Letters to the Editor

(May 18, 2009)


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The Perfect World of Journalism

To the Editor:

I generally agree with most of Charles Marowitz's commentaries, and his attack on the prevalence, often dominance, of trivia in today's media was well justified. However, I think he let hard-copy newspapers off too lightly in concentrating so much on the Internet. I find that even in the supposedly left-of-centre or liberal (in the old-fashioned British meaning of the word, before people like President G.H.W. Bush twisted it) newspapers in the U.K. (The Guardian and The Independent) only perhaps 10% is worth spending any time on. The rest is trash and trivia, only worth lining the brown bags we now have to use for recycling our garbage. All that waste, when paper is so expensive today! And of course a very large part of that trash is the tedium of unwanted and often moronic advertisements. Yet Marowitz in his other essay, Breaking News, states that the thirst for advertising will be hard to quench and nor should it be quenched. Well, I think the editor of Swans is much more stimulating and challenging when he rightly shows some pride in keeping Swans ad-free.

I am reminded of one of my favourite quotations, attributed to veteran journalist Hannen Swaffer: "Freedom of the press in Britain means freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to." A much more recent article, brilliant in my opinion, points out clearly the close and pernicious relationship between monopoly capitalism and advertising and the terrible waste involved, not least in human talent and endeavour (Monthly Review, April 2009, pp 1-23). No, if newspapers are revived it would be far better if they were community based and not dependent on corporate ownership or advertising.

I expect Charles Marowitz knows far more than I do about American journalists and writers, but I think some of his choices of (enlightened?) scribes could be questioned. I think it is strange to include Walter Lippmann in the same list as Tom Paine, for instance. To label Lippmann as "the silliest liberal of them all" is perhaps going too far, but there is no doubt he did much harm, including his role in the propaganda machine for World War I. H.L. Mencken was also in the list. From what I have read he had as low opinion of American newspapers of his time as Upton Sinclair did (in his youth at least), which is saying something! I don't think either of them would think much of the ad-filled papers of today.

I still hope to read more of your essays, Charles.

Best wishes,

Charles Pearson
Cambridge, England, UK - May 11, 2009

[ed. Swans "business model" may be "stimulating" and showing "some pride" but a) it does not help pay the contributors, b) does not pay for the editor's financial sustenance, and c) does not even pay for the operating costs of the endeavor. Maybe Charles Marowitz's observations on advertising should be regarded in light of the three comments just made. Charles Pearson may wish to go back and read this March 23rd article and then, if he has some creative ideas for a workable business model we will all be glad to hear them.]


From G. B. Shaw to the Skateboards

To the Editor:

Many thanks for organizing your Shaw retrospective and having my article as part of it on March 23. Also thanks to the other four authors/reviewers who participated. I wanted to suggest to Louis Proyect that he might wish to expand his list of Shaw videos to include the recently-released series of 10 Shaw productions by the BBC that include some of the more popular plays. Also compliments to Proyect for his review of Skateboards Will Be Free. During my college days at the time of the Cuban Revolution I was witness to an imbroglio at Indiana University in Bloomington involving the Young Socialist Alliance, the youth wing of the Socialist Workers Party, the subject of the book. The later-to-become-more-prominent Peter Camejo, when he was still a "young" socialist, would come down and involve himself with this as well. So I was most interested in this review. There is now being presented a new Shaw musical called The Minister's Wife based on Candida. The world premiere productions are taking place on the North Shore in Chicago till mid-July. A bit of Googling should find it.

All the best,

Isidor Saslav
Overton, Texas, USA - May 10, 2009


Two Different Views of History: Martin Murie's Reaping Bodies And Hatred

The pot-holed avenue of History is repaved so often by well-meaning, glib but dopey shovelers that new bricks, filler, and macadam seem to become the avenue itself. Thus it will take gifted future Schliemanns intent on digging up the Troys of our age to cut through the offhand bullshit promulgated by such as Martin Murie after writing cute about mice, weasels, raptors and unshrewed shrews, and lots of other good nature stuff.

From his flawed, clawed uncompassed attack on our drone bombers (he seems especially against remote control), Murie, an old infantry type, shoots down my entire WW2 career. Says he:

"Bombing anything from the air is an utterly clumsy technique." (Try telling that to the promulgators of the Pearl Harbor attack and the Saudis behind that pretty successful 9-11 air attack that may have slipped his mind. Or to the surviving kids like me who wiped out the German oil refineries at Schweinfurt and Ploesti, putting a big kink in the Luftwaffe's fuel supply. Those "clumsy" successes saved lots of Allied lives. Any unarmed civilians and their children hanging around those refineries must have had an inkling of the danger they were in.

Murie goes on about our "clumsy technique." "It kills thousands of children and other unarmed people for every targeted installation." Oh really, Martin? (I know you were a WW2 infantry man and are a creditably published expert on ecology, but I flew some 52 of these here aerial combat missions, more than 30 of them against Nazi targets in Germany and Occupied France. (Ah there Frenchie...) Some of my targets: Templehof and Potsdam Airports; Goering fighter depots, Berlin; Tiger Tank plant, Kassel; SS Barracks, Rennes; Orly Airport Luftwaffe hangars (two), Paris; D-Day gun emplacements on the heights between Caen and Le Havre; engine plant, Essen; naval docks, Hamburg; concentration camp nexus railway terminal near Dresden (confluence of 40 rail lines); fighter depot, Marseilles etc., etc.

At no point in my combat tours -- in which my own group had a 71% rate of attrition, meaning only 29% of us came home alive at war's end -- were we EVER briefed to hit "a city" or any other civilian revenge target -- the kind of bombings the Germans initiated at Coventry, Italy, Poland, North Africa, Russia and myriad other cities.

If Mr. Murie's life experience on bombing trumps my own, I bow to his superior knowledge. Otherwise, he should stick to stuff he's proficient in -- like indignation at the remote control of our drones, and small mammals crawling into his clothing. Nastinesses I'm sure, but not in the same league as getting your ass shot off by the wonderful folks who gave us Beethoven and Bach and way over there, the Toyota and Nikon.

W. Sebald, the great German hysterical novelist and snapshooter, just before he died a couple of years ago, importuned his people to accept the fact that his nation's proud warriors had, amongst many other accomplishments, ultimately and surprisingly brought death to 600,000 Germans, many -- but not nearly all -- from us 22-year-old "rats of the air" as the old cheesemeister called us. I think Sebald meant to absent 6 million Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, and other undesirables from his tally. It's them Germans who really counted, nicht wahr liebchen?

It's the closest any distinguished rat of the ground with a keyboard at his fingers has come to accepting a soupcon of Kurt Vonnegut's kind of sentimental Dresdener ersatz guilt explaining what "really" happened during those terrible days when our "utterly clumsy technique" (disregarding the other horrors of wartime German techniques) ruined a perfectly vunderbar society.

PS: On a trip to Copenhagen in 2000, my wife and I visited the Danish Wartime Museum. Actually, Florence refused to enter the place with old journalist me. One small glass case brought me to tears, more than the anti-Semitic posters adding two inches to small, cute Jewish noses like mine. More than the bloody wooden posts used behind firing squad victims. In the case was a long pliers made and used as a torture instrument by the SS, for whom waterboarding must've seemed like a Jugend Camp activity. The snout of the pliers, where two serrated jaws are usually found, had been altered. When closed, the pliers now sported two finger-sized holes. A simple little card in English explained: This device was used by the SS when interrogating civilians. It was capable of breaking two fingers at once. Good old German ingenuity seen today in top-line Japanese and Korean cars now that Mercedes and BMW quality have stumbled.

This was the enemy I left my only year ever of college to enlist against, not because I was a 21-year-old Jew -- but because I loved my country, knew it was threatened, and it needed my help. Two things that haven't changed to this day more than 60 years later.

Art Shay
Deerfield, Illinois, USA - May 4, 2009
Martin Murie responds:


I do not write "cute about mice, weasels, raptors and unshrewed shrews, and lots of other good nature stuff." Au contraire, I am deadly serious about the land and the animals. A good friend in Wyoming flew missions over Europe in WWII, lost his left eye to shrapnel; I lost my right eye, but we do not swap war stories. Tom grew up on a cattle ranch and remembers when huge flocks of sage hens were a common sight. Now they are endangered in many parts of their range. Our concern is oil and gas drilling, and new coal-fired power plants and developers and other moneyed weasels taking over our nation.

Florence Reese, who wrote Which Side Are You On, said in a radio interview that "America is a beautiful country, but it has to be made that way." Never mind the grammar, her point is clear enough. We've got much work to do, Art, to make us once more proud of our country. I'm sure you are as fed up by the lies, evasions, illegalities, etc., as I am. These violations have to be taken care of. We have to make America beautiful again.

You come down hard on my word "clumsy" in reference to striking from the air. I stand by that word. The evidence is overwhelming. It wasn't clear from your letter where you stand on the use of pilotless drones directed from Creech air base in Nevada. I hope you are disgusted.

I have sometimes been criticized for the phrase "striking from afar" to include naval big guns and "friendly fire" in support of infantry attacks. I have been under friendly fire and dodged artillery shells in farms and city streets in Italy. My best friend was killed by friendly fire.

Your listing of bombing raids over Germany and France does not show concern for deaths or injuries of workers or civilians in the vicinity of those plants and bases. Sure, as with drone flights, those strikes saved many lives of fighting men who happened to be on our side. At antiwar demos, time passes quickly, so much is going on, including gossiping with each other. Last Saturday, a demonstrator talked about German casualties on the beaches of Normandy from naval guns that had the power to blast apart reinforced concrete two or three feet thick. Yes, we took huge casualties on our side too, but I remembered the Christmas Eve "truce" called by Germans and Americans in WWI and the conversations between Rebs and Union grunts in the siege of Vicksburg. I am not proud of killing German soldiers. I think of them as ordinary humans subjected to tremendous and romantic propaganda glorifying their race. We Americans have an equally appalling and cute view of our own history, and that cuteness goes so far as to romanticize charismatic animals. We see displays of kids kissing killer whales that are confined in prisons, deprived of oceans. These animals make the best of a bad deal. We even have environmental organizations trading "ownerships" or "adoptions" of wolves and prairie dogs, or polar bear replicas, in exchange for contributions, as though that dodge will do the job of saving them from extinction. A huge segment of environmental outfits have sold out to the corporate state. That's why I write for Swans and The Zephyr.

War in these times is obsolete.

Sincerely yours,



Xenophobia and the Opposite of Everything we, at Swans, Stand for...

To the Editor:

When my husband and I were in our childbearing age, in the 1960s, here in the USA, the big rage of the day was "population increase zero." It did make sense to us, at the time, and like the idiots we were, we limited ourselves to two children.

Yes, indeed, we and many other American citizens limited ourselves to small families, and what happened?

The population more than doubled. Not with our children, but with people from the darndest places in the world, about some of whom we read in the paper that "their greatest challenge in being here, is to learn how to live in a house."

Yes, while the Americans limited the numbers of their offspring or had abortions, the government made up for the shortfall in population by letting everybody and his cousin come here.

Sorry if I sound racist, but I for one would have liked to keep America American and have only 150 million people like we used to have. But if we had to double the population I would have rather had more of our children and not have all these problems we have now because of multiculturalism and people who have no desire to assimilate into our society.

This just as a warning to those in your country who want to limit people to having just one child. You better make darn sure that your government is on the same page you are on.

You will be just as overrun by the rest of the world as we are. The white man is disappearing and if I sound hateful because I hate to see that happen, so be it. I like white people, they are the ones who contributed most to the advancement of man.

Elisabeth Mcgill
Tucson, Arizona, USA - May 5, 2009


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Published May 18, 2009
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