Tag Archives: Memory

Weekend Reading

Here’s your weekly edition of links in no particular order.

Why are carrots orange? Because of the Dutch.

Also, ugly fruits are making a comeback in Europe.

Where is the densest urban environment in the world? You’d be surprised.

What happens when a taxidermist who has never seen a lion tries to stuff one? Hilarity ensues, that’s what.

What did Martin Luther King, Jr. really do? And what did he and his colleagues in the Civil Rights movement really achieve?

This is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

So what did they do?

They told us: — whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

Photos of the construction of the US Capitol, via How to Be a Retronaut

Is the freelancing trend as big as the Industrial Revolution?

Did Americans have British accents in 1776? Or did the British have American accents?

Twitter loves you for who you are.

I don’t know what this says about the glory of the internet, but you should watch this video. And if you are a least bit amused, watch these parodies. I sure can’t promise you’ll be glad you did, but I know I am.

Here’s the latest on why teachers are still under-appreciated and underpaid.

Also from Gin & Tacos, why we should learn from past tragedies instead of just “never forgetting” them.

A rite of passage for world leaders, for example, is the pilgrimage to Auschwitz. And people the world over know that the Holocaust is not to be forgotten. But what lesson do the solemn-faced presidents and Popes and prime ministers take away from their tour of the camps? What is it that we Don’t Forget about the Holocaust? For most people the lesson of the Holocaust is not to vote for anyone covered in swastikas and wearing a cartoon villain toothbrush mustache. The lesson is that if anyone proposes herding people into cattle cars, trucking them to a rural area, gassing them, and putting them in crematoria, we should do something to stop it. We have learned those rather useless lessons very well. What we haven’t learned, of course, is anything about the root causes and warning signs of fascism, the gruesome result of taking socio-political scapegoating and segregation to its logical conclusion, or the consequences of failing to accept our fundamental equality on the most basic human level. We learn that Nazis are evil and go back to railing against the immigrants or the fags or the poor or the dark people or whoever else we see as our social inferiors. It’s not just possible to remember something without learning anything from it – it’s remarkably easy.

The Borders African History Paradigm exists across the Atlantic too.

David from PhD Octopus has been traveling through Eastern Europe, which has led to some pretty good blogging, including posts on the history of towns and the history of family.

Internet is faster in Rhode Island than the rest of the country.

Car drivers don’t hate mass transit as much as they thought they did.

Chapati Mystery has a pair of posts on anti-Turk, anti-Muslim sentiment in Berlin, with startling anecdote.

Speaking of anti-Muslim, apparently the FBI thinks pious Muslims are more likely to be violent. And here’s a photo of one of the slides.

Apparently UC Irvine thought it was necessary to run anti-occupation training on campus.

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Two Memorials, One War

When I was in Washington, DC last month I had the chance to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall for the first time. I had never been to any of the war memorials in DC and was able to pass through on a cool and rainy morning with a friend. I had taken a course on the Vietnam War specifically in addition to other studies in American history, and I distinctly remembered pieces from this book on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Kristin Ann Hass’ book is about the quest to create the Memorial as well as the effects the Memorial has had on how Americans memorialize the dead. The whole book is well worth a read, but as we walked through the trees and the Wall came into view, I kept going back to the first chapter, which details the uphill battle that organizers faced in getting the Memorial actually built.

Today, almost thirty years after the memorial came into being, the monument seems to strike deep chord with most. I have relatively little connection to the casualties in Vietnam, compared to most – and yet I felt an emotional pull when I looked at the names on the granite. The memorial seems to stand as a stark reminder of the tragedy of war, etched into the ground on the National Mall. I can’t speak for others, but I feel like quite a few people experience the same feeling. But it wasn’t always that way.

When Maya Lin’s design was first approved (unanimously) by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund jury, it was seen as some as out of touch. The VVMF had required all submissions to “(1) be reflective and contemplative in character; (2) harmonize with its surroundings; (3) contain the names of those who had died in the conflict or who were still missing; and (4) make no political statement about the war.” Lin’s design fit the bill, but it was definitely abstract compared to other memorials. According to Hass, many thought the design was “too abstract, too intellectual.” In other words, it belonged to the upper class – the class that was immune to drafts and war. Many thought that there was a lack of ownership for veterans and that the somber emotions it invoked paid lip service to the anti-war movement.

While there was also support both from the press, the jury, and all of the major veterans groups, the Memorial faced opposition among many in Washington. In the end, Secretary of the Interior James Watt refused to allow the plans to move forwards unless the VVMF also approved The Three Fightingmen sculpture. The leaders of the push for the memorial had no choice but to acquiesce. The three bronze men now stand a hundred feet away, facing the Wall. Walking across the grounds, I felt like the men and the Wall were worlds apart: one was a traditional sculpture of nameless soldiers cast in bronze, gazing across the grounds; the other was an emotional and imposing wall that drew you in, discreetly bringing you face to face with 58,000 stories. The Vietnam War is definitely a conflict with many faces and many perspectives. I think the memorials on the National Mall are a testament to that. The two monuments stand as a reminder to how divisive the Vietnam War was – even its memory was difficult to create.

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