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

      • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
      • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
      • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
      • Our population was too small to sustain an army
      • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
      • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
      • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. First of all, there was no America to be part of … and secondly, we wanted to be British. We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections as equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on which taxes we paid. And how much.

We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not at issue. Everyone pays taxes. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out okay.

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

      • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
      • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had battleships with guns and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t.

Near home, in a ritzy Boston suburb.

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they could have … and if they had? Who knows how it would have worked out?

Did we really win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. Many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, not unlike a civil war.

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

Then there was a huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths and we are no exception. But as grown-ups, we can apply a bit of healthy skepticism, read a couple of books. Learn there’s more to the story than the stuff we learned when we were eight. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary war known as “The War of 1812.” Part two of the Revolution which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

This is why our current government is more than a mere miscalculation, a bad election. It’s not something we’ll “pull out of” after which everything will go back to normal. I’m not sure we have a normal to go back to.

It’s not only how the evil underbelly of America has been exposed for all to see. It’s also that the planet is under attack. Americans — and everyone else — need to fix it if we want to continue to live here.

We need to be very careful about how we move “forward.” We have to tread carefully. We have to work with our allies and our non-allies because everyone needs to put their shoulders to the wheel to keep our world livable.

We used to have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws but I’m not sure this is a nation of laws anymore. I’m not sure what we are. I’m not sure what the world is or whether there will be a world in another 100 years. Or for that matter, in another thirty.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. And our current government is the enemy of education, learning, and truth.

THE RACIST BONE’S CONNECTED TO THE … HIP BONE? – BY TOM CURLEY

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”

“He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body!”

I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can remember over my life. It’s a defense that racist people say when they want to show that something they just said or did isn’t … well, racist as hell. It was most recently uttered by the Racist-In-Chief as he was defending himself from saying incredibly racist things.

Things you would normally only hear at a KKK rally. Certainly not from the White House.

But then again, these days the difference between a KKK rally and a Presidential press conference is getting harder and harder to differentiate.

So, this got me to thinking. What exactly is a racist bone? How are bones racist? If you’re racist, are all your bones racist? Are just some of them racist? If only some of your bones are racist, does it matter which ones are?

For instance, if say, your femur, the largest bone in your body is racist does that make you more racist than if say the stapes, the smallest bone in the body is racist.

“Hey, my only racist bone is the stapes! The tiny bone in my ear. I’m only a tiny bit racist!”

How can I be racist? I’m so tiny! Isn’t that like being a tiny bit pregnant?

And why is it limited to bones? Can other organs be racist?

“That man doesn’t have a racist muscle in his body!”

“He doesn’t have a racist spleen in his body!”

“Well, his stomach might be a tiny bit racist. Whenever he eats Mexican food it screams ‘Go back to where you came from!’ And then he throws up. Forced deportation!”

Basically, whenever someone says, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body, that may be true. Their bones may not be racist, but they definitely are.

Whenever someone says, “I don’t want to sound like a racist but… the next thing to come of their mouth will be really racist.”

“Whenever someone says, “I don’t want to sound like a bigot but… the next thing out of their mouth will be really bigoted.”

“Whenever someone says, “I don’t want to sound like an anti-Semite but …” Well, you get the idea.

We’ve always known racism exists in this country. It’s sadly baked into our national DNA. We all have a racist Uncle, Grandma, Grandpa, cousin, brother or sister. Every bar has a regular that sits at the end of the bar and spouts racist bullshit. Here’s the thing: we used to pretty much ignore them.

“Oh, it’s just Grandma. Don’t pay any attention to her.”

“Oh, it’s just Earl. He’s an asshole. Don’t pay any attention to him.”

In the 70’s the TV show All In The Family was groundbreaking. Archie Bunker was the racist relative we all had. He said all the racist things they all thought but never said, and said them on network TV.

That was the point. In the old days — about four years ago — you could be racist, but you weren’t supposed to say it out loud. In public. He did and everybody was supposed to be shocked and alarmed by it.

Those were the old days. Today, we live in a world where 60 million people voted for a racist who started his racist campaign by saying incredibly racist things about Latinos. They are murderers, rapists, gang members, liberals!!!And it’s gone downhill from there.

We now have rallies where thousands of racists get together to chant “Send her back” and they say it with glee. It’s now OK to be a racist. It’s OK to be a bigot.

Racism has always been around. It’s an infection that has festered under the skin of America since America began. But now the festering boil has come to the surface. And when a boil comes to the surface it eventually bursts and all the pus comes out.

The boil on America came out and somehow made it to the White House and the pus is coming out. And there’s so much more of it than anybody imagined possible.

But there’s not a racist bone in any of their bodies.

Except maybe the stapes. The tiny bone in your ear. If you don’t have that, how can you hear all the racist shit your fellow racists are saying?