Monday, July 01, 2019


The writer Arthur Koestler fought fascism in the early 1930s.  He courageously wrote against Nazism in Germany and was imprisoned on death row for his stand against fascism in Spain.  Communists hailed him as a hero.

A few years later, Koestler spoke out again, but this time against communist oppression.  His classic novel, Darkness at Noon,  exposed Stalin's show trials to the world.  Now the communists too hated Koestler, and burned his books.

German political poster from the 1950s showing Koestler being hated equally by book-burners on the left and the right.
Koestler reflected, "To be burned twice in one's lifetime is, after all, a rare distinction."

The illustrator Arthur Szyk was also burned twice.  Szyk's scathing pictures attacking Nazis during World War II were powerful tools for fundraising for US war bonds, training soldiers and rousing awareness.  Eleanor Roosevelt called Szyk a "one man army" for America.  Hitler put a price on his head.

After the war was over, members of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee began to wonder if Szyk was sufficiently anti-communist.  Despite his obvious patriotism, the Committee suspected Szyk of once belonging to an organization that served as a "Communist front."  Besides, he had drawn cartoons about civil rights for negroes,  and wasn't that kind of communist? 

White soldier: "What would you do with Hitler?"
African-American soldier:  "I would have made him a negro and dropped him somewhere in the USA." 
The distraught Szyk protested that he wasn't connected with any Communist organization, but a few months after the investigation began he died of a heart attack at age 57.

Szyk had been burned once by America's enemies and then again by jerks purporting to be America's "friends."

Which bring us to Victor Arnautoff, another artist interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s because it didn't approve of his left wing views.  Arnautoff had drawn an unflattering picture of Richard Nixon.  He also painted prominent historical murals in the San Francisco area, some of which were critical of slavery, genocide and colonization.

Arnautoff's art survived his right wing inquisition.  Today the question is whether it will survive his left wing inquisition.

Last week, the school board in San Francisco voted to destroy Arnautoff's 1936 mural about the life of George Washington because the murals included images of African-American slaves and a dead Native American, which might traumatize high school students.

Note the slaves working the fields in the background.

Washington High School convened a  "Reflection and Action Group" to consider the issue. That group ruled that the mural “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy [and] oppression"-- a grossly ignorant mischaracterization of Arnautoff's work.

Speaking of ignorant, School Commissioner Faauuga Moliga defended the destruction, saying his concern was that "kids are mentally and emotionally feeling safe at their schools."  The school board's vice president declared that destroying the mural counted as "reparations."

Koestler wrote that having your work burned by extremists on both sides is comparable to "a professional diploma, certifying that its owner has passed his examination and is entitled to exercise his craft." It seems that Arnautoff has passed that test.

It's ironic that extremists fail to recognize themselves in their opposite extremes.  There are legitimate questions about dealing with art that glorifies abhorrent content, but no meaningful answer can result from such blatant ignorance.  As the great Seneca wrote, "If you would judge, investigate."


Tom said...

What is really strange is the extremes need each other to define themselves. I like the way you contextualize the issue David. It reminds me of Nietzsche’s quote, “To whom the gods will destroy they first make mad.”

MORAN said...

Those high school kids are learning all the wrong things. Those fucking school board members should be fired.

Richard said...

“So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down," Trump said. "I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

“It stops….where it stops. No one action determines that any other action must take place. Reasonable people can clearly differentiate between the legacies of men who fought against the United States in order to maintain an economic system built on the institution of human slavery and men honored as founders of the nation, be they flawed men who owned slaves themselves.” -Basically Everyone 2 Years Ago

Richard said...

(And what will they do with the Lincoln memorial when they find out he said:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”


"I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races .... I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." )

Richard said...

Heres another good one:

Nike pulls shoes featuring “racist” Betsy Ross flag

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Good ol' Nietzsche-- you can always rely on him for something brilliant to fit every occasion. Another quote from him that seems to fit these wars: "No one lies as much as an indignant man."

MORAN-- Alas, I agree.

Richard-- As I think my little post suggests, neither the left nor the right has had a monopoly on rewriting history and burning books over the past century. I think the reaction of the San Francisco School board, like the reaction of the opponents of the Nike shoes with the Betsy Ross flag, was weak and delusional. There is something to Shakespeare's point that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." A little more thinking could have transformed the interpretation of Arnautoff's murals or cleansed Betsy Ross' flag of the recent attempts by racists to seize it as a symbol. I regret that the protesters found it easier to surrender the field.

Obviously there is nothing inherently racist about the Betsy Ross flag; if protesters today are upset that racists and militia groups are trying to appropriate that flag as a symbol of white supremacy, I'd say the proper response is to take the symbol back, not cede the territory.

It would be difficult to say who has behaved worse in that Nike mess-- the right wing extremists who have been trying to distort the meaning of the flag, the left wing protesters who retreat in the face of those efforts, the company that surrendered so quickly, or (lastly) the venomous Senator Cruz who showed up at the end in time to make the situation worse by claiming Nike only wanted to “sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag.” Cruz knows that's not what's happening but he can't resist spreading a little more poison on the scene.

Upon reflection, I guess I'd say that of all the regrettable actors in this sad situation, the malign Mr. Cruz is the worst.

Richard said...

I have to admit that I wasn’t aware that “alt-right” people were distorting the meaning of the flag. Given that the distortion in this case was merely having apparently waved it (as with the Gadsden flag), and the definition of alt-right now appears to be any conservative under 35 and anyone who likes Trumps policies, I must concede that we probably did “distort” it.

That would also explain why 1 in 5 millennials, and the Guardian, now see the American flag itself as a symbol of hatred. We just waved it too much.

Richard said...

Also, Cruz’s full statement there was: “It’s a good thing Nike only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag….”

Which sounds a lot more like an off the cuff funny about a bad business decision than the “poison” you’re contending.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- I think for the time being we'll both just have to agree that destroying this mural would be a horrific act. We'll need to find a different forum for the larger political debate or it could easily transform the nature of this blog.

I'll just point out as a procedural matter (and then you can add whatever you like) that dismissing a comment as "an off the cuff funny" has become like waving a red flag in front of a bull. When the President makes an "off the cuff funny" about grabbing women's pussies or urging Russians to hack Hillary's emails or suggesting Obama was born in Kenya, it has serious, very unfunny consequences. The beneficiaries of those consequences aren't willing to relinquish the benefits of his misconduct, so they excuse it as a joke. Long ago the people who are seriously harmed by this con stopped tolerating the excuse.

Anonymous said...

So easy to repeat the lies, so painful to waste time refuting them.

Morals: You probably voted for Bill Clinton twice even after knowing what a louse he was in real life, cheating on his wife repeatedly, multiple credible accusations of rape, shoving that cigar up Monica in the Oval Office, etc. Real class. And YOU voted for him twice. Shows how much you really care about morals. You probably voted hillary even after knowing she operated the "war room" that sought to destroy all those women who came forward with accusations against her husband. Believe all women right? But president trump makes a locker room joke about women and fame as aphrodisiac, and that's what you concern yourself with? A joke?

Nobody would have seen that the president's crass joke/point either if creepy David Brock and his team of well paid dem hacks hadn't spent months and months digging so they could pull an october surprise. And the only "consequence" of the video leak, was the intention of the leakers, why they took so much effort to dig it out of obscurity: to use it (to pretend it was an admission, which it wasn’t) to sow hysteria among all the delicate flowers who obey the DNC outrage-of-the-week scripts.

And btw the hrc emails the president jokingly referred to were those 30,000+ hrc deleted while under subpoena, an act which would have landed any other citizen in jail. (thus "lock her up") The DNC media of course deliberately conflates those emails with the ones that ended up with wikileaks (which have metadata attached to them that could have interesting forensic consequences, if you'd pay attention to any consequences other than dnc/clintonite spin).

Oh but we're supposed to believe those 30,000+ hrc emails were deleted after the house subpoena because they should have been deleted before the subpoena? Is that the spin? How very Clintonesque. Only a dyed in the wool democrat could believe that hrc is truthful or innocent. Anybody with any horse sense, or who reads anything about her not explicitly put out by her media cult, knows she doesn't have an authentic bone in her body. She’s all conniving and no soul. (Amazing how all that clinton foundation money dried up when she wasn't crowned queen of america, right? A 90 percent drop in donations after she lost the election. No pay to play there, right?)

Anonymous said...

And oh Russia! and that hoax you believed so hard for two years, that everybody sensible knew was a media/dnc lie by october 2016 (see the new york times article from that month, or Strzok saying about the same time "there's no there there" which Mueller knew about way earlier than the 2018 midterms.) Somehow the democratic media apparatus kept the entire democratic flock tightly locked in the narrative lie. For more than two. whole. years. Talk about mass mind control. Talk about sheep. Talk about liars. The russiagate hoax was the greatest misuse of the press to sow deliberate disinformation about a political opponent ever. The fourth estate will not recover. They do not care about this country. But you think nothing of it. Huh? What? See no evil, hear no evil.

Q: Was the whole russia hoax set into motion by an incredulous and incapable-of-taking-blame hrc (as suggested at the end of Shattered, the book detailing her run written by two reporters sympathetic to her cause?) Since the clintons essentially purchased the dnc by bankrolling it after obama nearly bankrupted it, allowing them to steal the primary from sanders, they essentially owned the democratic media information bubble. (As Steve Bannon rightly put it, the opposition party is the media. The mainstream media and the democrat party are now the same corrupt thing.) I think we'll see when Barr gets to the bottom of it. The vegas line is that the clintonites, obama flackeys, and their media cult perpetuated the greatest fraud, the most disgusting and divisive psyops imaginable upon this great nation as the last act of vengeance of a bitter and nasty woman who never got the power she so desperately craved.

But of course, you won't believe anything Mr. Barr says, because as we speak you are being conditioned by the dnc media propagandists to disbelieve and hate him oh so very much. A lot of people in Obama and Clintonland are very scared of mr barr and are desperate to taint him. Wonder why? You're still probably outraged about Russia, though, right? Russia jokes. But I bet you were fine when Obama allowed Russia to annex the Crimea, an actual real geopolitical disaster having to do with Russia. But oh those dreadful russia jokes! Nice perspective.

Anonymous said...

And lets not forget Kenya... a rumor begun, by a rogue HRC activist on the internet during the 2008 primaries. Who was promptly fired, to be fair. Yet, you seem to forget (or never knew), also by Sidney Blumenthal, a long time close associate and hatchet man for the clintons. Here's the quote: “During the 2008 Democratic primary, Sid Blumenthal visited the Washington Bureau of McClatchy Co. During that meeting, Mr. Blumenthal and I met together in my office and he strongly urged me to investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya. We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false. At the time of Mr. Blumenthal’s conversation with me, there had been a few news articles published in various outlets reporting on rumors about Obama’s birthplace. While Mr. Blumenthal offered no concrete proof of Obama’s Kenyan birth, I felt that, as journalists, we had a responsibility to determine whether or not those rumors were true. They were not.”- McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher via twitter Friday September 9 2016.

So somehow Mr. Blumenthal, Hillary’s right hand man was an early birther trying to plant birther stories/doubts in at least one major newspaper. But again Hillary was innocent in the matter. Right? Just her right hand hack doing this. Nothing to see here. Oh, and do you really think McClatchy’s was the only outlet Mr. Blumenthal tried to sell birtherism to? Eight ball says, no chance. We all know what kind of person Mr. Blumenthal is. And what kind of person would hire him.

And let's not forget one of the main reasons the birther thing had traction in the first place. Because Obama's own representatives, his early literary agency, Acton & Dystel had been touting a Kenyan birth for Obama since 1991. And news articles were still appearing in print saying the same thing as late 2004 with nobody complaining. Look them up. With the public and long overdue production of Obama's birth certificate years later in 2011, absurdly 3 years after his election, Trump acknowledged its legitimacy as well as Obama's as properly elected president. End of story. There was no consequences to the whole matter, except those that, by all rights, Obama had set in motion himself by not publicly producing his birth certificate in a timely fashion, and also for allowing/suggesting his early literary agency lie about his birthplace to make him seem more exotic, worldly, or something. More salable to a certain set of guilt ridden white people who watch Rachel Maddow.

David Apatoff said...

Richard, I do hope "anonymous" is not you.

al mcluckie said...

Awww - can't be . Richard's not the type to hide in anonymity.

Al McLuckie

Richard said...

Haha, no that wasn’t me.

I wouldn’t want to ruin your blog with partisan back and forth.

In this day and age it’s difficult to discuss cultural issues adjacent to politics without stepping on hot button politics. We should be able to recognize the Betsy Ross and Robert E Lee recent events in the discussion of protecting art and culture from vandalism without falling into discussing when it’s appropriate to grab pussies.

MORAN said...

David you brag that you never censor anybody but you have to get rid of that twisted fuck. That sicko really believes all that paranoid conspiracy bullshit. Call the psychiatrist.

Richard said...

Something tells me that David isn’t going to start censoring a popular set of viewpoints on a blogpost about not censoring people just because you say he “has to”.