A high point in the remarkable string of guest blog posts has been Xujun
Eberlein's investigation (top five items here) into the true nature of something called the Sino-American Cooperative
Organization, or SACO. Chinese school-kids, she writes, know of SACO as a
WWII-era anti-communist concentration camp. Bob, her husband (to be) had not heard of SACO when they first met:
Bob was the first person I know to counter the mainland Chinese notion of
SACO's history, albeit intuitively (and with an American bias). He did later
speculate that, if there were actually such a graphic concentration camp in
China operated by Americans, the ubiquitous US journalists wouldn't have
foregone a Pulitzer-winning opportunity to expose it, ergo SACO would already
have been public knowledge in the US.
Xujun sets up the dichotomy starkly: In the American telling, SACO was a Nationalist-FDR effort to fight a common enemy -- Imperial Japan. The lay (mainland) Chinese belief, influenced by popular and historical material, is darker: SACO was the scene of American-led torture and communist martyrdom. They can even point to a brick-and-mortar museum displaying "Made in USA" torture artifacts.
Who is right?
Xujun paintakingly tracks down Chinese research showing that SACO was, in fact, an anti-Japanese military operation. The truth that it was not a prison, much less a concentration camp, has begun to slowly trickle out. I think of the story of SACO as a fault-line of history.
(SACO's "What the Hell" flag, this one displayed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredricksburg, TX, surely lacks the gravitas a concentration camp pennant would seem to require.)
The other night I was riffling through the March issue of Flying. It featured a column by the prolific Lane Wallace, recently seen here. Titled "Forgotten Adventures in Real Time," the column opens as a meditation on the ineffability of adventure. But it pivots into something else entirely when Lane takes up a missing persons' case dating to the immediate aftermath of WWII:
Until I read Fiedler's book [303 Squadron -- SS] I wasn't even aware there were Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain. So imagine my surprise at discovering that in the critical month of September alone, the 303 Squadron shot down 108 of the 967 enemy planes destroyed by the RAF and its allies. And that, over the course of the Battle of Britain, its pilots shot down three times as many aircraft, with one-third the losses, of any other RAF squadron.
Yet another fault-line! Lane attributes the erasure of 303 Squadron from historical record to Poland's eclipse by the Iron Curtain, and the West's concomitant depreciation of Polish wartime contribution. A supposedly accountable Western democracy, not an oppressive autocracy, "disappeared" the Polish fighters for political reasons. (Perhaps the story is better known in Eastern Europe?)
Lane's column reminded me of another historical obfuscation from that part of the world. "The Worst of the Madness" is a chilling survey of the blood-soaked history of Poland and points east -- Belarus, the Baltics, Ukraine, and the western periphery of Russia. Last year, Ann Applebaum wrote in The New York Review of Books that this region:
... experienced the worst of both Stalin's and Hitler's ideological madness. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the lethal armies and vicious secret policemen of two totalitarian states marched back and forth across these territories, each time bringing about profound ethnic and political changes...
Between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million people died there, not in combat but because someone made a deliberate decision to murder them...
Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian... argues that we still lack any real knowledge of what happened in the eastern half of Europe in the twentieth century. And he is right: if we are American, we think "the war" was something that started with Pearl Harbor in 1941 and ended with the atomic bomb in 1945. If we are British, we remember the Blitz of 1940... and the liberation of Belsen. If we are French, we remember Vichy and the Resistance. If we are Dutch we think of Anne Frank. Even if we are German we know only a part of the story.
Amid our frequent and heartfelt invocations of the Holocaust and its lessons, how often do we -- here in the West -- speak of those 14 million victims? Shouldn't cultural literacy include knowing about Polish heroism in the defense of Britain? Will the truth about SACO leaven Chinese views of America? Finally, and most troublingly, how much of the history that we "know" is as incomplete and incorrect as these examples?
Today the U.S. remains mired in two seemingly endless overseas campaigns. Even sanguine observers suspect that the Bomb Iran confederacy is only in temporary abeyance until developments in North Africa and Arabia can be repackaged into a digestible McNarrative. In such fraught times, the recurrent faults in history should induce severe modesty in our pundits and policy-makers. Truth can be obscured by innocent solipsism as easily as venal disregard. Facts once known can be easily lost or banished. Santayana surely doesn't imply that even if we embrace it, we ever actually know the past. History is as much minefield as map.
I view Jim's blog posts -- and those of his office-mates -- as outlines for a first draft of history. With all the world's data-gathering tools at our disposal, we can attempt to understand the present, even if "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle".
In this quick turn on Jim's podium, I am covering my own peculiar interests: analytic decision-making, management and entrepreneurship, South Asia, and flying. I confess to an additional, covert, agenda: to imbue issues not usually mentioned here with the possibility of history.
Sanjay Saigal is founder and CEO of Mudrika Education, Inc., with offices in Silicon Valley, CA and Delhi, India.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today's riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protesters taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
In Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died shortly after being taken into police custody, an investigation may uncover homicidal misconduct by law enforcement, as happened in the North Charleston, South Carolina, killing of Walter Scott. Or the facts may confound the darkest suspicions of protestors, as when the Department of Justice released its report on the killing of Michael Brown.
What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.
This is the paradox at the heart of rioting in Baltimore. Protestors have been in the streets of Charm City for a week to demonstrate against violence by police officers. But when matters started to spin out of control Monday afternoon, the group dispatched to solve the problem was the police.
The context for these events is a slowly building anger, beginning with the arrest of Freddie Gray on April 12, his grievous injury in a police van that day, and his death on April 19. The 25-year-old black man's funeral was Monday. His life and death have prompted a series of questions about how the police interact with residents of Baltimore, particularly black ones, and about segregation and poverty in the city.
Cinderella marries Prince Charming. Aladdin weds Princess Jasmine. In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana falls for Christian. From bedtime stories to films, we are exposed to a repeated idea: that love, or at least lust, crosses class lines. In fiction, cross-class relationships either end in marriage and happily-ever-after, or else in dissolution and even death. But what happens in real life?
Last year, I set out to answer this question by interviewing college-educated men and women who had married partners from different class backgrounds, for my book The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages. Not surprisingly, their relationships had little in common with the romances we see in the movies.Class had shaped each spouse so much that the people I interviewed had more in common with strangers.
“As a basic principle, we can’t tell you to stop recording,” says Delroy Burton, chairman of D.C.’s metropolitan police union and a 21-year veteran on the force. “If you’re standing across the street videotaping, and I’m in a public place, carrying out my public functions, [then] I’m subject to recording, and there’s nothing legally the police officer can do to stop you from recording.”
“What you don’t have a right to do is interfere,” he says. “Record from a distance, stay out of the scene, and the officer doesn’t have the right to come over and take your camera, confiscate it.”
Officers do have a right to tell you to stop interfering with their work, Burton told me, but they still aren’t allowed to destroy film.
On Monday, Americans watched televised images of riots and looting in Baltimore, Maryland, where days of peaceful protests sparked by the killing of Freddie Gray gave way to mayhem in at least several locations. As CNN broadcast scenes of young people looting a CVS pharmacy and police cars burning in the streets, its commentators, including anchor Wolf Blitzer, criticized Baltimore officials for allowing such flagrant lawlessness to transpire. "I keep asking where are the police," he said. "They seem to be invisible." In fact, law enforcement had come under attack by high school students throwing cinder blocks, dispersed that crowd, and had officers massed at several spots, just not the particular corner where the news helicopter trained its cameras. The anchor treated truths not captured on CNN's video feeds as if they didn't exist. Americans should avoid that sort of myopia.
Does Adam Sandler have an expiration date? Does his particular brand of slapstick—humor that's infused with a wan self-deprecation, that manages to be simultaneously silly and sociopathic, that once found Sandler punching Bob Barker in the face while informing him that "the price is wrong, bitch"—hold up? Is Sandler's own price now, finally, wrong?
Recent events would suggest yes. Late last week, in the course of filming Sandler's newest project, the made-for-Netflix Western spoof The Ridiculous 6, a Native-American cultural advisor and several performers and extras walked off the set in protest. (Sample characters: Beaver Breath, No Bra, Sits-on-Face. Sample line: "Say honey: how about after this, we go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee?") As Allison Young, a Navajo actress who quit after being asked to do a scene "requiring her to fall down drunk, surrounded by jeering white men who rouse her by dousing her with more alcohol" told the Indian Country Media Network, “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’”
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Take a walk along West Florissant Avenue, in Ferguson, Missouri. Head south of the burned-out Quik Trip and the famous McDonalds, south of the intersection with Chambers, south almost to the city limit, to the corner of Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant. There, last August, Emerson Electric announced third-quarter sales of $6.3 billion. Just over half a mile to the northeast, four days later, Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. The 12 shots fired by Officer Wilson were probably audible in the company lunchroom.
Outwardly, at least, the City of Ferguson would appear to occupy an enviable position. It is home to a Fortune 500 firm. It has successfully revitalized a commercial corridor through its downtown. It hosts an office park filled with corporate tenants. Its coffers should be overflowing with tax dollars.