Our “Merciful” Ending to the “Good War” Or How Patriotism Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry By Christian Appy

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Hiroshima Einstein

WWII Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima August 6, 1945

“Never, never waste a minute on regret. It's a waste of time.”

-- President Harry Truman

Here we are, 70 years after the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I'm wondering if we've come even one step closer to a moral reckoning with our status as the world's only country to use atomic weapons to slaughter human beings. Will an American president ever offer a formal apology? Will our country ever regret the dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” those two bombs that burned hotter than the sun? Will it absorb the way they instantly vaporized thousands of victims, incinerated tens of thousands more, and created unimaginably powerful shockwaves and firestorms that ravaged everything for miles beyond ground zero?  Will it finally come to grips with the “black rain” that spread radiation and killed even more people -- slowly and painfully -- leading in the end to a death toll for the two cities conservatively estimated at more than 250,000?

Given the last seven decades of perpetual militarization and nuclear “modernization” in this country, the answer may seem like an obvious no. Still, as a historian, I've been trying to dig a little deeper into our lack of national contrition. As I have, an odd fragment of Americana kept coming to mind, a line from the popular 1970 tearjerker Love Story:“Love,” says the female lead when her boyfriend begins to apologize, “means never having to say you're sorry.” It has to be one of the dumbest definitions ever to lodge in American memory, since real love often requires the strength to apologize and make amends.

It does, however, apply remarkably well to the way many Americans think about that broader form of love we call patriotism. With rare exceptions, like the 1988 congressional act that apologized to and compensated the Japanese-American victims of World War II internment, when it comes to the brute exercise of power, true patriotism has above all meant never having to say you're sorry. The very politicians who criticize other countries for not owning up to their wrong-doing regularly insist that we should never apologize for anything. In 1988, for example, after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 passengers (including 66 children), Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running for president, proclaimed, “I will never apologize for the United States. Ever. I don't care what the facts are.”

It turns out, however, that Bush's version of American remorselessness isn’t quite enough. After all, Americans prefer to view their country as peace-loving, despite having been at war constantly since 1941. This means they need more than denials and non-apologies. They need persuasive stories and explanations (however full of distortions and omissions). The tale developed to justify the bombings that led to a world in which the threat of human extinction has been a daily reality may be the most successful legitimizing narrative in our history. Seventy years later, it’s still deeply embedded in public memory and school textbooks, despite an ever-growing pile of evidence that contradicts it. Perhaps it’s time, so many decades into the age of apocalyptic peril, to review the American apologia for nuclear weapons -- the argument in their defense -- that ensured we would never have to say we're sorry.

The Hiroshima Apologia

On August 9, 1945, President Harry Truman delivered a radio address from the White House. “The world will note,” he said, “that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” He did not mention that a second atomic bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki.

Truman understood, of course, that if Hiroshima was a “military base,” then so was Seattle; that the vast majority of its residents were civilians; and that perhaps 100,000 of them had already been killed. Indeed, he knew that Hiroshima was chosen not for its military significance but because it was one of only a handful of Japanese cities that had not already been firebombed and largely obliterated by American air power. U.S. officials, in fact, were intent on using the first atomic bombs to create maximum terror and destruction. They also wanted to measure their new weapon’s power and so selected the “virgin targets” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson  informed Truman of his fear that, given all the firebombing of Japanese cities, there might not be a target left on which the atomic bomb could “show its strength” to the fullest. According to Stimson's diary, Truman “laughed and said he understood.”

The president soon dropped the “military base” justification. After all, despite Washington's effort to censor the most graphic images of atomic annihilation coming out of Hiroshima, the world quickly grasped that the U.S. had destroyed an entire city in a single blow with massive loss of life. So the president focused instead on an apologia that would work for at least the next seven decades. Its core arguments appeared in that same August 9th speech. “We have used [the atomic bomb] against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor,” he said, “against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”

By 1945, most Americans didn't care that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not committed Japan's war crimes. American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of “yellow peril” racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman. As Truman put it in his diary, it was a country full of “savages” -- “ruthless, merciless, and fanatic” people so loyal to the emperor that every man, woman, and child would fight to the bitter end. In these years, magazines routinely depicted Japanese as monkeys, apes, insects, and vermin. Given such a foe, so went the prevailing view, there were no true “civilians” and nothing short of near extermination, or at least a powerful demonstration of America's willingness to proceed down that path, could ever force their surrender. As Admiral William “Bull” Halsey said in a 1944 press conference, “The only good Jap is a Jap who's been dead six months.”

In the years after World War II, the most virulent expressions of race hatred diminished, but not the widespread idea that the atomic bombs had been required to end the war, eliminating the need to invade the Japanese home islands where, it was confidently claimed, tooth-and-nail combat would cause enormous losses on both sides. The deadliest weapon in history, the one that opened the path to future Armageddon, had therefore saved lives. That was the stripped down mantra that provided the broadest and most enduring support for the introduction of nuclear warfare. By the time Truman, in retirement, published his memoir in 1955, he was ready to claim with some specificity that an invasion of Japan would have killed half-a-million Americans and at least as many Japanese.

Over the years, the ever-increasing number of lives those two A-bombs “saved” became a kind of sacred numerology. By 1991, for instance, President George H.W. Bush, praising Truman for his “tough, calculating decision,” claimed that those bombs had “spared millions of American lives.” By then, an atomic massacre had long been transformed into a mercy killing that prevented far greater suffering and slaughter.

Truman went to his grave insisting that he never had a single regret or a moment's doubt about his decision. Certainly, in the key weeks leading up to August 6, 1945, the record offers no evidence that he gave serious consideration to any alternative.

“Revisionists” Were Present at the Creation

Twenty years ago, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum planned an ambitious exhibit to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. At its center was to be an extraordinary artifact -- the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But the curators and historical consultants wanted something more than yet another triumphal celebration of American military science and technology. Instead, they sought to assemble a thought-provoking portrayal of the bomb's development, the debates about its use, and its long-term consequences. The museum sought to include some evidence challenging the persistent claim that it was dropped simply to end the war and “save lives.”

For starters, visitors would have learned that some of America's best-known World War II military commanders opposed using atomic weaponry. In fact, six of the seven five-star generals and admirals of that time believed that there was no reason to use them, that the Japanese were already defeated, knew it, and were likely to surrender before any American invasion could be launched. Several, like Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight Eisenhower, also had moral objections to the weapon. Leahy considered the atomic bombing of Japan “barbarous” and a violation of “every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war.”

Truman did not seriously consult with military commanders who had objections to using the bomb.  He did, however, ask a panel of military experts to offer an estimate of how many Americans might be killed if the United States launched the two major invasions of the Japanese home islands scheduled for November 1, 1945 and March 1, 1946. Their figure: 40,000 -- far below the half-million he would cite after the war. Even this estimate was based on the dubious assumption that Japan could continue to feed, fuel, and arm its troops with the U.S. in almost complete control of the seas and skies.

The Smithsonian also planned to inform its visitors that some key presidential advisers had urged Truman to drop his demand for “unconditional surrender” and allow Japan to keep the emperor on his throne, an alteration in peace terms that might have led to an almost immediate surrender. Truman rejected that advice, only to grant the same concession after the nuclear attacks.

Keep in mind, however, that part of Truman's motivation for dropping those bombs involved not the defeated Japanese, but the ascending Soviet Union. With the U.S.S.R. pledged to enter the war against Japan on August 8, 1945 (which it did), Truman worried that even briefly prolonging hostilities might allow the Soviets to claim a greater stake in East Asia. He and Secretary of State James Byrnes believed that a graphic demonstration of the power of the new bomb, then only in the possession of the United States, might also make that Communist power more “manageable” in Europe. The Smithsonian exhibit would have suggested that Cold War planning and posturing began in the concluding moments of World War II and that one legacy of Hiroshima would be the massive nuclear arms race of the decades to come.

In addition to displaying American artifacts like the Enola Gay, Smithsonian curators wanted to show some heartrending objects from the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, including a schoolgirl's burnt lunchbox, a watch dial frozen at the instant of the bomb's explosion, a fused rosary, and photographs of the dead and dying. It would have been hard to look at these items beside that plane’s giant fuselage without feeling some sympathy for the victims of the blast.

None of this happened. The exhibit was canceled after a storm of protest. When the Air Force Association leaked a copy of the initial script to the media, critics denounced the Smithsonian for its “politically correct” and “anti-American” “revision” of history. The exhibit, they claimed, would be an insult to American veterans and fundamentally unpatriotic. Though conservatives led the charge, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Smithsonian for being “revisionist and offensive” that included a tidy rehearsal of the official apologia: “The role of the Enola Gay... was momentous in helping to bring World War II to a merciful end, which resulted in saving the lives of Americans and Japanese.”

Merciful? Consider just this: the number of civilians killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone was more than twice the number of American troops killed during the entire Pacific war.

In the end, the Smithsonian displayed little but the Enola Gay itself, a gleaming relic of American victory in the “Good War.”

Our Unbroken Faith in the Greatest Generation  

In the two decades since, we haven't come closer to a genuine public examination of history's only nuclear attack or to finding any major fault with how we waged what Studs Terkel famously dubbed “the Good War.” He used that term as the title for his classic 1984 oral history of World War II and included those quotation marks quite purposely to highlight the irony of such thinking about a war in which an estimated 60 million people died. In the years since, the term has become an American cliché, but the quotation marks have disappeared along with any hint of skepticism about our motives and conduct in those years.

Admittedly, when it comes to the launching of nuclear war (if not the firebombings that destroyed 67 Japanese cities and continued for five days after “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki), there is some evidence of a more critical cast of mind in this country. Recent polls, for instance, show that “only” 56% of Americans now think we were right to use nuclear weapons against Japan, down a few points since the 1990s, while support among Americans under the age of 30 has finally fallen below 50%. You might also note that just after World War II, 85% of Americans supported the bombings.

Of course, such pro-bomb attitudes were hardly surprising in 1945, especially given the relief and joy at the war's victorious ending and the anti-Japanese sentiment of that moment. Far more surprising: by 1946, millions of Americans were immersed in John Hersey's best-selling book Hiroshima, a moving report from ground zero that explored the atomic bomb's impact through the experiences of six Japanese survivors. It began with these gripping lines:

“At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.”

Hiroshima remains a remarkable document for its unflinching depictions of the bomb's destructiveness and for treating America's former enemy with such dignity and humanity. “The crux of the matter,” Hersey concluded, “is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result?”

The ABC Radio Network thought Hersey's book so important that it hired four actors to read it in full on the air, reaching an even wider audience. Can you imagine a large American media company today devoting any significant air time to a work that engendered empathy for the victims of our twenty-first century wars? Or can you think of a recent popular book that prods us to consider the “material and spiritual evil” that came from our own participation in World War II? I can't.

In fact, in the first years after that war, as Paul Boyer showed in his superb book By the Bomb’s Early Light, some of America's triumphalism faded as fears grew that the very existence of nuclear weapons might leave the country newly vulnerable. After all, someday another power, possibly the Soviet Union, might use the new form of warfare against its creators, producing an American apocalypse that could never be seen as redemptive or merciful.

In the post-Cold War decades, however, those fears have again faded (unreasonably so since even a South Asian nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India could throw the whole planet into a version of nuclear winter).  Instead, the “Good War” has once again been embraced as unambiguously righteous. Consider, for example, the most recent book about World War II to hit it big, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Published in 2010, it remained on the New York Times best-seller list in hardcover for almost four years and has sold millions of copies. In its reach, it may even surpass Tom Brokaw's 1998 book, The Greatest Generation. A Hollywood adaptation of Unbroken appeared last Christmas.

Hillenbrand’s book does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of World War II or even of the war in the Pacific. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a child delinquent turned Olympic runner turned B-24 bombardier. In 1943, his plane was shot down in the Pacific. He and the pilot survived 47 days in a life raft despite near starvation, shark attacks, and strafing by Japanese planes. Finally captured by the Japanese, he endured a series of brutal POW camps where he was the victim of relentless sadistic beatings.

The book is decidedly a page-turner, but its focus on a single American's punishing ordeal and amazing recovery inhibits almost any impulse to move beyond the platitudes of nationalistic triumphalism and self-absorption or consider (among other things) the racism that so dramatically shaped American combat in the Pacific. That, at least, is the impression you get combing through some of the astonishing 25,000 customer reviews Unbroken has received on Amazon. “My respect for WWII veterans has soared,” a typical reviewer writes. “Thank you Laura Hillenbrand for loving our men at war,” writes another. It is “difficult to read of the inhumanity of the treatment of the courageous men serving our country.” And so on.

Unbroken devotes a page and a half to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, all of it from the vantage point of the American crew of the Enola Gay. Hillenbrand raises concerns about the crew's safety: “No one knew for sure if... the bomber could get far enough away to survive what was coming.” She describes the impact of the shockwaves, not on the ground, but at 30,000 feet when they slammed into the Enola Gay, “pitching the men into the air.”

The film version of Unbroken evokes even less empathy for the Japanese experience of nuclear war, which brings to mind something a student told my graduate seminar last spring. He teaches high school social studies and when he talked with colleagues about the readings we were doing on Hiroshima, three of them responded with some version of the following: “You know, I used to think we were wrong to use nukes on Japan, but since I saw Unbroken I've started to think it was necessary.” We are, that is, still in the territory first plowed by Truman in that speech seven decades ago.

At the end of the film, this note appears on the screen: “Motivated by his faith, Louie came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness. He returned to Japan, where he found and made peace with his former captors.”

That is indeed moving. Many of the prison camp guards apologized, as well they should have, and -- perhaps more surprisingly -- Zamperini forgave them. There is, however, no hint that there might be a need for apologies on the American side, too; no suggestion that our indiscriminate destruction of Japan, capped off by the atomic obliteration of two cities, might be, as Admiral Leahy put it, a violation of “all of the known laws of war.”

So here we are, 70 years later, and we seem, if anything, farther than ever from a rejection of the idea that launching atomic warfare on Japanese civilian populations was an act of mercy. Perhaps some future American president will finally apologize for our nuclear attacks, but one thing seems certain: no Japanese survivor of the bombs will be alive to hear it.

 

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Nina Simone’s Time IS Now, Again

Nina Simone’s Time Is Now, Again (New York Times)

By SALAMISHAH TILLET JUNE 19, 2015

   

Nina Simone in 1969. A new documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” opens on Wednesday. Credit Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive - Getty Images

nina                  

The feminist writer Germaine Greer once declared: “Every generation has to discover Nina Simone. She is evidence that female genius is real.” This year, that just might happen for good.

Nina Simone is striking posthumous gold as the inspiration for three films and a star-studded tribute album, and she was name-dropped in John Legend’s Oscar acceptance speech for best song. This flurry comes on the heels of a decade-long resurgence: two biographies, a poetry collection, several plays, and the sampling of her signature haunting contralto by hip-hop performers including Jay Z, the Roots and, most relentlessly, Kanye West.

Fifty years after her prominence, Nina Simone is now reaching her peak.

The documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” directed by Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola, USA”) and due on Wednesday in New York and two days later on Netflix, opens by exploring Simone’s unorthodox blend of dusky, deep voice, classical music, gospel and jazz piano techniques, and civil rights and black-power musical activism.

Not only did she compose the movement staple “Mississippi Goddam,” but she also broadened the parameters of the great American pop artist. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” Simone asks in the film. “That to me is the definition of an artist.” And in “What Happened,” Simone emerges as a singer whose unflinching pursuit of musical and political freedom establishes her appeal for contemporary activism.

Simone’s androgynous voice, genre-breaking musicianship and political consciousness may have concerned ’60s and ’70s marketing executives and concert promoters, but those are a huge draw for today’s gay, lesbian, black and female artists who want to be taken seriously for their talent, their activism or a combination of both.

“Nina has never stopped being relevant because her activism was so right on, unique, strong, said with such passion and directness,” Ms. Garbus said in an interview at a Brooklyn bakery. “But why has she come back now?” she asked, answering her own question by pointing to how little has changed, citing the protests over the police killings of unarmed African-Americans like Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.

 

Opinionator | The Stone: Time for a New Black Radicalism JUNE 22, 2015

 

While Simone’s lyrical indictment of racial segregation and her work on behalf of civil rights organizations connects her to our contemporary moment, those closest to her felt more comfortable telling Simone’s story after her death in 2003. As Ms. Garbus said, “From a filmmaking point of view, the answer for her return is also because of the estate, and people being ready to relinquish some control of her story.”

In this case, it was Simone’s daughter, the singer and actress Lisa Simone Kelly, who shared personal diaries, letters, and audio and video footage with Ms. Garbus and has an executive producer credit on the film. Speaking by phone from her mother’s former home in Carry-le-Rouet, France, Ms. Kelly said: “It has been on my watch that this film was made. And I believe that my mother would have been forgotten if the family, my husband and I, had not taken the right steps to find the right team for her to remembered in American culture on her own terms.”

Simone in N.Y. 1965            

Simone in New York in 1965. Credit Sam Falk/The New York Times

Ms. Kelly is only partly right. Over the last decade, a steady stream of reissued albums and previously unheard interviews and songs, as well as unseen concert footage have flooded the market. But the estate has enabled and impaired Simone’s revival. There has been a dizzying array of lawsuits over the rights to her master recordings in the last 25 years, a tangled situation that includes a recent Sony Music move to rescind a deal with the estate.

The most high-profile controversy about Simone’s legacy, however, involves Cynthia Mort’s biopic, “Nina,” due later this year. Starring Zoe Saldana in the title role, the film was initially beleaguered by public criticism over the casting, an antagonism further fueled by leaked photos of Ms. Saldana with darkened skin and a nose prosthetic. Eventually, the film’s release was set back even more by Ms. Mort’s own 2014 lawsuit against the production company, which she accused of hijacking the film, as The Hollywood Reporter put it.

Though Ms. Saldana told InStyle magazine that “I didn’t think I was right for the part,” the fallout and online petition calling for a boycott of the film nevertheless revealed a deep cultural investment in both Simone’s politics and aesthetics by a new generation.

The director Gina Prince-Bythewood said in a phone interview that she used Simone as the muse for her lead character, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a biracial British pop sensation, in her 2014 film “Beyond the Lights” because “during her time, Nina was unapologetically black and proud of who she was, and it was reflected in the authenticity of songs like ‘Four Women.’ And this is something that Noni absolutely struggles with because she has been instructed to be a male fantasy.”

But for Ms. Prince-Bythewood, Simone is not simply an alternative to today’s image of an oversexualized or overmanufactured female artist, but the idol most suited for the multilayered identity politics of our social movements. “This moment of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ” she said, “is a resurgence of racial pride but also a time in which black women are now at the forefront.”

Minnie Driver and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Minnie Driver, left, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Beyond the Lights.” Credit Suzanne Tenner/Relativity Media, via Associated Press

Like the renaissance of interest in Malcolm X in the early 1990s, Simone’s iconography arises in yet another time of national crisis. However, her biography, as an artist who was proudly black but steadfastly rejected the musical, sexual and social conventions expected of African-American and female artists of her time, renders her a complicated pioneer.

Born Eunice Waymon in 1933, Simone grew up in segregated Tryon, N.C. At 3, she was playing her mother’s favorite gospel hymns for their church choir on piano; by 8, her talents garnered her so much attention that her mother’s white employer offered to pay for her classical music lessons for a year. Determined to become a premier classical pianist, Simone trained at Juilliard for a year, then sought and was denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia — a heartbreaking rejection that led to a series of reinventions — renaming herself Nina Simone, performing in Atlantic City nightclubs and adopting jazz standards in her repertoire.

She would go on to have her only Top 40 hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” in 1959 off her debut album, “Little Girl Blue.” To further her music career, Simone moved back to New York, where she befriended the activist-writers Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Malcolm X. Influenced by these political friendships and the momentum of the civil rights movement itself, Simone went on to compose “Mississippi Goddam” in 1964 in response to the assassination of the civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the murder of four African-American girls in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., a year earlier. The song was Simone at her best — a sly blend of the show tune, searing racial critique and apocalyptic warning.

Oh but this whole country is full of lies

You’re all gonna die and die like flies

I don’t trust you any more

You keep on saying “Go slow!”

“Go slow!”

Simone’s growing political involvement affected both her professional and personal life. Though she was bisexual, her longest romance was her 11-year turbulent marriage to Andy Stroud, a former police officer who managed her career for most of the ’60s. Stroud would use physical and sexual abuse to limit Simone’s activism and friendships, and to control her unpredictable emotional outbursts. Unfortunately, it would take another 20 years for Simone’s “mood swings” to be diagnosed as a bipolar disorder. In the interim, Simone left her marriage and country, becoming an expatriate in Liberia, Switzerland, then France. (In the film, Ms. Kelly says that because her mother became more symptomatic and abusive toward her, she had to move back in with her father.)

She had not only become more militant by aligning songs like “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” with Stokely Carmichael and the black power movement, but also found it increasingly difficult to secure contracts with American record companies. Looking back on this period in her 1991 memoir, “I Put A Spell on You,” Simone recalled, “The protest years were over not just for me but for a whole generation and in music, just like in politics, many of the greatest talents were dead or in exile and their place was filled by third-rate imitators.” She died in 2003 at her home in France.

“Nina Simone, more than anyone else, talked about using her art as a weapon against oppression, and she paid the price of it,” said Ernest Shaw, a visual artist who last year painted a mural featuring Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Simone on the wall of a Baltimore home just two miles from the scene of Freddie Gray’s arrest.

Today Simone’s multitudinous identity captures the mood of young people yearning to bring together our modern movements for racial, gender and sexual equality.

This is a large part of the appeal of the documentary “The Amazing Nina Simone,” by Jeff L. Lieberman, which features more than 50 interviews with Simone’s family, associates and academics (including me), scheduled to be released later this fall.

Nina SImone in 1965          

Nina Simone in 1965 with her daughter, Lisa. Credit Associated Press

Mr. Lieberman said he wanted to explore the relationship between Simone and Marie-Christine Dunham Pratt, a former model and the only child of the dancer Katherine Dunham, because “many gay men and lesbians have long connected with Nina Simone because she was this outsider in her many worlds, sometimes sad, sometimes lonely, but always determined, and unrelenting in her fight for freedom.”

Still, the preoccupation with Simone has more to do with her sound than her life story. Those who have covered Simone on recent albums — including Algiers, a Southern gospel and punk band; Xiu Xiu, an experimental post-punk group; and Meshell Ndegeocello, the neo-soul, neo-funk artist — are remarkably different from one another. Their common use of Simone speaks to how her music cuts across race, gender and genre.

But it has been hip-hop, the genre that Simone once said had “ruined music, as far as I’m concerned,” that has kept her musically relevant more than anything else.

Lauren Hill

Lauryn Hill. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times

The two hip-hop artists most responsible for Simone’s current ubiquity are Kanye West and Lauryn Hill. Mr. West has rendered Simone hip-hop- and pop-friendly by sampling her in songs like “Bad News,” “New Day” and “Blood on the Leaves.” While he declined to comment on Simone, like her, he fashions himself as a controversial if not misunderstood rebel — a figure who wants to be appreciated as much for his refusal of artistic genres as for his musical virtuosity.

Ms. Hill was one of the first rappers to mention Simone in song — on the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” in 1996 — and she recorded several songs for “Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone,” an album (due July 10) tied to “What Happened, Miss Simone?”

Jayson Jackson, Ms. Hill’s former manager and a producer of Ms. Garbus’s film, conceived “Nina Revisited,” and said that while working on the album, Ms. Hill told him, “I grew up listening to Nina Simone, so I believed everyone spoke as freely as she did.”

Paradoxically, Simone’s comeback also reveals an absence. A majority of pop artists — with the exception of a few like D’Angelo, J. Cole and Killer Mike — have largely been musically silent about police violence in Ferguson, Mo.; New York; and Baltimore.

Nina Simone 1968

Nina Simone in about 1968. Credit Getty Images

John Legend, who covered Simone on his own 2010 protest album with the Roots, “Wake Up!,” and recently started Free America, a campaign to end mass incarceration in the United States, attributes this absence to artists unwilling or unable to take positions outside the mainstream. “I don’t think it is career suicide to take on these positions, but I think there is actually a limited number of artists who really want to say something cogent about social issues, so most do not even dive in,” he said in an interview.

He added, “To follow in her footsteps, I think it takes a degree of savvy, consciousness, communication skills, and a vibrant intellectual community that most artists aren’t encouraged to cultivate.”

Today, Simone’s sound and style have made her a compelling example of racial, sexual and gender freedom. As Angela Davis explained in the liner notes for the album, “In representing all of the women who had been silenced, in sharing her incomparable artistic genius, she was the embodiment of the revolutionary democracy we had not yet learned how to imagine.”

Correction: June 28, 2015

An article last Sunday about the influence of the late singer Nina Simone on modern musicians misspelled the name of her hometown. It is Tryon, N.C., not Tyron.

Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, the author of “Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination” and is writing a book on Nina Simone.

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Blase Bonpane a Mighty Voice for Fundamental Change

Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society Onion

(The "Onion" where the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society holds services)

Enthusiastic activist, former Jesuit priest, Director of Office of the Americas, and author of "Imagine No Religion", Blase Bonpane, spoke today at the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society morning service. He began by singing in his persuasive mellow voice:

"Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war. I dreamed I saw a mighty room. The room was filled with men. And the paper they were signing said they'd never fight again.

And when the papers all were signed and a million copies made. They all joined hands and bowed their heads and grateful prayers were prayed. And the people in the streets below were dancing round and round. And guns and swords and uniforms were scattered on the ground. Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war"

Setting that tone of his prophetic wisdom, so much a part of his life’s work, he guided the congregation at the "Onion", with his vision of how our present political system has failed to deliver the most essential values of an intelligent caring society dedicated to a better world. Instead we have become the world's terrorist in leading the number of killings of human beings since World War II.

We stand 34 in the world on how a country treats our children and 43 in the truth of our publication of the news. He emphasized that you can judge the values of a country by how they treat their children. He demolished our pompous claim to exceptionalism based more on religious faith than fact.

He reminded me of why I came to the Onion in 1983 when I wanted to find a church that was involved in the peace movement, and had a youth program to bring to ours 2, 5, and 9 for an outside caring influence. I had noticed members of Unitarian Churches were strong activists for the United Farm Workers when I worked as an attorney for Cesar Chavez, and this was the closest UU Church in Sepulveda only five miles from our home.

Farley Wheelwright led the congregation in rousing sermons on peace, social justice, and protests against nuclear weapons at Rockwell and other defense oriented corporations. He often dedicated sermons to the ravaging of Nicaragua, Guatemala, and other locations by our CIA sponsored terror and support of ruthless dictators. An Onion parishioner, Nick Sedita, led the congregation and others in the nationwide nuclear freeze movement. I became chair of the Social Concerns Committee and my wife was in charge of “religious education” where our children learned to appreciate nature, peace, music, and respected people of different races and cultures.

Bonpane lived and worked with the realities of liberation theology for more than a quarter of a century. In his book, Guerrillas of Peace, he takes the reader from the high country of Huehuetenango in Guatemala to intensive grass roots organizing in the United States. He shows that we cannot renew the face of the earth and coexist with the torturing, murdering governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, and their accomplices in Washington.

In his sermon he urged us to understand that a new person has to be formed to make our world the place we want to raise our children and live fully. This revolutionary person insists that human values be applied to government. That leads to a remarkable and necessary conclusion...children should not be free to die of malnutrition, no one should be allowed to die of polio or malaria, women should not be free to be prostitutes, no one should be illiterate. The loss of these freedoms is essential for a people to make their own history. This is the Theology of Liberation, the kind of theology that made the early Church an immediate threat to the Roman Empire.

He reminded us of Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement of basic human rights that includes health care, and education as a requirement of a developed country. So far behind on this is the United States as well as many other countries, we see college students burdened with $90,000 in education costs that maybe the government will allow a lower interest rate on when a developed country should provide the education as a basic human right like health care at no cost.

On the environment Bonpane reminds us our oceans contain an area as large as Texas filled with plastic bottles that have come to rest there. Instead our country keeps relying on nuclear power when no one knows what to do with the enormous radioactive waste. The air we breathe and water we drink is not just for America that represents only 4% of the world, but for everyone so we must learn to work together with all nations despite our differences.

We can’t allow the Lockheeds of the Military Industrial Complex to continue to reap the benefits of a trillion dollars set aside for nuclear weapon improvements on the 2014 models with these disparities facing us. On the positive side recently a huge union movement in New York that attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers demanded wage increases to $15/ hour and an anti-war movement including veterans is gaining momentum and has actions to bring attention to the peace movement so necessary to gather international support.

To think that in Yemen we have provided drones to the Saudi dictatorship to attack the Houthis who are fighting our enemy Al Qaeda is madness. 23 years of war with Iraq, sending our troops there and killing them as well as those in the area has only increased the hatred for the US Military and shows our foreign policy is not working. We must challenge all these developments with all our energy or we will not have a planet for our children that is fit for human life.

Bonpane, former Maryknoll priest and superior, was assigned to, and expelled from, Central America. UCLA professor, contributor to the L.A. Times, N.Y. Times, commentator on KPFK, and author of many publications, he is currently Director of the Office of the Americas, a broad-based educational foundation dedicated to peace and justice in this hemisphere.

Blase is a vanguard practitioner of liberation theology and a former Maryknoll priest. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council 1962-1965 many religious people, especially those serving in Latin America, began to understand a spirituality that transcended sectarianism. Having come from an upwardly mobile Italian American family marked by Southern Italian anti-clericalism, Blase was accustomed to hearing his parents express real differences with their institutional church.

He served in Guatemala during a violent revolution and was expelled for “subversion.” After receiving a gag order from the Church, which he could not in good conscience accept, Blase met with the editorial board of the Washington Post and released all of the material he had regarding the U.S. military presence in Guatemala. This action led to his separation from the Maryknoll Fathers.

Blase accepted a teaching post at UCLA. While serving in academia, he met the former Maryknoll Sister Theresa Killeen, who had served in Southern Chile. They married in 1970. Their adventures include working directly with Cesar Chavez at his headquarters in La Paz, California, building solidarity with the Central American Revolution, forming the Office of the Americas, working in the forefront of the international movement for justice and peace, and raising two children.

Bonpane also worked on the ground for international peace in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Japan and Iraq. He led the U.S. contingent of the International March for Peace in Central America from Panama to Mexico in 1985-1986.

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Latest Pentagon Folly, a $30 Million Sanitized, Revisionist History of the Vietnam War

  By Dave Lefcourt From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Pentagon.JPG:

Re-writing history-or in today's parlance-" revisionism"-particularly military history, is something all countries contrive to do, portraying their "history" favorably, all their actions "patriotic", defending the "mother" country, "fatherland" or here in the US our military "fighting for us", defending "America" and now the "homeland".

For purposes of brevity, the focus of this piece will be on America's latest gambit of "revisionist" history with the Pentagon launching a $30 million program to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of the Vietnam War, which Marjorie Cohn accurately depicts as "$30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history". [i]

Cohn writes, "For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the 'Vietnam syndrome', in which US presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, 'By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all".

"With George W. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama's drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam."

Replete with a fancy interactive website ( http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/ ), the effort is aimed at teaching schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the heart of which was the GI movement".

 

Typical of the "war" department sanitizing the history of that time in America essentially dismissing the hundreds of thousands nationwide protesting and demonstrating against the war-particularly after 1967 on college campuses, at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, the 250,000 thousand demonstrating against the war on November 15, 1969, Nixon bombing Cambodia in the Spring of 1970-there were huge rallies-including yours truly-of college students marching and "meeting up" with each other which the Pentagon now refers to as simply "massive protest".

As to the My Lai "massacre" where some 500 unarmed Vietnamese old men, women and children were slaughtered by Lt. Calley and his men has become the in Pentagon parlance the "My Lai Incident".

 

Well read Nick Turse's, "Kill Anything That Moves" where he reveals "My Lai" was hardly an "incident", as the Pentagon describes it, and not just a one time massacre committed by crazed GI's that day in Vietnam but something that was occurring on a daily basis. Remarkably, Turses' research was gleaned directly from the Pentagon's own written accounts of the war that were sitting in its vaults gathering dust until Turse dug into the factual record to discover the truth which he later gave light and revealed to the public.

To those of us who came of age during that time, the protests against the Vietnam war was personal and visceral unlike any protest since, including "Occupy".

And for those of you who weren't born yet or too young to take part in the anti-war movement of the late 1960's and early 70's-even reading about that time-it's hard to imagine in today's America-the dynamic fervor and sense of solidarity one felt actually being a part of it, that revolution was in the air and we were part of the vanguard bringing it on.

 

Getting back to Cohn she quotes, antiwar activists" "Tom Hayden and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg saying, "All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth. If you conduct a war, you shouldn't be in charge of narrating it".

 

The antiwar group "Veterans for Peace" (VFP) "is organizing an alternative commemoration ( http://www.veteransforpeace.org/our-work/vietnam-full-disclosure-campaign/ ) of the Vietnam war. This from VFP executive director Michael McPhearson, "One of the biggest concerns for us is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world -- as a propaganda tool."

Cohn concludes," Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of the US war in Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and future wars conducted in our name".

Well we already have an "honest accounting of the disgraceful history of the US war in Vietnam", Turse's "Kill anything That Moves"; must reading including Cohn who apparently hasn't read Turses' account.

Hastings College of Law The Law of War and Peace Fall 2014 - Pg 71 001

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Veterans Affairs Head Grilled Over Delays in Care For Returning Soldiers

After news that dozens of U.S. veterans died during long waits for medical treatment, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified Thursday before a senate committee about treatment delays and cover-ups at VA medical centers. The committee grilled him about recent claims that VA health clinics in Phoenix, Arizona, and Fort Collins, Colorado, used elaborate schemes to hide records of patients who waited too long for care, and suggested the problems may lead to a criminal investigation.

In a Democracy Now segment,  Aaron Glantz, who covers veterans and domestic military issues for The Center for Investigative Reporting, reveals some of the abuses affecting veterans with medical and psychiatric conditions that were not seen as a witness explains the "falsified" records showed. The video also shows a VA whistle-blower who says he was removed from his position as chief of psychiatry at a VA hospital in St. Louis after reporting unethical workplace conduct. Dr. Jose Mathews says he was demoted to the hospital's basement where he now works on compensation and pension exams. He is joined by his attorney Ariel Solomon.

Watch the 15-minute interview here: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/5/16/a_matter_of_life_and_death

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