Sunday, July 31, 2011

When An Icon Is A Fake

The most iconic photograph taken during The Spanish Civil War was Robert Capa’s photograph known as “The Fallen Soldier”, a photograph first published in French newspapers in 1936.

More than one year after the photograph appeared in the European press, the photograph appeared in LIFE magazine. From that moment, the photograph came to epitomize The Spanish Civil War in the eyes of many Americans.

In 1971, Barcelona newspapers revealed that Capa’s photograph was a fraud, and that the photograph had been staged for the camera. This news from Barcelona became widely known in the U.S. only in 1975.

Over the ensuing years, numerous attempts to “rehabilitate” the photograph have been made by various Leftists. All such efforts have been in vain.

It has been conclusively established that the photograph does not depict the person Capa claimed had been depicted. It has also been conclusively established that the photograph does not depict a second person Leftists had seized upon as the prospective subject once the first subject had been conclusively eliminated.

Further, it has been conclusively established that the photograph was not taken at the place Capa claimed. The location of the photograph has been conclusively identified by Spanish academics—and the location was more than 35 miles from the location claimed by Capa. Moreover, it has also been conclusively established that the nearest Nationalist forces were more than 35 miles away on the day the photograph was snapped—and, further, that there had been no fighting in that particular province on the day of the photograph.

Consequently, Leftists who continue to insist that the photograph is genuine have been reduced to an absurd argument: that the photograph may indeed have been staged for the camera, but that a lone sniper somehow infiltrated secure Republican territory and fired a single shot at the man posing for the photograph at the very moment Capa snapped his shutter, miraculously turning a staged photograph into a real event.

Is it any wonder there are no Leftist think tanks?

Of course, we now know that many of Capa’s D-Day photographs were also fakes, yet Leftists choose not to attempt to rehabilitate the D-Day photographs.

As for Capa himself: he had the good sense to die before his widespread fakery became a matter of public knowledge.

Rescuing Spain From Hemingway

I recently completed reading Antony Beevor’s “The Battle For Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939”, a magisterial history of the grim battle between The Nationalists and The Republicans for control of Spain.

In 1982, Beevor’s “The Spanish Civil War” was published, to great acclaim. It immediately became the standard English-language history of the war.

Post-1982 openings of archives in Germany, Russia and Spain inspired Beevor to reexamine the subject afresh; the result is “The Battle For Spain”, published in 2006, a complete rewriting of the earlier volume.

“The Battle For Spain” was immediately translated into several languages. The book was a bestseller throughout Western Europe, including and especially Spain, where “The Battle For Spain” became the best-selling book in the nation on the day of release (selling 10,000 copies a month—in hardback—for almost a year, a remarkable tally for a lengthy and densely-written history study).

In the U.S., “The Battle For Spain”, for whatever reasons, did not capture the public’s imagination. American sales were disappointing; the publication was not widely reviewed. This was so even though Beevor’s previous books—especially “Stalingrad” and “Berlin: The Downfall 1945”—had enjoyed robust American sales.

My conclusion is that The Spanish Civil War has never resonated with Americans as much as it has resonated with Europeans. The Spanish Civil War coincided with a period of American Isolationism—with the result, in American eyes, that The Great Depression became the single major event that occurred between World War I and World War II, to the exclusion of anything else.

Further, The Spanish Civil War has too often been treated as mere prelude to World War II, viewed as little more than provincial proxy battle in which The Nationalists fought with German weaponry and The Republicans fought with Russian weaponry. Americans have always enjoyed reading about the buildup to World War II in Britain and Germany—but the prewar years in France and Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, have never particularly captured the fancy of American readers.

Beevor does not see The Spanish Civil War as overture to World War II. Indeed, Beevor will have none of such nonsense—he firmly refuses to accept The Spanish Civil War as proxy conflict between Fascism and Communism fought on neutral ground prior to the main event getting underway. The Spanish Civil War was an independent, discrete event, bearing parallels with other ideological battles of the insane 1930s but nonetheless remaining a conflict sharply and uniquely focused on Spain and its unhappy history.

Not only does Beevor not view The Spanish Civil War as having anything to do with the ideological battle between Fascism and Communism, Beevor insists that The Spanish Civil War had very little to do even with a clash between Right and Left. Far deeper fissures were at the root of the conflict, he asserts, which is why The Spanish Civil War was so vicious if not outright barbarous (and left such long-lasting wounds).

The Spanish Civil War, in part, was a war about religion. An anti-Cleric wave swept Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century, but this wave only hit backward Spain in the 1920s. The wave festered—and grew—until it reached a boiling point in the early 1930s. The Catholic Church in Spain was viewed as authoritative, restrictive, unduly powerful—and unduly rich; it was viewed as indifferent to the needs of society, stuck in a mindset reminiscent of The Middle Ages. Many believed that the Church, as an institution, needed to be much more than reformed—it needed to be shuttered.

The Spanish Civil War was also, in part, a battle between those advocating centralization of power and those seeking regionalization of power. Spain had been falling apart ever since The Peninsular War—Spain’s overseas empire had already collapsed—and everyone understood that something needed to be done in order to halt Spain’s century-long deterioration. However, there was deep disagreement whether a stronger central government was the answer to the country’s woes or whether a dispersal of power to regional authorities was the necessary remedy to propel the country into modern times.

Tied to the centralization-versus-regionalization conflict was the question of ethnicity: some Spaniards viewed Spain as composed of one common people; other Spaniards viewed Spain as a nation composed of different ethnicities that happened to live in the same country. Those of the latter viewpoint quite naturally favored local autonomy.

Finally, 1930s Spain was in the grip of a major philosophical battle, a battle between those advocating 1930s-style authoritarianism of any stripe (akin to that then being practiced in Germany, Italy and Russia) and those advocating freedom of the individual (of which Britain was seen as the leading example). In this respect, the philosophical battle in Spain was not markedly different from the philosophical battle occurring in 1930s France, where authoritarianism-versus-freedom was the central—and most divisive—issue of the decade. Oddly, those seeking authoritarianism in both Spain and France came from both ends of the political spectrum; authoritarianism in 1930s Europe was a vision of many, of all political persuasions, advocated as a necessary evil to surmount the perceived inherent weaknesses of democratic governments.

The Spanish Civil War was not, in sum, a clean ideological battle. Different factions chose different sides for different reasons—and it became increasingly difficult, on both sides, for the joined forces to hold together. This was especially true for The Republicans: infighting between factions was often as brutal as the battle against The Nationalists.

The central theme of Beevor’s book is that The Nationalists won the war simply because The Nationalists were better at holding together than The Republicans—a conclusion in stark contrast to earlier histories, which had claimed that The Spanish Civil War had been won on the battlefield (and largely because imported German weapons had proved superior to imported Russian weapons).

Franco was an inept commander, and an inept military strategist; any Nationalist success on the battlefield was entirely coincidental, a point Beevor drives home with overwhelming force. The Republicans, however, were even more inept on the battlefield—and broke into numerous factions that fatally imperiled Republican attempts not only to win military battles but to capture the hearts and souls of Spain’s people.

As a practical matter, The Spanish Civil War began far earlier than 1936, the year in which fighting erupted.

Like much of Europe, Spain had been in a state of virtual civil war since the end of World War I. A military dictatorship had seized power in the early 1920s, and had managed to last eight years. The dictatorship dissembled only with the onset of worldwide Depression. Spain’s military realized that it had no solution for the economic problems caused by The Depression, and that it would be better for the military to step aside and allow a civilian government to handle the fallout from—and to assume the blame for—the severe economic contraction.

In 1931, the same year Spain’s military relinquished power, Spain’s royal family abdicated. A New Republic was declared—and a series of inconclusive elections was conducted, repeatedly, over the next five years. While the country attempted to arrive at a consensus for moving forward as a democratic nation, massive strikes, uprisings and outright anarchy prevailed. The nation was on the constant verge of collapse.

A new Leftist plurality narrowly prevailed in the 1936 elections and managed to form a minority government. As soon as installed, the government swiftly passed vehement anti-Cleric legislation and immediately embarked upon a wave of incendiary anti-Cleric rhetoric. Having seized all church property and closed all church schools, the new government announced that it welcomed the outright destruction and burning of churches and monasteries and convents—and, shockingly, that it would not prosecute persons who murdered priests, nuns and monks.

The reaction to the new government’s anti-Cleric pronouncements was swift and entirely predictable: the floodgates of zealotry opened—and over 7,000 Roman Catholic priests were promptly murdered throughout the country. (Protestant clergymen, too, were not immune from the slaughter: twenty Protestant ministers were murdered in a single day in Madrid alone.) After the first round of appalling bloodshed, the military decided that it had to step in and establish order.

The minority government, quite naturally, resisted the military’s move—and civil war was on.

Both sides made a grievous strategic error at the outset of war: both The Nationalists and The Republicans made no effort to attract the support of the middle classes. Had either side done so, it most certainly would have prevailed within months.

However, neither The Nationalists nor The Republicans had the foresight to seek solidarity with the very classes without whose support the war could not be won. Instead, both sides were determined to win the war purely on the battlefield—not, perhaps, the best strategy for prevailing in a civil war.

More than anything, The Nationalists did not so much win the war as The Republicans lost it. The Republicans alienated the middle classes in the areas controlled by The Republicans, while The Nationalists over time learned to court the support of the middle classes in the areas controlled by The Nationalists.

Within a year of the onset of civil war, it was apparent that The Nationalists were destined to prevail. Not only were The Nationalists winning on the various military fronts, but persons caught between sides learned that they could carry on with their lives much more readily in Nationalist territories than in Republican territories. For the last eighteen months of the war, it was apparent to all—including foreign governments—that the game was up for The Republicans. Nonetheless, The Republicans continued to fight—and with ever more recklessness. The final eighteen months of civil war were, if anything, the most barbarous months of all, with untoward numbers of persons losing their lives on both sides.

The Spanish Civil War was shockingly brutal. Both sides routinely executed captured soldiers after a battle was over. Both sides were merciless in destroying towns and villages standing in their paths. Both sides exhibited a degree of inhumanity toward each other—and sometimes toward civilians—that dismayed the outside world. No one, on either side, emerged from The Spanish Civil War with credit.

Beevor’s narrative is compelling, even artful, as he vividly examines a state and society in the process of total disintegration. Spain’s economy was a mess, Spain’s politics were a mess, Spain’s ideologies were a mess—and Spain’s civil war, too, was a mess. Beevor’s is a depressing and appalling tale.

Foreign intervention has been over-emphasized in past accounts of The Spanish Civil War, and Beevor offers a stern corrective. In no way did foreign intervention affect the outcome. This is one of the most important themes of Beevor’s book.

Germany and Italy supplied arms to The Nationalists while Russia (and, to a much lesser extent, France) supplied arms to The Republicans. Foreign arms, however, were not a determinative factor in the war’s outcome. They seldom are in civil wars. Civil wars ultimately become battles for the hearts and souls of a nation’s people—and The Republicans lost the battle for the hearts and souls of Spaniards.

There are few history books I have encountered in which literally all persons addressed in the chronicle are so soundly found to be wanting in judgment and character as the persons covered in “The Battle For Spain”. Literally no one—Nationalist or Republican, Spaniard or outsider—emerges from Beevor’s book unscathed. Even Andre Malraux is revealed as the unscrupulous, conniving, corrupt, preternaturally untruthful figure he most assuredly was.

Beevor is especially harsh on his countrymen, the British, for failing to support a democratically-elected government against insurgents. Britain withheld support for The Republicans for the duration of the war—and was the first nation to recognize the Franco regime, doing so even before the civil war had concluded.

America is not immune from censor. Beevor criticizes American corporations for selling automobiles, trucks and oil to The Nationalists—as well as for extending credit to The Nationalists.

Beevor, too, puts to bed the myth of America’s Lincoln Brigade nobly fighting on behalf of The Republicans. Noting that only 1,000 of the 3,000 American volunteers actually were involved on the fighting front, Beevor exposes the men and women of The Lincoln Brigade as spectacularly inept, not even arising to the level of “useful idiots”.

Although his sympathies are with The Republicans, Beevor is withering in describing how, early in the war, The Republicans wantonly shipped Spain’s gold reserves—the fourth largest gold reserves in the world—to Russia. Intended as prospective payment for armaments, the gold reserves proved to be nothing more than an outright gift to Stalin (Russia obtained the gold with the assistance of France). Most weapons ordered from Russia were never delivered to Spain, and those that were shipped were outdated and of inferior quality.

Stalin was happy to receive Spain’s gold reserves, but Stalin was never serious about getting involved in Spain’s war or providing significant aid—Stalin had far more critical matters at home with which to contend.

Significantly, Beevor retires permanently the longstanding fiction that Russia had a positive impact on The Republicans. In fact, Beevor argues the reverse: that Stalin’s agents in Spain substantially contributed to The Republicans losing the war. The Communists insisted upon the elimination of all Republican factions that did not share Communist ideology—on Moscow’s orders, The Republicans conducted Soviet-style purges within Republican ranks—and the Communists insisted upon the elimination of “the ideologically incompatible” in Republican-held territories (i.e., murder of the bourgeoisie). Such measures guaranteed that Spain’s middle classes, otherwise supportive of reform, would be scared off by The Republicans.

And this is precisely what happened: the Republicans lost all support among Spain’s middle classes, which were driven into the arms of The Nationalists. The overwhelming scale of this loss is best exemplified by Spain’s official government functionaries: halfway through the war, those administering the very mechanisms of state—Spain’s diplomatic corps, the central security agency, the police force, the central bank—were all nominally working for The Republicans but in fact had already switched allegiances to The Nationalists. The Republicans had lost all moral suasion over the people of Spain—with the result that the war had become de facto a lost cause.

Unlike other chroniclers of The Spanish Civil War, Beevor does not attempt to ennoble the various leaders of The Republicans. He reveals them to be as opportunistic and as ruthless and as inhumane as The Nationalists, if not more so. Unattractive as Franco and his cohorts were, the opponents, if anything, were worse.

Late in his volume, Beevor provides an extraordinary revelation, a revelation based upon his research in Russian archives: had The Republicans won the war, The Republicans planned to conduct post-war “purges” on an unimaginable scale, far exceeding anything Franco attempted. The revelation, from an author with innate Republican sympathies, is chilling.

In his conclusion, Beevor issues a bold, even striking, claim: previous English-language assessments of The Spanish Civil War offered little more than myth. They provided versions of events purely and exclusively Republican in outlook, and were of limited—if any—worth. More than merely outdated, those previous publications had been conspicuously untruthful.

It is a pity that “The Battle For Spain”, widely read throughout Europe, remains so little-known in the United States. It is a seminal book. Beevor has forever altered the ground upon which histories of 20th-Century Spain will be written.

In his book, Beevor accomplished one great feat: no longer is The Spanish Civil War that rare thing, a war in which the losers won the final word.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky

Tea Harvesting Near Tbilisi 1909

Tea Weighing Station Near Tbilisi 1909

Hamburg Stadttheater 1900

The Hamburg Stadttheater in 1900.

The Stadttheater served as home of Hamburg Opera from 1827 until the building’s destruction in the 1943 air raids. (Hamburg Opera became Hamburg Staatsoper only in 1937, at the insistence of the National Socialist government in Berlin.)

The 1827 building was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, but all evidence of Schinkel’s design was obliterated in 1873, when a new overlay was applied to the building’s exterior. The 1873 overlay was a grotesque attempt to make the building more “grand” and more in keeping with Hamburg’s status as Germany’s center of trade, a status the city acquired after the 1870 German unification. From 1870 until 1900, the city of Hamburg grew by leaps and bounds—its population swelled tenfold and its wealth multiplied many times over to the extent that Hamburg became one of the most important cities on the European continent—and the new exterior of the Stadttheater was intended to reflect the city’s mounting significance.

The 1873 overlay, part Neo-Classical and part Neo-Renaissance, was very much a horror—and the new features pasted onto the original fa├žade were wrongly scaled to boot.

This was a building that deserved to be destroyed—and, after the war, Hamburg city fathers never contemplated rebuilding the original structure. This was so despite the fact that a reconstruction was very much possible: the exterior walls had remained standing, and only the auditorium and public promenades had been destroyed by bombs and fires (the stage and backstage and administrative areas had been saved from destruction by the iron fire curtain).

Josh has already written about the strange fate of the building during and after the war.

The Hamburg Staatsoper of today is only one-third post-war, something few persons realize. Two-thirds of the building is the 1827 structure, extensively modernized in 1926.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Furtwangler In 1941

Gerhard Taschner and Wilhelm Furtwangler in 1941, the year Furtwangler appointed Taschner—only nineteen years old—to the post of concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Taschner (1922-1976) was a notoriously difficult man. His career was over by age 40, largely because of his abrasive personality, and his life was over by age 54, largely because of alcoholism.

Between Taschner and Furtwangler may be seen a photograph of the great Arthur Nikisch, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1895 until his death in 1922.

Upon Nikisch’s death, Furtwangler was named Nikisch’s successor.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Occupation And Captivity, Aachen, 21 October 1944: The Very Old And The Very Young

The first city on German soil to be captured by American soldiers in World War II was Aachen. After a heated three-week battle, Americans routed Aachen’s defenders and occupied the city on October 21, 1944.

Most of the city’s populace had been evacuated before the fighting began. However, the famous photograph below shows an elderly Aachen woman wandering the streets of the ruined city as American soldiers, taking little notice of the woman’s distress, file past her.

Thousands of German soldiers became prisoners of war after Aachen was captured.

In the photograph below, German soldiers are marched through the streets of Aachen en route to captivity.

The soldiers in the photograph appear to be eighteen and nineteen years old.

Captured German soldiers were to remain in captivity until August 1945, three months after the war’s end, when most were released and allowed to return to their homes.

The soldiers in the photograph were the lucky ones.

Over half of the German soldiers defending Aachen did not survive the battle.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The Haymakers"

George Stubbs (1724-1806)
The Haymakers
Tate Britain, London

Oil On Wood
52 5/8 Inches By 35 13/16 Inches


“The Haymakers” is one of George Stubbs’s most renowned paintings.

It is been accounted a great painting, and it has been accounted not a great painting in the least.

It is a striking, even moving, depiction of British agricultural workers during the time of The American Revolution. There is an unmistakable and quintessential British quality to the painting—the persons portrayed in the painting could never be mistaken for French, German or Italian workers—and the hallmarks of British landscape painting are all over the canvas.

Stubbs does not attempt to conceal the fact that life for these laborers was a difficult one—and yet he ennobles them in myriad ways: the canvas’s pyramid arrangement is borrowed from Italian Renaissance masters; the workers, beneath their heavy clothing, are seen in Classical pose; and the persons are dressed for Sunday Service, not for a day in the fields. Stubbs’s use of such devices has been both praised and criticized.

The central figure is shown staring from the center of the canvas, almost challenging the viewer to take in the scene and render philosophical judgment.

Unlike comparable French paintings of the period, there is no individuality in the persons depicted in “The Haymakers”. They are archetypes, not unique human beings.

“The Haymakers” is susceptible to many interpretations—it may be viewed as landscape painting or genre painting or history painting or political statement.

Great painting or mere “conversation piece”, “The Haymakers” has held a place of distinction in British art for over 200 years.

“ . . . And Tasted All The Summer’s Pride”

Joshua and I are still at the lake, but we intend to return to the Twin Cities tomorrow morning.

Josh and I have been at the lake for three weeks. It has been a very pleasant time for us, but we are ready to return to civilization.

Next week, Josh will take his bar exams. The following week, we will depart for Britain. Four days after returning from Britain, Josh and I will head for Oklahoma. Labor Day Weekend will follow our return from Oklahoma, after which both of us will go back to work.

Our summer of downtime is passing too quickly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Haymakers In Russia In 1909

Haymakers in Russia in 1909, another remarkable color photograph by pioneer photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky.

The colorful nature of rural peasant dress in early 20th-Century Russia is demonstrated in thousands of color photographs by Prokudin-Gorsky, many documenting the rural peasantry.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nilova Monastery 1910

Nilova Monastery near Moscow in 1910, in a remarkable color photograph by pioneer photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944).

"Without Milestones, Without Signposts"

The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

C. S. Lewis

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Young Alexei

Sunday will mark the 93rd anniversary of his death.

Still At The Lake

Joshua and I are still at the lake.

Tomorrow my mother and father will join us for a quiet weekend.

They will be accompanied by a creature with sharp teeth and a wet nose.

Everyone else is staying in town for the weekend.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Alexei And Tatiana At Tsarskoe Selo In 1917

Remaining Behind

My family’s annual July 4 week at the lake has come and gone, but Joshua and I have remained behind at the lake for at least another week, perhaps two. Everyone else—including the dog—returned home late yesterday afternoon.

It is peaceful and quiet here, and Josh can study, undisturbed, for his bar exams. I can take care of some things around the house and yard while Josh studies. When Josh needs a break, he and I can walk in the woods or swim.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Our Summer Of Musicals Is Over

Our summer of musicals is over.

We did not make it even halfway through the musical productions we contemplated attending.

“The Fantasticks” received its first performance Friday night at Theater In The Round—and our former landlady was present and, via email, offered one urgent word of advice: “Don’t”.

“H.M.S. Pinafore” opened a couple of weeks ago at The Guthrie Theater. The Guthrie “H.M.S. Pinafore” is adjudged to be among the most incompetent and idiotic presentations ever imposed upon theatergoers anywhere.

Word in the Twin Cities is that The Tyrone Guthrie Estate sent a representative to see the show—and that The Guthrie Estate immediately afterward requested that Tyrone Guthrie’s name be removed from the theater.

The production is apparently so embarrassing that mental retardation is the primary requirement for sitting through the show. The production is said, by all, to evoke nothing so much as a cheesy 1970s television variety show. Half the persons who have seen the production call it “The Village People Pinafore”; the other half refer to the show as “Gilbert And Sullivan And Sonny And Cher”.

The production has set back fifty years Minneapolis’s reputation as a sophisticated theater center.

Not surprisingly . . . The Guthrie “H.M.S. Pinafore” has been picked up for nationwide telecast by PBS.

Perhaps it will share airtime, during fund drives, with Helmut Lotti.

London’s Imperial War Museum

London’s Imperial War Museum, one of my favorite museums anywhere.

My middle brother and I have explored the museum and its collections exhaustively. We surely have visited the museum a dozen times.

When we last visited the museum in September 2007, my brother and I spent half a day guiding my parents and Joshua through a portion of the museum. We explored the giant atrium, where large-scale weapons and aircraft are on display, and we explored the art galleries. We also visited a large two-level special exhibition, “The Children’s War”, which examined the experiences of children during World War II. “The Children’s War” was supposed to be a temporary exhibition, but it remains on view today. It must have proved to be popular with visitors.

This year we plan to show my parents and Josh the rest of the museum. We plan to spend one entire day exploring the World War I galleries and the first half of the Holocaust exhibition. We plan to spend a second entire day exploring the World War II galleries and the second half of the Holocaust exhibition.

The two-level Holocaust exhibition is too sad to view the entire exhibition in one visit.

It is the finest Holocaust exhibition to be seen anywhere. The Holocaust exhibition at The Imperial War Museum puts the Holocaust Museum in Washington to shame.

We plan once again to see the art galleries, entirely reinstalled since 2007, and the atrium, with its giant weapons.

If we have any remaining time, we shall visit the display devoted to espionage and the exhibition room devoted to Field Marshall Montgomery. Everything else at The Imperial War Museum will be of limited interest to my parents and Josh, and we shall skip the other exhibitions, most of which are devoted to various 20th-Century British peace-keeping operations.

My mother will not object to spending two entire days at The Imperial War Museum. She will enjoy the exhibitions devoted to both World Wars, she will be moved by the Holocaust exhibition, and she will enjoy viewing the newly-installed art galleries. She also knows how much my father wants to explore the core of the museum’s collections.

Happily, The Imperial War Museum maintains an excellent restaurant. We shall be happy to have lunch in the museum restaurant both days.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Ageless London

I am starting to get excited about our upcoming trip. I generally start to get excited about one month prior to a departure.

We shall leave on August 3 and return on August 14. Our initial plan was to travel between August 5 and August 14, but we extended our travel period by two days once we ascertained that there were seven performances we wanted to catch in London.

The first five days will be spent in London. The second five days will be spent in Southern England.

I find London the most fascinating city in the world. London is not the most beautiful city in the world, nor the most charming, but I find it endlessly fascinating.

My sister-in-law tells me that she does not miss London. She tells me that visiting London is one thing, and living there quite another. She says that she could never live in London again. I think, above all, she appreciates the spaciousness of the U.S. as well as the lack of red tape Americans enjoy.

My sister-in-law finds it amusing that we are interested in historic London churches. My middle brother and I have visited far more London churches than she has—and we have a long list of London churches we visited in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 that we want Josh and my parents to see for the first time next month.

Reviewing the list of churches, my sister-in-law asks me, “Isn’t this going to be frightfully boring?” Then she identifies the handful of churches on our list in which she has attended funerals—the only reason she has ever visited those particular churches—and says, one by one, “Are you SURE you want to visit this church? I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this one.”

In fact, only one of our five days in London will be devoted to historic churches. Two days will be devoted to The Imperial War Museum and two days will be devoted to theater (matinee and evening performances both days). We shall try to visit a couple of other interesting things on the mornings of our theater days.

This year, our visit to London is governed, as a practical matter, by performance schedules. We have managed to squeeze five plays and two ballet performances into five days and six nights in London—with everything else tailored to the performance schedules.

As soon as we get back from Britain, Josh and I will head for Oklahoma to spend ten days with Josh’s family.

We must do these things while we may.

After Labor Day, Josh and I will be working.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Vile Bodies, Or A Strenuous Attempt To Be Chic

Last week, my parents and Joshua and I attended a performance of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s “God Of Carnage” at The Guthrie Theater. The translation was by Christopher Hampton.

Of one-and-a-quarter-hour duration, “God Of Carnage”, a comedy, depicts two sets of parents meeting to address an altercation between their respective eleven-year-old sons, one of whom has broken the other’s tooth. The intent of the meeting is for the parents to find a civilized resolution to the squabbling of the sons.

During the meeting, things begin in promising fashion, but quickly descend into chaos; the parents are shown to be as childish as their sons. One couple takes on the other. One sex takes on the other. One social class takes on the other. No one emerges from the meeting unscathed—or with any credit.

Reza’s theme, I believe, is the thin veneer of civility that characterizes much of Western life (Reza’s play is set in Paris, but British productions have set the play in London and American productions have set the play in Brooklyn). If Reza possessed a deeper theme, I missed it.

The play is funny, and has many good lines. How much of this must be credited to Reza and how much of this must be credited to Hampton I do not know: Hampton, a fine playwright in his own right, is a brilliant translator.

The play is also unpleasant, even nasty. The men are depicted as near-barbarous (one is a self-important lawyer welded to his cell phone, the other a self-made merchant with class issues) and the women are depicted as pretentious nitwits and airheads (one has aspirations as an author addressing genocide in Africa, the other is in “wealth management”). Both sexes are portrayed as vile. I do not believe that Reza likes people.

“God Of Carnage” has been deplored in some quarters, lauded in others. The play acquired numerous prizes in Paris, London and New York.

I found it difficult to take the play seriously. It poked fun at the dogmas of our age, easy enough to do, but it also suggested that human beings are very close to animals, not my experience for the last thirty years. More than anything, I think that Reza’s plays (she is also author of the controversial “Art”) may be seen as strenuous attempts to be “chic”, the characteristic most beloved by the French. Alas, chic has very little to do with art, and art has very little to do with chic, lessons Reza has yet to learn.

American productions have made a grave mistake in moving the action from Paris to Brooklyn. The characters remain very French, with no distinctly American characteristics on display. This allows American audiences easily to distance themselves from the play, which I do not believe was the playwright’s intent. However, Reza may have encouraged, even insisted, that the play’s locale be switched to the country in which the play is performed in order that the play not be seen as criticism of “the craven and contemptible French”.

The Guthrie production was nothing special, but the actors underplayed rather than overplayed the material, for which I was grateful. (I have been told that the Broadway production, a hit with audiences, was horribly overplayed).

More German Artillery Action

Another rare color photograph of the German artillery in World War II, shown here celebrating successful artillery strikes.

Once again, the year of the photograph is unknown, as is the front.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

German Artillery In World War II

This rare and dramatic color photograph depicts the German artillery in action in World War II.

The year of the photograph is unknown, as is the fighting front.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Czerny Etude Or “The Longest Day”?

Last week, my parents and Joshua and I went downtown to see “City Of Life And Death”, a Chinese film about The Rape Of Nanking.

The film, released in China in 2009, was written and directed by Lu Chuan. “City Of Life And Death” is Chuan’s third feature film.

In two-and-a-quarter hours, Chuan presents the story of the 1937 Japanese invasion of Nanking and the countless horrors that occurred during the fighting itself as well as during the occupation that followed.

The Rape Of Nanking was one of the most frightful events of the 1930s. No one will ever know precisely how many persons died in Nanking—the most conservative estimates are well over 100,000 deaths—but the merciless slaughter of civilians was on a scale not seen in civilized times. The inhumanity of the Japanese Army was unimaginable—and caused a worldwide uproar. Even Fascist Italy and Fascist Germany were appalled at the atrocities committed in Nanking, many documented in photographs smuggled to the West and instantly published in American and European newspapers and magazines. The Rape Of Nanking served as precursor for the brutality the Japanese Army was to display during World War II, only four years in the future on The Pacific Front.

Shot in black-and-white, “City Of Life And Death” has the look and feel of a documentary film. Hand-held cameras were used for many of the fighting sequences and for many of the scenes of atrocities, and the use of such devices further lends a documentary aura to the film.

The film is beautifully photographed. Sweeping panoramas, meticulously-crafted mid-range compositions, agonizing close-ups: all are used to near-breathtaking effect. The cinematographer of “City Of Life And Death” is genuinely a master—the composition of many scenes suggests an in-depth study of Old Master paintings—and I should like to see the cinematographer’s work again. His name is Cao Yu.

Editing, alas, lets the film down. The editing is no more sophisticated than the editing of the average television movie. Because the editing is so perfunctory, “City Of Life And Death” lacks coherency and inevitability—and, fatally, never acquires a rhythm. This is the chief deficiency of the film, and probably the reason “City Of Life And Death” was not granted a general release outside China.

The script, such as it is, does not help matters. The first half hour of the film portrays the fighting between the Japanese and Chinese armies. The next hour focuses on the rape and slaughter of Chinese women, as well as forced prostitution. The final three-quarter-hour attempts to wrap up the story by focusing on the fates of two characters: a Japanese soldier with moral qualms about the actions of his fellow soldiers; and a Chinese civilian working in an international safety zone, where American and German diplomats and civilians attempted to shield tens of thousands of Chinese from the Japanese Army. Needless to say, both characters die, which I believe is meant to constitute catharsis.

The plot scheme does not provide a satisfactory structure for the film. The first section is quasi-military documentary, the second section weepy tearjerker (totally unconvincing because the women look like actors—and modern actors, no less), and the third section ineffective character study. The result is that “City Of Life And Death” comes across as three separate films, with the finest of the three films presented first.

And yet the movie is fascinating from first frame to last. One can hardly take one’s eyes from the screen. The reason is simple enough: a nonstop flow of unspeakable atrocities is generally bound to seize and hold the viewer’s attention.

“City Of Life And Death” is serious, and earnest, and—because of its subject matter—gripping. The film is not, however, a fine specimen of the filmmaker’s art. It is the cinematic equivalent of a Czerny etude: there is lots of movement, but no destination; much energy must be expended, but there are no intellectual or emotional rewards.

Like the music of Czerny, everything in “City Of Life And Death” is very much on the surface. Everything very much lacks resonance. Everything is very impersonal. Nothing has been filtered through the mind of a great artist. The material calls out for a master director such as a David Lean or a Bernardo Bertolucci, directors capable of creating sweep and mood and momentum and drama.

“City Of Life And Death” has an exact parallel from the moviemaking past: “The Longest Day”, Warner Brothers’ clumsy 1962 big-budget retelling of the story of D-Day (also filmed in black-and-white so as to lend a documentary presence).

“The Longest Day” was also serious, and earnest, and—because of its subject matter—gripping. “The Longest Day” was not, however, a good film. It was artless, and shapeless, and profoundly frustrating, and often incompetent.

“City Of Life And Death” strikes me as China’s “The Longest Day”.

In both cases, a better director was needed. In both cases, better writers were needed to shape the material. In both cases, a sequence of glorious scenes recreating historic events, carefully planned and beautifully executed and filmed, fundamentally amounted to very little.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Wilhelm Furtwangler In A Train Compartment

Wilhelm Furtwangler reading a newspaper while riding in a train compartment during the 1920s.


I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

Oscar Wilde

Monday, July 04, 2011

Two Of The Most Idiotic Statements Of All Time

Two of the most idiotic statements of all time, offered by two of the biggest idiots of all time:


Smetena’s Moldau speaks of the joy of life lived fully.

The New Yorker Music Writer Alex Ross

My jaw drops. I have never encountered a more idiotic statement. Is this moron channeling Walter Damrosch?

Yet even Damrosch never would have written anything half so foolish.

And even Damrosch knew how to spell “Smetana”.

The famous tone poem—by Smetana, not “Smetena”—positively seethes with Czech melancholy and longing.

“Speaks of the joy of life lived fully”? I cannot believe anyone would have the face to write such nonsense.


The band at the celebrations we went to (in Titusville, where friends live) was playing it—and I realized that a Yiddish song performed by three Greek sisters is what America is all about!

The New York Times Political Writer Paul Krugman, writing about music heard on The Fourth Of July

My jaw drops. A Yiddish song performed by three Greek sisters is what America is all about? This is what our ancestors fought for?

Let freedom ring.

No wonder other professors at Princeton openly and pointedly and repeatedly called Krugman a fool (and far worse).


I grieve for this nation.

And it must be stated, once again: we live in a nation of morons.

However, I must also note—with some small measure of optimism—that justice is being accomplished.

Twenty years ago, one could go into any residence in Edina and see The New Yorker and The New York Times on coffee tables in every home. Today, one never encounters either publication. Today, one sees The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times instead.

Over a two-decade period, educated persons abandoned The New Yorker and The New York Times. The two publications lost their credibility—and lost their readerships. The New Yorker and The New York Times became hardcore screed sheets, with the consequence that they are now read only by the Hard Left.

In the process, The New Yorker and The New York Times became huge money-losing enterprises, two of the biggest money-losers in the entire world of publishing. The New Yorker and The New York Times are drowning in red ink, continually cutting costs and yet continually losing ever-larger sums; advertisers have switched allegiances; and the parent companies are overwhelmed with mountains of debt, most of which will never be repaid. Neither The New Yorker nor The New York Times will be around twenty years from now.

Twenty years ago, The New York Times enjoyed America’s largest newspaper circulation, far, far outselling every other newspaper. Today The Wall Street Journal outsells The New York Times by a factor of more than three-to-one. The rise of The Wall Street Journal and the decline of The New York Times has been the most extraordinary story in the field of journalism of the last twenty years—and the end result has been the most extraordinary change in newspaper readership in American publishing history. Remarkably, this dramatic change occurred in less than one generation.

Twenty years ago, The New York Times was consistently voted the globe’s finest newspaper by the worldwide newspaper association that annually ranks newspapers from all advanced countries. For the last ten years, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times have occupied spots numbers one and two, vying with each other year-by-year for top bragging rights. The New York Times no longer even appears on the list of top ten worldwide newspapers (newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Switzerland are now more highly-regarded than the once-mighty Times).

Twenty years ago, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times were not money-making enterprises; their owners strove merely to break even and somehow stay afloat.

Today The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times are highly profitable, as are their parent companies. In fact, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times are two of only a handful of profitable newspapers anywhere in the world.

Twenty years ago, The Financial Times was not available for sale throughout most of the United States. Today one may pick up The Financial Times at any news outlet nationwide—or at any food store or drug store or convenience store.

These things are as they should be—and they also give cause for reassurance: while we may live in a nation of morons, not everyone in our nation is a moron.

And yet one question remains: what are idiots like Alex Ross and Paul Krugman going to do once their publications fold and they no longer enjoy forums from which to espouse and promulgate conspicuous idiocy?

I suspect both are too obtuse to realize their fates are cast.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

“I Intend To Go In Harm’s Way”

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828)
John Paul Jones
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis

White Marble With Gray Veining On A Separate White Marble Base
22 1/2 Inches By 21 Inches By 12 Inches

Friday, July 01, 2011

Fundamental Liberties

John Singleton Copley (1737-1815)
The Collapse Of The Earl Of Chatham
In The House Of Lords 7 April 1778

Tate Britain, London
Since 1968 On Loan To The National Portrait Gallery, London

Oil On Canvas
120 7/8 Inches By 89 13/16 Inches


This grand history painting portrays the heart attack and collapse of The Earl Of Chatham (twice Prime Minister and better known as William Pitt or Pitt The Elder) during The House Of Lords’ single most important debate on the subject of The American Revolution, a debate held on April 7, 1778.

Pitt died on May 11.

The painting is an accurate depiction of the events of April 7, 1778, and is based upon numerous first-hand accounts of that fateful day. All sixty-five persons portrayed in the painting sat for Copley during the two years he worked on the canvas.

“The Collapse Of The Earl Of Chatham” was Copley’s second grand history painting, coming closely on the heels of “Watson And The Shark”. It was soon to be followed by “The Death Of Major Peirson”.

Even before The American Revolution, Chatham had urged a change in Britain’s policies toward the Colonies. An advocate of no taxation without consent, independent judges and trial by jury, Chatham had for years warned that America must be awarded fundamental liberties if it was to remain tied to Britain. Chatham had predicted a permanent rupture between Britain and America unless Britain radically changed its policies—and, further, he had foretold that America could never be conquered.

During the April 7, 1778, debate in The House Of Lords, Chatham had argued passionately on behalf of unlimited concessions to the Colonies—anything and everything short of actual independence must be granted immediately. Anything less, he warned, would be a resounding disaster for the nation: Britain would be destined to lose America entirely.

The House Of Lords rejected Chatham’s pleas for reconciliation.