Analysis of ‘Watchmen’

I: Introduction

Watchmen is a 1986-1987 comic book limited series, collected into a single-volume edition graphic novel in 1987. Original characters were used, since most of them would be unusable for future stories. The series was created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colourist John Higgins.

Moore meant the story as a reflection on contemporary fears, and as a deconstruction and satire on the concept of superheroes, as well as a commentary on contemporary politics. Watchmen depicts an alternate history in which Nixon not only doesn’t resign or is threatened with impeachment over the Watergate scandal (which is never exposed), but enjoys an overturning of the two-term limit and is thus still president by the mid-80s, when the story begins. He is able to do this because such superheroes as Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian help the US win the Vietnam War, ensuring Nixon’s continuing popularity.

Watchmen has received commercial and critical success, recognized in Time‘s List of the 100 Best Novels. According to the BBC’s Nicholas Barber, it is “the moment comic books grew up.” A film adaptation by Zack Snyder came out in 2009, featuring Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson; a video game series, Watchmen: The End Is Nigh, also came out the same year. A TV series continuing the story came out in 2019 on HBO. I’m basing my analysis on the comics and the 2009 movie.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

II: Alternate History vs Real History

What should we make of the alternate history, with a Vietnam War victory and Nixon continuing on as president well into the 1980s, that is, as a form of political commentary? Here’s my take: what difference does it make, really? Though communism hadn’t yet been defeated as of when Watchmen was written and published, it certainly had been as of the creation of the movie; besides, Vietnam would go over to a market economy, as would China, around the time of the comics’ publication. As for Nixon, when one considers how the foreign and domestic policies of the United States have moved unswervingly in the same neoliberal/neocon direction since the 1973 oil crisis, one can easily see how it has made no difference who’s been sitting in the Oval Office.

…and here’s where the superheroes come in.

Apart from the sheer goofiness of their names (Nite Owl?, Dollar Bill?, Captain Metropolis?, Hooded Justice?, Mothman?), the superheroes are a satire on their whole existence based on the idea that…no…they do not really embody the idea of defending truth, justice, and…wait, actually they do defend the American way. “Who watches the watchmen?Juvenal once asked of the corrupt men who would guard women against infidelity; though we today find far better application of his words to the defenders of tyrannical governments.

It must be emphasized that, though the liberal creators of Watchmen would have been unlikely to have defended Marxist-Leninist governments (note how the comics’ portrayal of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, moved later in this alternate history to the mid-80s, is still deemed an invasion, rather than an attempt to defend the growth of socialism there against the fundamentalist, reactionary mujahideen), the tyrannical government being critiqued here is the US dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the capitalist, imperialist state led by Nixon, who stands in for Moore’s real Republican satirical target…Reagan!

So, as with John Carpenter‘s film They Live, Watchmen is meant as liberals’ indictment of the GOP specifically, as opposed to being a critique of the entire American two-party system, the military-industrial complex, and capitalism in general, though it should have been meant as such, and it has enough elements in it to be critical of so much bigger a realm of political corruption, as I’ll try to show. For to put what I said above in different words, re-elected Nixon can be a stand-in for not only Reagan, but also Ford, Carter, Bushes Sr. and Jr., the Clintons, Obama, Trump, and Biden.

One criticism of the film’s general faithfulness to the comics is that it was too faithful. Retaining, for instance, the Cold War fears of nuclear armageddon between the US and socialist Russia was deemed by film critics over a decade ago to be too dated for contemporary moviegoers to be able to relate to the tensions depicted. In the 2020s, however, with new Cold War fears of nuclear armageddon between the US and capitalist Russia, moviegoers today can relate all too well to the tensions depicted in the film.

Such fears are what have motivated me to do this analysis.

III: The Comedian Is Dead

The story begins with the violent murder of Edward Blake, the Comedian (Morgan in the film), a man in his sixties who was in remarkably good shape for his age, but no match for his much younger killer, who throws him out of the window of his New York apartment, him falling to his death. The iconic image of his pin of a smiley face stained with a drop of his blood’s a harrowing one, for it symbolizes all that the Comedian in turn came to represent: the idea of superheroes defending the innocent is a sick, cruel joke.

Superheroes in this story are, essentially, glorified police and soldiers, whom they thus represent. Many people, especially in recent years, have come to feel nothing but contempt for cops, and justifiably so, for the cops’ job is really “to serve and protect” the ruling class. Similarly, the American/NATO military serves nothing more than imperial interests.

This is where the Comedian comes in. With Doctor Manhattan (Crudup), he is the only superhero allowed by the US government to remain so under the Keene Act of 1977, which otherwise banned all “masks.” Though the Comedian was inspired by the Peacemaker, with “a little bit of Nick Fury,” there’s also some Captain America in him, too, as can be seen on his Stars and Stripes shoulder sleeves.

Watchmen the comic and film seem to have anticipated the huge outpouring of superhero films in the 2010s, especially the MCU, with its pitting of the Avengers against armies of alien supervillains, a glorification of war between the “good guys,” or “Earth’s mightiest heroes” as representing the armies of US/NATO imperialism, and the “bad guys,” the Chitauri, etc., as representing any country opposing the Western empire.

Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised to see flashbacks of the Comedian killing the Vietcong with Doctor Manhattan, though we feel an unsettling sympathy for Charlie as he gets mutilated and destroyed, unlike those Chitauri. What’s worse, we see what a pig of a GI Joe the Comedian is to the pregnant Vietnamese woman he kills…after refusing to take responsibility for having impregnating her. Added to that is his beating and attempted rape of Sally “Jupiter” Juspeczyk, or Silk Spectre I (Gugino) back in the early 1940s. The Comedian thus represents not only police brutality and imperialism, but also toxic masculinity (elements I linked together here), showing what a cruel joke it is to be a “superhero.”

So, the Comedian is despicable in the extreme; but he is not 100% despicable. There are, after all, his penitent tears while sitting at the bed of Moloch (played by Matt Frewer in the film), who was his supervillain enemy for forty years (Chapter II, comic pages 21-23). The Comedian feels this remorse as a result of learning of the apocalyptic plans of Ozymandias (Goode). Indeed, his maskless confession to Moloch, revealing his secret identity as Blake, puts the retired supervillain in the ironic role of priestly confessor, thus once again blurring the line between good and evil in Watchmen.

The Comedian’s grinning wickedness can be explained, if never justified, in one remarkable way. His oft-repeated line, “It’s a joke,” can be interpreted as a kind of Camus-like absurdism. He knows it’s no good playing the hero in a world where villainy keeps resurfacing after brief defeats; it’s especially no good in a world whose existence is threatened by nuclear war.

For him, fighting crime is like Sisyphus rolling that huge boulder up the hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom as soon as it’s reached the top, to have to be rolled up again and again, for all eternity. One can never make the world a better place, but one is forced to keep trying. Camus concluded, however, that one must imagine that Sisyphus is happy, as a proposed resolution of the contradiction of man’s search for meaning in a meaningless universe; similarly, the Comedian continues to play the fake role of hero with a smile, knowing full well that it’s “all a joke.” Hence he commits atrocities without batting an eye.

IV: Rorschach

Rorschach (Haley), or Walter Kovacs–who has been, like a noir detective, investigating the murder of the Comedian and has formulated a conspiracy theory about someone out to kill all “masks”–is a similarly amoral sociopath, another example of how Watchmen deconstructs and satirizes the idea of “good guy” superheroes, though his sociopathy expresses itself in markedly different ways. His mother having been an abusive prostitute makes him a literal sonofabitch. This rupture in the normal child’s Oedipal and post-Oedipal development at least in part explains his pathology (it goes without saying that little Walter had no father in the home).

One peculiarity about Rorschach is his omission of definite and indefinite articles when speaking; these omissions are more extensive in the comic than in the film. Given his psychopathological nature, such omissions symbolize how incomplete his communicating is. In other words, he’s not as engaged as most people are in the Symbolic Order, the realm of language, social mores, custom, laws, culture, etc. His refusal to abide by the Keene Act, that is, illegally continuing his work as a “mask,” is a reflection of all this. He doesn’t fit in with society, and it shows when he talks.

He sees the world as irredeemably cruel, so he believes that he has the right to be as violent and cruel as he likes to other people (e.g., breaking people’s fingers when interrogating them). His superhero name and mask…or “face,” as he calls it, comes from the Rorschach test, a projective test using symmetrical inkblots (like the shifting black images seen on his white “face”) to bring out features of a patient’s unconscious thoughts that are projected onto the ink blots when he’s asked what he sees.

So his black-and-white “face” represents the kind of projection we all do, not just his own projecting of his viciousness onto the world, but also our projecting onto him when we see his “face,” or onto anyone else. (Consider the scene in the film when, broken out of prison with the help of Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II, he finds his “face,” puts it on, and facing the prison psychiatrist, Dr. Malcolm Long–played by William S. Taylor– who has used the Rorschach test on him, he asks, “What do you see?”) He is a mirror to us as much as we are a mirror to him. Rorschach, in his permanent hostility to all those around him, personifies the alienation that is almost universal in our world.

The fact that his mask is black and white also represents his own psychological splitting, his black-and-white view of the world: if something isn’t totally pure and innocent, honest and just, it’s so fetidly evil that destroying all manifestations of that evil is perfectly defensible (the fact that he stinks becomes yet another projection onto that fetidly evil world he sees). Hence, “not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.” The splitting into black and white means projecting the black outward and keeping the white inside…or so Rorschach thinks he’s doing; yet one cannot deny one’s Shadow, so he behaves as hideously as all those he condemns and maims.

V: Nite Owl II

Upon learning of the murder of the Comedian, Rorschach first goes to the home of Nite Owl II (Wilson), or Dan Dreiberg, to warn him about his theory of a “mask-killer.” Though based on the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle, Nite Owl is in many ways a parody of Batman, with his use of gadgets and his “Owlship” (reminding us of the Batplane), nicknamed “Archie,” short for Archimedes. Dreiberg’s father left him a lot of money when he died, allowing him to afford such things, rather like orphan billionaire Bruce Wayne. His class status as a bourgeois ensures that Dan, like the other Watchmen, will always have, if not right-wing politics, at least liberal ones, as a reflection of his wish to protect his class interests.

Still, of all the Watchmen, Nite Owl II (as well as Silk Spectre II, or Laurie Juspeczyk–Åkerman) is the most moral. He and she do the one act of saving the lives of innocent people in danger in the whole comic, rescuing people from a tenement building on fire and taking them aboard Archie (Chapter VII, comic pages 23-26). When he and the Comedian are trying to handle the rioters back in the 1970s, he’s in the role of the “good cop,” trying to reason with the rioters, while the Comedian is the “bad cop,” beating the crap out of them (Chapter II, comic pages 16-18), if not killing them.

VI: Ozymandias

After warning Dan, Rorschach goes to tell Adrian Veidt, formerly Ozymandias, now the wealthy owner of, among other businesses, a toy company that, in selling Watchmen action figures, is capitalizing on the whole superhero phenomenon. Here we see more of the comics’ satire on superheroes. Like Dan, Adrian shows skepticism over Rorschach’s “mask killer” conspiracy theory (Chapter I, comic pages 17 and 18).

Well, naturally Adrian shows skepticism: as we learn in the end, he is the mask killer.

He’s the one who breaks into Blake’s apartment, beats him up, and throws him out the window. Adrian’s the one who deceives Doctor Manhattan into thinking that contact with him caused his colleagues, his former lover, Janey Slater (played by Laura Mennell in the film), and Moloch to develop cancer, giving the godlike superhero such guilt feelings that he leaves for Mars for some peaceful solitude, thus ensuring he won’t interfere with Adrian’s plans. Since Rorschach is also piecing the plot together, Adrian must get rid of him, too–by framing him for the murder of Moloch and putting him in prison. Finally, Adrian stages an attempt on his own life to make himself seem above suspicion.

And what’s Ozymandias’ plot? To kill millions of New Yorkers with a monster he’s had biologically engineered so that the leaders of the US and the USSR, joining forces to defend the world from alien invaders, will relent from nuclear war. Thus is world peace achieved!

Now, purist fans of the comics will be infuriated with me for saying this, but I believe the film’s changing of the alien monster to energy blasts, seemingly from Doctor Manhattan, on not only New York but also a number of other major cities around the world, was an improvement. Wiping out so many more people makes it all the more horrific, and energy blasts coming from a harnessing of Doctor Manhattan’s power, by virtue of the godlike hero’s name’s association with the Manhattan Project (and therefore associating his power with nuclear weapons), creates an ironic genocide by power thus associated in order to prevent a genocide by nuclear weapons.

Ozymandias imagines that his plot, as horrific as it is, will be a necessary sacrifice to prevent a horror killing billions, because apparently, the American and Soviet governments will be deterred by this horror from ever going to war with each other. Why, however, should we believe that world peace, let alone a lasting one, will be guaranteed by this “sacrifice”? Ozymandias himself acknowledges that man’s savage, violent nature will inevitably lead to his destruction. One doesn’t have to be “the smartest man in the world” to know that that savage, destructive nature won’t be tamed forever just because of the massive deaths caused by the monster, or the energy blasts. Let enough time pass by, and all those deaths will slowly fade from memory, and our bloodthirsty, competitive habits will reemerge.

Kiling millions to save billions, therefore, must be Adrian’s rationalization, rather than his real reason, for killing all those people (I wonder if any of his businesses’ competition were wiped out in New York, with his full knowledge?). Like the Comedian and Rorschach, Ozymandias is yet another superhero psychopath (recall how easily he disintegrates his pet Bubastis in his attempt to do the same to Doctor Manhattan), but with some narcissism mixed in. He identifies with great leaders of ancient history: Alexander the Great, and later Ramses II, called Ozymandias by the ancient Greeks. We’re reminded of Shelley‘s poem, in which we read the famous lines, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

In his narcissistic imagination, Adrian thinks he’s achieved the ultimate act of greatness in creating world peace, paradoxically, through a huge massacre. We are to look on his works (supposedly not knowing they’re his works) and despair, on the one hand, at the huge number of deaths he’s caused, and on the other hand, at the great accomplishment–supposedly thus–of what has been deemed impossible to accomplish…a lasting world peace. The “mighty” would envy him for his great feat.

Yet, just as the giant statue of Ozymandias in Shelley’s poem has been reduced to mere fragments of rubble by the passage of time, so will Adrian’s peace by mass murder–by the passage of time–fade away into oblivion with the innate human urge to resume competing and waging war. His peace will come crumbling down; in fact, it may crumble quite soon if Seymour (played by Chris Gauthier in the film), at New Frontiersman, takes Rorschach’s journal from the crank file and, reproducing in a newspaper article the contents that have resulted from Rorschach’s investigation, expose Adrian’s whole plan as a hoax (Chapter XII, comic pages 31 and 32).

Now, New Frontiersman is a right-wing newspaper (as made blatantly clear on pages 275-278 in the graphic novel), and Rorschach’s giving of his journal to them indicates his sympathies for their politics. Indeed, he often speaks disparagingly of “liberal sensibilities,” which, contrary to popular belief, are not left-wing, but centrist, swaying only temporarily to the left or to the right depending on the political climate of the time (consider, for example, how liberals were left-leaning peaceniks in the 1960s and 70s; but when Trump was elected, they started banging the war drums against Russians, leading to our predicament in the 2020s). Other masks, like the Comedian, are similarly right-wing, “practically a Nazi,” according to Adrian.

Now, Adrian is deemed one of the “most consistently left-leaning superheroes,” according to a 1975 article by the liberal Nova Express (pages 377-380), so virulently hated a publication by the editor of New Frontiersman. Still, as the wealthy owner of several companies, Adrian is merely a bourgeois liberal and a member of the capitalist class, so he hardly merits the moniker of “leftist.” He’s no more “left-leaning” than billionaire George Soros, who may critique the excesses of unregulated capitalism from time to time, but who also used the “Open Society” to help dissolve the Soviet states. Only a far right-wing moron would call Soros a ‘communist’; it’s equally absurd to imagine that Adrian, an admirer of rulers during the ancient slave/master class contradiction, is anything approaching a socialist.

If one wishes to call Adrian a liberal, fine. We’ve seen plenty of liberals in today’s world joining the choruses of condemnation of Putin and all things Russian in response to his provoked invasion of Ukraine. These same liberals are, knowingly or unknowingly (the latter being no excuse, as evidence of the provocations has been made public for years), cheering for a government that has Nazis in it, as well as in their military. (I go into more detail about this issue in these posts, Dear Reader, if you’re interested: rehashing these arguments is beyond the scope of this article.)

That Western liberals are rooting for Ukraine and manufacturing consent for continued war with Russia is a dangerous game, risking a very possibly nuclear WWIII. Such an understanding of Ozymandias’ politics helps clear our minds as to why this liberal, fantasizing about an ideal world, has massacred millions in a manner comparable with nuclear war in order, paradoxically, to prevent it. Recall how atomic bombs killed hundreds of thousands in two Japanese cities (rationalized as having prevented far more deaths), far fewer than Adrian’s mass murder in New York City.

So, one lesson to be learned from this narrative is not to be naïve in hoping that liberals will steer humanity away from extinction. The trouble with liberal normal is that it always gets worse.

VII: Doctor Manhattan

The next heroes Rorschach goes to warn are Doctor Manhattan and Silk Spectre II, the couple being in a sexual relationship and living together in the Rockefeller Military Research Center, where Doctor Manhattan works for the government. When Rorschach tells them the Comedian is dead, Dr. Manhattan says he already knows, and that “the CIA suspects the Libyans were responsible.” Though the CIA presumably wouldn’t have known of Adrian’s plot (of course, knowing the nature of the CIA, and of at least some billionaires’ CIA connections, it’s quite possible that they might be in on it), their scapegoating of Libya sounds most convenient for their purposes.

Laurie feels no love lost for the murder of the man who tried to rape her mother, breaking her ribs and almost choking her; but Rorschach just trivializes the “moral lapse” of a man who died serving his country, a typically jingoistic and insensitive opinion from a right-winger (Chapter I comic page 21).

As for Dr. Manhattan, he is similarly unmoved by Blake’s death, since “life and death are unquantifiable abstracts.” As the only superhero of the Watchmen with superhuman powers, this nude blue demigod is emotionally numb from his deeper understanding of ‘the broader scheme of things,’ as it were, a numbness that will alienate Laurie from him and make her run into Dan’s arms later.

Dr. Jon Osterman became Doctor Manhattan as a result of a freak accident in the test chamber–in which he was locked–in the intrinsic field chamber where he and his fellow researchers worked. (He went there to retrieve a watch he’d fixed, that of his lover, Janey Slater.) In that chamber, his body was torn to pieces…pieces too infinitesimally small to see (Chapter IV, comic pages 7 and 8).

He reassembled himself (just like the repairing of her watch) in stages: first, a brain, eyes, and nervous system emerged; then, his circulatory system; next, a partially-muscled skeleton. Finally, he appeared before Janey and the other research staff in the cafeteria in his full, new form–blue, hairless, muscular, and naked, glowing with a “sudden flare of ultraviolet” (Chapter IV, comic page 10).

Osterman’s ordeal is obviously Christ-like in his agonizing death and resurrection, giving him a kind of “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44), if you will, and as a kind of “second Adam,” it’s fitting that he goes about “naked…and…not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), just like the two lovers in the garden before their fall from grace. So his disintegration into the void was a kind of harrowing of hell…but also, paradoxically, a brief experience of the no-thing-ness of nirvana.

The sublation of the dialectical opposites of heaven (or, if you prefer, nirvana) and hell can be a way of interpreting what Wilfred Bion called O, and what Lacan called the Real. It’s a place of bliss as well as of trauma. Osterman has experienced both, almost simultaneously, and he’ll never be the same again.

Having experienced such extremes, he is distanced from the normal feelings of human attachment that are a part of samsara. He scarcely feels the fire of desire that causes dukkha, suffering; so his resurrected, god-like incarnation grows cooler and cooler emotionally. Death and suffering no longer trouble him all that much. He can still feel some emotion (hence his guilt over Janey’s cancer, a particularly powerful exception for him), but feelings are scanted for him, at best.

Small wonder he can walk as a giant through the jungles and rice paddy fields of Vietnam and destroy Charlie without flinching. Such is his nirvanic indifference to the differences between life and death. This indifference, of course, is most useful to the American government. As an American god, Doctor Manhattan should be terrifying to the world. As a metaphoric nuclear weapon personified, he’ll keep the Soviets at bay.

As the personification of a nuclear weapon, capable of destroying all life, he’s the opposite of what a superhero is supposed to be. As someone so indifferent to human life that it doesn’t matter to him if nuclear war wipes it out, Doctor Manhattan is that much less of a superhero.

It is only when he realizes so good a person as Laurie, Silk Spectre II, can come–by a one in a billion chance–from the mating of Sally, Silk Spectre I, with her near-rapist, the super-despicable Comedian, such good from such bad, that Doctor Manhattan sees the birth as a miracle, and therefore he can see value in human life once again. So by this paradox, he finds the willingness to go back, from his isolation on Mars, to Earth to prevent nuclear war between the US and the USSR.

But he arrives too late to stop the monster…or, according to the film, the energy blasts to be blamed on him.

Heroes meant to prevent calamity either fail to prevent it in Watchmen, or they outright cause it…the superhero concept is further satirized and deconstructed.

VIII: The Black Freighter

A subplot running throughout the comics, but not included in the film (apart from deleted scenes), is a comic book story–read by a young man sitting by a newspaper vendor who’s always prating about the end of the world (and providing copies of New Frontiersman to Walter Kovacs when he isn’t in his Rorschach outfit but is carrying around a sign saying “The End Is Nigh”)–from Tales of the Black Freighter. (This begins at the start of Chapter III.)

The protagonist of the story–curiously not a comic book superhero, since a decline in the popularity of “masks” over the years has replaced them with, in this case, for example, seamen–has found himself the sole survivor of his crew from a shipwreck resulting from an attack at sea by the Black Freighter, or as he calls it, the “hell-bound ship.” (Chapter III, comic pages 1 and 2) Overwhelmed by the sight of his wrecked ship and the bodies of his dead crew strewn on the shore, and also fearing the hell-bound ship sailing to his hometown of Davidstown, where his wife and daughters will be killed before he can get there, he vows revenge and is obsessively driven to get home to achieve it.

When he realizes that making a raft from wood won’t be buoyant enough, he decides to make one with the body parts of the dead crewmen he’s just buried. This ghoulish act is the first example of foreshadowing in the story, for the Black Freighter has heads nailed to its prow. In his overzealous quest to avenge evil (if he can’t stop the ship from killing his family, that is), the protagonist will become the very evil he’s trying to prevent. He’s projecting his own potential for evil onto the Black Freighter (Chapter V, comic pages 8 and 9), just as Rorschach projects his evil onto the world.

Further foreshadowing of him becoming that evil is when he, on his raft of rotting corpses, grabs a seagull among many trying to nip at the dead flesh and savagely eats it alive. We see a picture of him (Chapter V, bottom right of comic page 9) with a wild facial expression and gull’s blood dripping from his mouth.

It’s interesting to note, in connection with the moral degeneration of the protagonist, how the newspaper vendor standing by the kid reading the comic has said, from the beginning, that the US should nuke the USSR. Is his attitude not a perfect parallel of that of the comic’s protagonist? So eager to kill the bad guys that he talks like a bad guy himself. The same is true of the Comedian, Rorschach, and Ozymandias, all self-righteous psychopaths who think they have the right to end human life.

Eventually, the protagonist reaches land and gets to Davidstown. Since he’s narrating the story, and he’s been through a harrowing, traumatizing, and disorienting experience, his judgement will be shaky at best. Therefore, he is clearly an unreliable narrator. What he perceives to be happening next should be observed with due skepticism.

He sees a man and a woman walking along near the beach. It’s at night, so it’s dark and not easy to see. Still, the protagonist is sure this man is a moneylender from Davidstown whom he recognizes, and the woman is his paramour. Moneylenders were despised people back around the 18th/19th century, when this story takes place, so it’s easy to see the protagonist vilifying this man as an abettor to the evil crew of the Black Freighter. (Chapter X, comic book pages 12 and 13)

He kills the lovers, then disguising himself as the man and putting the woman’s body on her horse, he rides into Davidstown with her. (Chapter X, comic page 23) Again, this use of a corpse with transportation is a foreshadowing of his eventual identification with the murderous crew of the Black Freighter, with heads on its prow.

Finally in Davidstown, he gets to his home and, thinking the murderous pirates are there, he attacks one to avenge his family…only to realize he’s actually killed his own wife. (Chapter XI, comic page 6) The Black Freighter never reached Davidstown (has it been only a figment of his imagination the whole time, a projection of his own, inner evil?), though the ship is later seen approaching the shore by the despairing protagonist, who has returned to the beach. He gets in the water, swims to the boat, and joins the crew, being as evil as they are. (Chapter XI, comic page 23)

To return to the main story, after Ozymandias has released the monster (which, by the way, can also be representative of a nuclear holocaust, through associations with such kaiju as Godzilla) on New York, a mass murder that one TV news reporter compares to “Hiroshima but with buildings”(Chapter XII, comic page 25), he tells Doctor Manhattan about a dream he’s had, “about swimming towards a hideous…” (Chapter XII, comic page 27)

He doesn’t finish his thought, though, because, as should be obvious to us, he’s referring to the Black Freighter. Like the protagonist of that story, Ozymandias has become the very evil he claims he’s wanted to prevent…though he won’t let his guilt surface to his conscious mind (it can appear only in his unconscious, in dream).

IX: Conclusion

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” meaning the triumph of “free market” capitalism as the highest and final stage of human civilization. But as Doctor Manhattan tells liberal capitalist Ozymandias, “Nothing ever ends.” (Chapter XII, comic page 27)

We all imagined (myself included, at the time), in our naïveté, that the end of the Soviet states would not only usher in freedom and democracy around the world, but also, in ending the Cold War, put to rest our fears of nuclear annihilation. Yet since the early 1990s, we’ve instead seen life get shittier and shittier, with increasing income inequality, the capitalist class controlling most of our access to information, a homelessness epidemic, worsening financial crises, government surveillance (and surveillance capitalism), rampant imperialist wars, and militarized police. The end of socialist “totalitarianism” has only led to a very real capitalist totalitarianism. In the past, the West feared the rule of Stalin and Mao, but we don’t need to fear them: now we’re ruled by the likes of Gates, Musk, and Bezos.

Our “heroes” of the past–Soros et al–have become the very evil they fancied themselves to be fighting.

Furthermore, just as we see on the pages of the Watchmen comics, the doomsday clock is set just a few minutes before midnight. All one needs to do to see the grim reality I’m describing is to watch the reckless nuclear brinksmanship going on with the US and NATO’s proxy war with Russia, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder. And as if that weren’t madness enough, the Western imperialists are planning to play the same game of nuclear chicken with China, using the Taiwanese as cannon fodder.

The end of the world is nigh…where are Walter Kovacs and his sign when we need them?

Just as Ozymandias imagines dropping a giant squid-like monster on New York City–or, as in the film, using energy blasts seeming to come from Doctor Manhattan, killing not only millions in the Big Apple, but also in London, Paris, Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo, etc.–will save billions by killing millions, so do some of the warmongering imperialist psychopaths in our world imagine using smaller nukes will defeat Russia and China without wiping out the entire world. MAD indeed.

Not only are we headed unswervingly towards WWIII and nuclear annihilation, we are also blinded to this reality by the Russophobic and Sinophobic propaganda of the Western bourgeois media, who keep the truth from us just as Doctor Manhattan kills Walter Kovacs to keep the truth from the world about Ozymandias’ plot. That Western propaganda is like the tachyons used to blind us Dr. Manhattans to the dire future we face, causing us to do nothing to prevent it.

The anti-Russian partisans of the DNC, as well as the anti-Chinese partisans of the GOP, see the politicians of their respective parties as superheroes defending the US…yet, who is watching the watchmen? In their hate of their version of the Black Freighter, be it China, or Russia, or both of them, these Western politicians have built their raft of corpses–from all their previous warmongering–and they’re on their way to Davidstown.

Not enough of us yet know that these Western politicians will soon swim to that hell-bound ship and join their bloodthirsty crew…will there be enough of us to stop them before it’s too late?

As we can see, Watchmen, in its comic and movie forms, is extremely relevant to our troubled times today.

Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins, Watchmen, Burbank, CA, DC Comics, 1986-1987

Analysis of ‘Notorious’

Notorious is a 1946 spy film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and written by Ben Hecht. It stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, with Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, and Leopoldine Konstantin.

The film was a watershed for Hitchcock artistically, having a heightened maturity. It was his first attempt to create a serious love story, with two men (played by Grant and Rains) jealously vying for the attention of a beautiful woman (Bergman) within the context of a spy thriller.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

What’s curious about this film is how it depicts clandestine operations by ex-Nazis in Brazil just after WWII, when the Nazis had just been roundly defeated. One would think that the ex-Nazi war criminals hiding out in South America would want to keep a low profile by not doing anything suspect just after their defeat, with Nazi hunters after them.

The ex-Nazis of this film are high-ranking members of IG Farben, the German chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate infamously associated with such atrocities as the creation of Zyklon B, which killed over a million people in gas chambers during the Holocaust. These IG Farben executives, it is discovered, are mining uranium ore, to be used in the making of atomic bombs. (Incidentally, from the discovery of nuclear fission to the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan, the Nazis were hardly motivated to develop nuclear weapons; getting rid of Jews was their priority at the time. And only now are these ex-Nazis interested in uranium ore?)

What is odd about the villain conspirators being from IG Farben is that the conglomerate was seized by the Allies at the end of the war in 1945, its directors to be put on trial from 1947 to 1948, thirteen of the tried twenty-three directors being convicted of war crimes. If a Nazi conspiracy to make nuclear weapons were afoot, it would seem unlikely that its men would allow any association to be made with IG Farben.

What’s more, while at the end of the war there would have been plenty of animosity felt towards the Nazis by the general populace of Western countries, there were also plenty of people among the Western bourgeoisie who had expressed sympathy for the Nazis as a group dedicated to destroying communism. Accordingly, not only did many Western bourgeois hope that Hitler would invade the USSR, and encouraged such a move at the Munich conference, but also a great many ex-Nazis were given prestigious jobs in the American government, in NASA, in NATO, and in the West German government, as part of the Cold War offensive against the Soviet states. Recall also that a number of Hitler’s business backers were American companies and other Allied multinationals.

Now, Operation Paperclip wasn’t made public through the media until December of 1946, well after the release of Notorious. Truman hadn’t officially approved of Operation Paperclip until September of 1946, again after Notorious was finished. It was therefore extremely unlikely that Hitchcock and Hecht would have known anything about the operation.

Still, with the Nazis decisively defeated, and not yet having the knowledge of the mining of uranium ore, it seems unlikely that the American government as portrayed in the film would be so concerned with the activities of a few ex-Nazis hiding out in South America. The Nazis were no longer an effective challenger to Western imperialist interests; on the contrary, it was now the Soviets who were such a challenge. And as I said above, the Western ruling class still had a soft spot in their hearts for commie-hating Nazis.

So what’s the real point about having ex-Nazis as the villains in Notorious?

Well, the movie-going public, as opposed to the capitalist class, would have had an unequivocal dislike of Nazis just after WWII, so the IG Farben men would have made fitting villains. Hecht, as a Jew, would naturally have hated Nazis, too. Finally, the mainstream liberals in Hollywood at the time, in their defence of bourgeois democracy, would have seen Nazis as appropriate villains whose presence in Notorious would have made the film appealing to the public.

On a deeper level, though, Notorious reflects the ambivalence that the liberal bourgeoisie of the time would have had towards such villains. This ambivalence is seen in how surprisingly sympathetic Alex Sebastian (Rains) is, as an ex-Nazi in love with (and his heart broken by) German-American Alicia Huberman (Bergman), the beautiful daughter of a German traitor in the US who has been convicted of aiding the Nazis.

Indeed, the love triangle between these two and the American government agent, TR Devlin (Grant) can be seen to be an allegory of this Western capitalist ambivalence to Naziism. Alicia, a woman exploited by the American government to seduce Sebastian–or, put more bluntly, to prostitute herself to him–in order to spy on him and discover what wickedness the IG Farben men are up to, personifies the land and resources that the US (as personified by Devlin) and Nazi Germany (as personified by Sebastian) are competing for, to possess and to dominate.

The men’s mutual jealousy over her is thus an allegory of 1) the Western capitalist use of fascism to counter communism, and 2) the inter-imperialist conflict of WWII when Hitler showed that he wanted much more than just to invade and colonize the Soviet Union; he also wanted to muscle in on the territory of Britain and other Western imperialists.

Alicia, as that American daughter of the German traitor, also fits in with my allegory in how she’s, on the one hand, looked down on, is notorious, as an alcoholic and a tramp who, at the beginning of the film, is suspected of being sympathetic to her father’s politics; yet on the other hand, is also such a desirable beauty. Western liberals despise fascist brutishness, yet they nonetheless find it politically expedient in furthering capitalist and imperialist interests.

Now, the object of desire here is a beautiful woman who drinks, and drinking–of alcohol especially–is a major thematic motif in Notorious (indeed, Hitchcock’s cameo in the film shows him drinking a glass at a party). This drinking is recurrently associated with danger and destruction: we see this first in her drunk-driving scene with Devlin, then later in the discovery that the uranium ore is being hidden in wine bottles in the cellar of Sebastian’s house.

This association of alcohol, wine in particular, with danger and destruction reminds us of Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and madness (consider the violence and wildness of his Maenads). The rivalry between Devlin and Sebastian over the charms of Alicia is the essence of irrational jealousy, leading to her near-death by poisoning and Sebastian’s downfall at the end of the movie, when he can no longer hide the fact that he has fallen for an American spy. This understanding deepens my allegory in that the madly jealous inter-imperialist rivalry during WWII between the capitalist West and Nazi Germany resulted in so much death and destruction.

While I’m sure that neither Hitchcock nor Hecht consciously intended to present the allegory I’m describing here, I consider the political circumstances that led up to WWII and those depicted in Notorious to be such that my allegory is inevitable, if only through the unconscious emergence of a few Freudian slips. Accordingly, I don’t find it to be too far out of place to see Devlin as a pun on devil.

Devlin takes Alicia by plane from her home in Florida to Brazil; through the airplane window, she can see the statue of Christ the Redeemer. It seems as though, through her working for the American government, she is about to redeem herself for her father’s treason. During the flight, and by an interesting juxtaposition, she also learns of her father’s death in prison by swallowing a poison capsule. She sees the statue immediately after hearing the news; it’s as if her father’s death is a Christ-like sacrifice freeing her of her family’s Nazi past.

They fly into Rio, and it isn’t long before Devlin and Alicia fall in love. Their love affair being in Brazil of all places, where she is to seduce Sebastian, adds more depth to my political allegory of this film when one considers how the Monroe Doctrine led to an increasingly possessive attitude towards Central America (i.e., the Banana Wars) and South America, that is, in imperialist terms. Since the beginning of the Cold War especially, any attempt at a leftist liberation from US imperialism would lead to a CIA coup d’état, replacing the erstwhile leftist government with an authoritarian, right-wing one, reminding us in a way of the ex-Nazis hiding out in South America.

The US government, thus, has been like a jealous, possessive lover of Latin America, just as Devlin has been of Alicia. A comparable kind of possessiveness can be seen in the US occupation of the southeastern and central part of West Germany just after WWII. German-American Alicia is eyed this way by Devlin, and Sebastian’s later jealous eyeing of her in Brazil allegorically suggests the ex-Nazi presence in South America. The allegorical interpretation of the Devlin/Huberman/Sebastian love triangle is complete when one considers the above-mentioned American use of ex-Nazis in their government from the beginning of the Cold War.

That closeness of America and Germany, apart from being personified in Alicia herself, is also seen in her famous extended kissing scene with Devlin, in which Hitchcock deftly evaded the censors of the prudish Production Code by briefly breaking up kisses that could last as long as the three-second limit. Indeed, one could think of the breaking up of the kisses as representative of the ambivalent attitude of the US government towards a Germany with a fascist past: love her, Devlin, but not too much.

Anyway, his love for her will soon turn into animosity when he learns from his superiors, including Captain Paul Prescott (Calhern) of the US Secret Service, that her job is to seduce Sebastian so she can find out what he and the other IG Farben men are up to. As I said above, Devlin’s and Sebastian’s mutual jealousy over the German-American beauty represents the ambivalent attitude the US government has always had towards fascism.

Like all good little liberals, the American ruling class is supposed to hate Nazis…but this doesn’t mean the Nazis don’t have their uses, as do other kinds of fascists, that is, in how they can serve imperialist interests by, for example, thwarting the advancement of socialism. Even now, the American liberal establishment, in order to avoid feeling any cognitive dissonance, pretends that the Russian/Ukraine war is a fight for liberation against the ‘aggressor’ Putin, while also denying, or at least minimizing, the neo-Nazi elements in the Ukrainian government and military, who are perfectly content to ban opposition parties and persecute ethnic Russians living in the area.

So, to get back to the story, Devlin is more than uncomfortable to know that the woman he’s attracted to is being used to attract another man. That the Americans can’t just go in and arrest the IG Farben men–because they’d then just find others to replace Sebastian et al, and so their sinister work would continue–is reasoning whose validity I’m not convinced of. Nazi war criminals are war criminals…arrest them! When the replacements come, arrest them, too. Nazis as of 1946 ceased to be a threat to US bourgeois imperialist interests (and as we now know, Nazis were actually helping the American government against its then-real threat, the Soviets), so just arrest the IG Farben men.

Devlin’s jealousy will be swelling when he learns that Sebastian wants to marry Alicia, who will agree to it…and he isn’t the only one feeling this jealousy over the marriage that’s coming; so is Sebastian’s mother, Madame Anna Sebastian (Konstantin). Though Rains retained his British accent while playing German Sebastian, Grant spoke with his Trans-Atlantic accent (bringing up associations between American, British, and Nazi imperialism in the context of Notorious), and Bergman largely managed to hide her Swedish accent in her portrayal of a German-American, the Austrian actress Konstantin spoke with her German accent undisguised, which really brings out the stereotypical Nazi associations in her role, as not only one of the main villains of the movie, but also as Sebastian’s ruthless and domineering mother.

There is a parallel to be observed in his relationship with both his new wife and with his mother–one of servile love. Just as Sebastian is uxorious towards Alicia, so is he Oedipal in his attitude towards Madame Anna, something she can use to her advantage in controlling him. One is reminded of the love Hitler had for his mother, Klara, after whose death he grieved for the rest of his life.

Hitchcock’s mother died four years before Notorious was made and released; he addressed his own mother issues for the first time in this film, and the notion of a domineering mother like Madame Anna, a reservoir of her son’s guilt, anger, resentment, and Oedipal yearning, was something Hitchcock would explore further in films like Psycho and The Birds. Indeed, he would often incorporate psychoanalysis in such films as these and in Spellbound, a film he did the year before Notorious.

The unhealthiness of an unresolved Oedipus complex that is exploited by a cunning mother just adds a deeper level of villainy to this group of ex-Nazis, for properly understood, the Oedipal longing for a parent’s love and undivided attention–combined with the frustration of never fully having that attention–is a narcissistic trauma. Sebastian’s unhealthy relationship with his mother, in which he is weakened and made vain and foolish, ends up being transferred onto Alicia, making him uxorious in his feelings for her. She, as an American spy, can exploit his weakness in getting to the key to the wine cellar to find the hidden uranium ore.

She’s being exploited, too, recall, by the American government, and to complete the job, she must agree to marry Sebastian and allow him into her bed–a conquest of his comparable to the American takeover of aboriginal land (I’m reminded of lines 25-32 from Donne‘s Elegy XIX, ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’), which inspired Hitler to want to conquer Slavic land. Alicia must go along with this fake romance, to keep up appearances so Sebastian will never suspect she’s an American spy. Devlin must also keep up appearances and maintain a professional attitude, pretending he’s had no romance of his own with her.

Indeed, keeping up appearances is a major theme running throughout Notorious. Alicia’s mission as a spy includes keeping up appearances that she’s as much in love with Sebastian as he is with her. She imagines Devlin’s love for her is pretend, while he keeps up appearances of a stoic lack of interest in her, always hiding his jealousy behind a feigned contempt for her, all for the sake of keeping the mission going. The IG Farben men keep up appearances of wine bottles innocently containing wine when some of those in the cellar actually contain uranium ore.

Ironically, when Sebastian intrudes on Devlin’s and Alicia’s moment alone in the cellar just after discovering the “sand” in one of the wine bottles, Devlin has her pretend to kiss him in order to keep up appearances of having an affair to hide their real offence against Sebastian, the discovery of what’s hidden in that bottle. This ‘appearance’ of being in love, of course, hides the fact that they really are in love…though they won’t admit this until the end of the film.

The penultimate keeping up of appearances is when Sebastian and his mother pretend to be concerned for Alicia’s declining health–to cover up for his foolish falling in love with an American spy–when it’s their piecemeal poisoning of her coffee, another drink Notorious associates with danger and destruction, that is causing her declining health. And the final keeping up of appearances, which ultimately fails, is at the end, when Sebastian and his mother pretend that Devlin is just taking Alicia to the hospital instead of actually rescuing her from her two poisoners.

Sebastian pretends not to fear death as Devin is taking Alicia down the stairs towards the front door, but when she’s put in the car and Devlin is about to drive away, Sebastian is desperately anxious to have them take him in the car, too. More keeping up of appearances.

Sebastian has everything to fear, for the other IG Farben men, knowing there’s no telephone in Alicia’s bedroom from which Devlin could have called the hospital, proves that the hospital story is a lie…so Sebastian must meet the same fate as that of Emil Hupka (played by Eberhard Krumschmidt) for having reacted with shock, in front of Alicia, at the wine bottles, which tipped her off to their significance.

The paranoid intensity of security maintained by the IG Farben men is what makes me doubt the plausibility of there being any substantial American cause for suspicion of sinister plots by these ex-Nazis against American imperialist interests. They’re hiding their conspiracy so tightly that it seems virtually impossible for the Americans to have discovered anything; Alicia’s being tipped off by Emil’s display of agitation seems little more than a fluke.

Such a tight keeping up of appearances by the IG Farben men leads me to discuss the ultimate pretense of this film, whether consciously intended by Hitchcock and Hecht or not: that the US government, just after having defeated the Nazis, would still regard fascism as an intolerable evil in any form. The American moviegoing public would surely have continued to vilify Nazis, so it would have been expedient for Hollywood producers to keep up the appearance of despising fascism, too…for the sake of ticket sales, at the very least.

But bourgeois liberal Hollywood interests aren’t all that far removed from those of capitalist imperialism and colonialism. Hecht as a Jew would have justifiably hated Nazis in all sincerity, but he was also an avid supporter of the establishment of the settler colonial state of Israel, whose persecution of the Palestinians has been every bit as evil as the Nazi persecution of the Jews was. Notorious‘s keeping up of appearances of regarding Nazis as an enemy of America covers up how useful the West has always found fascism, which they’ve since falsely equated with communism…another deft move of propaganda on the part of the ruling class.

Western capitalism’s appeasement and, therefore, encouragement, of the rise of fascism in the 1930s, in its attempt to thwart socialism, was ultimately the creation of a monster they’d quickly regret. The Western bourgeoisie were Dr. Victor Frankenstein; fascism was the monster. WWII was the horror story. Notorious was, in my opinion at least, an example of a bourgeois attempt to save face over its creation of that monster.

Analysis of ‘Easy Rider’

Easy Rider is a 1969 film produced by Peter Fonda, directed by Dennis Hopper, starring both of them, and written by them and Terry Southern. The film co-stars Jack Nicholson (in a role that made him a star), Karen Black, Toni Basil (later of “Mickey” fame), and Luke Askew.

A landmark counterculture film, Easy Rider not only explored the rise of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle, but it also helped spark the New Hollywood era of filmmaking in the early 1970s. Real drugs were used in the film.

Critics praised the performances, directing, writing, soundtrack, and visuals. Easy Rider was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Original Screenplay and for Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

Though the film is understood to be a film for ‘rebels,’ one needs to look deeper. Wyatt, or “Captain America [!]” (Fonda), and Billy (Hopper) have names inspired by Wyatt Earp and outlaw Billy the Kid, reinforcing their image as anti-establishment rebels by associating them with the rough and violent types of the Old West. Instead of horses, they’re on bikes. What immediately should strike one with suspicion, though, is Wyatt’s display of the Stars and Stripes on his black leather jacket, helmet, and the chopper he buys after he and Billy profit off of a sale of cocaine. Wearing such colours indicates the duo’s acceptance of the values of American capitalism, not a rebellion against them.

Indeed, the film begins with Wyatt and Billy in Mexico, riding on dirt bikes to a bar where they’ll buy cocaine so they can smuggle it into the US to sell for a much higher price. Their clothes are as humble as their bikes at this time. They sell the cocaine to their “connection” (played by none other than Phil Spector, of “Wall of Sound” fame) outside at an airport, where airplanes are flying noisily overhead, as if representing the heavenly host watching over Wyatt and Billy, and judging them for their sins.

And what is their sin? I’m not so much interested in moralizing about their drug trafficking as I am in discussing what Marx wrote about in Capital, vol. 3, about “Commercial Capital” (chapter 16, pages 379-383). A merchant buys a commodity from a producer, then sells it again for a higher price to obtain a profit. Wyatt and Billy sell the cocaine they bought in Mexico to their American connection for a much, much higher price. Some might call this white Wyatt’s and Billy’s exploitation of the poor Mexicans they bought from.

Small wonder we hear, right at the end of the deal with the American connection, “The Pusher,” in which originally Hoyt Axton sang “Goddamn the pusher man” because he “is a monster,” selling you hard drugs like heroin or cocaine, and not caring “if you live or if you die.” (In the film, though, we hear Steppenwolf‘s cover of the song.) We hear these lyrics as Wyatt is stuffing their dollar bills down a plastic tube hidden inside his US-flag designed chopper. Hence, his bike is symbolic of American capitalism…Wyatt and Billy are just as much the establishment as are all the hicks who later antagonize them.

So when we see these two cool dudes riding their new choppers on the road, and we hear “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf as the credits flash across the screen, we have to be clear about what the contradiction is that is examined in Easy Rider. It isn’t between the right and the left: both sides here are capitalists through and through. It’s between conservatives and liberals. This distinction is important to make because there are many politically illiterate people out there who confuse the left with bourgeois liberalism (e.g., hippies, the Democratic Party, etc.). It’s significant that we hear Steppenwolf perform both the Hoyt Axton song and “Born to be Wild,” one immediately after the other, at this point in the film; this juxtaposition of songs emphasizes the dual nature of Wyatt and Billy, being both establishment (commercial capitalists) and anti-establishment (biker rebels) at the same time.

Now, conservative capitalists–owners of such private property as motels–won’t accommodate these two liberal capitalists. This lack of shelter for Wyatt and Billy puts them in a paradoxical situation: that of being, on the one hand, a pair of privileged white men with that secret stash of cash in Wyatt’s bike, their profit from the drug deal; and on the other hand, two men reduced to the status of the homeless.

Bourgeois lumpenproletariat: who’d a thunk it? In a sense, one might even think of what happens to King Lear.

One is reminded, in contemplating how the conservative capitalists are bullying these two liberal capitalists, of something Marx said in Capital, vol. 1: “One capitalist always strikes down many others,”(Marx, page 929)…or in this case, some capitalists often strike down these two others.

…and some far-right dummies out there equate the likes of Wyatt and Billy with communists. Give me strength.

Still, we see these two riding their choppers on roads with beautiful American landscapes and scenery on either side. One thing to remember about this land, though, is who it belonged to originally.

In a movie largely about white male rebels, we might not pay too much attention to those who are marginalized in it…probably because these people are so very marginalized: blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women. It can be just as instructive to note who or what is not seen in a movie as who is seen in it.

Our two biker rebels stop at the home of a humble farmer to fix a flat tire on Wyatt’s bike. They have dinner with the farmer’s family, who say Grace before eating. This is a humble, conservative Christian family, though the father is liberal and unprejudiced enough to marry a Hispanic Catholic. Still, he expects her to run off and get more coffee.

What should be noted is not so much the contrast between, on the one side, Wyatt, Billy, and the hippies they’ll meet soon enough, and on the other side, the bigoted and outright dangerous conservatives. One should rather see these opposing sides as on a continuum with people like this farmer’s family as somewhere in between. All of these people play a role of some kind in the white settler colonial state that is the US. It is those aforementioned marginalized people (including the Mexican seller of the cocaine and the farmer’s wife) who should be set in opposition to all the others, including Wyatt and Billy, in this film.

Indeed, this dinner with the farmer’s family has a double in the later dinner at the hippie commune, before which they also pray, the camera slowly moving and showing us the faces of everyone about to eat. We’ll see that the hippies, for all their drug use and practice of free love, have a lot more in common with the Christian farmers than meets the eye.

Wyatt and Billy ride on, and soon they pick up a hitchhiking hippie, a Stranger on the Highway (Askew). When at a gas station, the hippie fills up Wyatt’s bike, having taken off the gas cap and leaving the possibility of him seeing the plastic tube with all the money in it, Billy gets nervous and wants to stop him. He’s just as protective of his wealth as any capitalist would be.

At nightfall, the three stop by the side of the road to smoke some grass, then to sleep. When Billy asks the hippie where he’s from, he’s evasive in his answer, feeling that all cities are the same. People who’ve done LSD, something the hippie will give Wyatt and Billy to do at a fitting time later, often sense a unity in everything and everyone, that everywhere is ‘here,’ so to speak. The hippie would also have Wyatt and Billy take heart of how this land they’re sitting on has its original owners, the Native Americans, buried under it.

He says that Wyatt and Billy could be “a trifle polite” in their attitude towards those dead aboriginals whose land the white man has taken from them. Billy chuckles at the hippie’s words; his attitude should be a reminder to us, as much as Wyatt’s Stars and Stripes, that these two bikers are not sticking it to the Man the way they should be.

All the two men want to do is pursue a life of physical pleasure: drugs, drinking, chasing women, and freely riding their choppers along the American landscape…from a land taken from the aboriginals. Wyatt and Billy are going to New Orleans to enjoy the Mardi Gras festival: “Fat Tuesday,” a great indulgence in pleasure before the great abstinence of Lent…in which they, of course, have no interest.

Their rebellion is against repressive, right-wing conservative authority, but it doesn’t go far enough. One cannot just do one’s own thing while coexisting with those reactionary types, for the reactionaries refuse to coexist with society’s long-haired rebels, as we’ll see by the end of the movie. Those reactionaries must be defeated and wiped out, not merely given the finger to, or else they’ll wipe out the rebels. This is the reality as understood in the intensification of class struggle, and why a dictatorship of the proletariat is needed to prevent the return of reactionary capitalism.

Wyatt and Billy take the hippie to his commune, where we see two young women who show an immediate sexual interest in the two bikers, just as they’ve been openly affectionate with the hippie. (One of these women thinks Wyatt is “beautiful,” in his Stars and Stripes outfit, which should tell you something about her and her attitude towards straight America.) Billy briefly plays ‘cowboys and Indians’ with the children of the commune, an indication not only of the spirit of levity felt by these whites towards the genocide of the Native Americans as noted above, but also how these hippies, in not teaching their kids that even playing war might lead to a warlike mentality when they grow up, don’t seem all that committed to the anti-war cause, a reminder that hippies are liberals, not revolutionaries–they’re the phonies that Zappa accused them of being.

Yet there are right-wing morons out there who claim that hippies are communists. Pathetic.

Other examples of traditionalism among these hippies–which give the lie to their ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘counterculture’ posturing–include, apart from the prayer before eating mentioned above, their singing of old-fashioned, traditional songs like “Does Your Hair [originally “Do Your Ears”] Hang Low?” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” (as opposed to singing, for example, 60s antiwar/pro-drug songs), and their reluctance to accommodate any more visitors. Such a reluctance isn’t too far removed from when Archie Bunker refused to accommodate two unmarried hippie visitors to his house.

As I said above, all these groups of people in Easy Rider lie on a continuum, ranging from the bigoted hecklers and killers of Wyatt, Billy, and George Hanson (Nicholson) on the far-right side, then a little to the left of the bigots, there are the Christian farmer and his Catholic, Hispanic wife, then a little further left from them are the people in this hippie commune, then further left are Hanson, then Wyatt and Billy, and finally the hippie hitchhiker, who acknowledges the genocide of the aboriginals (without helping to do anything about it), on the other side. A real far-left opposition would include people like the Black Panthers and any Native American activists struggling against white settler colonialism, something we’ll never see in this film. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, the mainstream media ensures a very narrow, but lively, range of debate between the “left” and the right.

Wyatt and Billy–after engaging in skinny-dipping and free love with those two women from the commune, then taking some LSD from the hippie hitchhiker–continue on their way into a town in New Mexico where a parade is going on. They ride their choppers along with the parade, as if to join it, then they get arrested for “parading without a permit.” Actually, the cops just don’t like long-haired men.

Here is where they meet alcoholic Hanson, himself locked up for having overindulged in booze the night before.

Now, George Hanson, as a lawyer who has done work for the ACLU, is rather square, but also liberal and open-minded, as well as knowledgeable about the social issues of the day. He knows that this town they’re in is full of right-wing reactionaries who’d love to shave the heads of Wyatt and Billy, taking away their symbol of rebellion…like taking away Samson‘s strength by cutting his hair.

George can help Wyatt and Billy get out of jail as long as the two bikers haven’t done anything like killing someone…white, which George says with a sardonic grin, indicating his awareness of his society’s double standards against the marginalized black community.

He gets them and himself out of jail, has a bit of the hair of the dog, sees their impressive bikes, and learns of their plan to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. George is so intrigued that he’d like to tag along; he even tells them about a whorehouse there, calling the girls “US prime.” Once again, we see that these ‘rebels’ can be just as marginalizing of people as the ‘hicks’ they’re rebelling against.

So George rides as a passenger on Wyatt’s bike (something Nicholson would metaphorically be in a later film also dealing with an uncommitted progressive), wearing his nerdy helmet. They stop somewhere off of the road, as usual, that night and smoke some marijuana, which George has for the first time, him at first being reluctant, then opening his mind to it.

As they’re getting high, Billy speaks of a ‘satellite’ he’s just seen in the night sky (which, incidentally, can be vaguely associated with those airplanes flying overhead during the cocaine deal). George tells him and Wyatt about the “Venusian” pilots of the UFOs, about whom the world governments apparently know, but keep a secret for fear of creating a general panic among the world population.

Apparently, these “Venusians” have a far more advanced civilization than ours: egalitarian, pacifist, money-less, and with futuristic technology. George says they’ve been coming here since 1946…which by the way was around the beginning of the Cold War. They’re people just like us, George says, working with us all over the Earth in an advisory capacity.

These “Venusians” sound an awful lots like communists (egalitarian, money-less, and with advanced technology) and Marxists (i.e., leftist professors in Western universities–working ‘in an advisory capacity’) to me. The capitalist governments don’t want us to know about them (as they did so embarrassingly, via McCarthy, during the 1950s) because our antiquated capitalist system, with our leaders, is no match for theirs.

You don’t believe me? That’s because the US government doesn’t want you to know how the Soviet Union went from a backward, agrarian society in the 1920s to a nuclear-armed superpower that won the space race in the late 1950s…technological advances all achieved within a mere three decades, along with progress towards equal rights for women, universal housing, education, employment, and healthcare for all. To this day, Stalin–far from being regarded as a ‘cruel dictator,’ is loved by millions of Russians for his leadership in defeating the Nazis, and majorities of Russians have consistently preferred the Soviet era, for all of its imperfections, to current-day, capitalist Russia. The same can be said of China, from the Maoist era to today.

Now, Billy, like most people brainwashed by bourgeois propaganda, thinks that what George is saying is “a crackpot idea,” because he and Wyatt are, at heart, not all that far from establishment thinking as they might seem to be. The two bikers just want to get stoned, each of the two an easy-going rider of a chopper.

…and the two of them lead me to my next point.

Duality is a major theme in Easy Rider. Apart from the two biker protagonists, there are two cocaine deals: first, the buying of it in Mexico, then the selling of it in the US–M-C-M’, or money to commodity to valorized money, that is, money with a profit, or increased value.

Wyatt and Billy visit and eat at two farms: that of the man and his Catholic wife, and that of the hippie commune, both of which include prayers before eating, and both of which have their own mixture of traditional and liberal values, in itself another duality in the film.

There are airplanes and satellites (or UFOs) flying overhead.

Wyatt and Billy spend time with two male companions, the hippie hitchhiker, and George Hanson, both of whom share valuable insights about the world while smoking dope with them (i.e., insights about the marginalized aboriginals buried in the ground where they are, and the marginalized “Venusians,” or communists, as I interpret them to be).

Wyatt and Billy have sexual encounters with two pairs of women: the two hippies they skinny dip with, and the two prostitutes they do the LSD with in New Orleans.

There are two parades: the one in New Mexico, and the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.

There are two violent assaults with intent to kill: the first in which George is bludgeoned to death at night, and the second at the end of the film, when Billy, then Wyatt, are shot and killed on their bikes.

These pairs of incidents have their parallels and their dialectical contrasts. Billy is more adversarial and self-centered; Wyatt is more laid-back and generous. The first coke deal is the buying of it: the second, a selling of it.

The first farm they visit is more conservative; the second is more liberal. The first flying machines are very real, the second are more imaginary.

The hippie hitchhiker and Hanson, as well as the pairs of women, are, in their respective ways, thoroughly paralleled.

After the first parade, Wyatt and Billy are put in jail. After the second parade, their minds are ‘freed’ with the LSD.

The first violent assault leaves Wyatt and Billy hurt, but still alive. The second assault leaves them dead.

Furthermore, there are two kinds of drugs enjoyed in this film: the narcotic kind (cocaine, marijuana, and LSD), and the religious kind (the “opium of the people“). Both kinds are attempts to escape, rather than solve, the world’s problems.

There are also doublings of performers playing songs on this famous soundtrack: I already mentioned the two Steppenwolf recordings; there are also two songs by Bob Dylan and performed by Roger McGuinn–“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Ballad of Easy Rider.”

There is also a duality of time, the present vs the future, in the form of the film’s “flashforwards” that occur at various points in the story, a quick flashing ahead to the future, then back to the present. The most important of these is when Wyatt and Billy are in the New Orleans whorehouse: Wyatt reads something about death freezing one’s reputation forever, then there’s a premonition of his death, his chopper in flames and flying in pieces by the roadside. Such a fusing of present and future symbolically suggests the feeling of timelessness experienced when using psychedelic drugs.

Now, the ultimate duality–or rather, the ultimate two dualities, as I’ll explain immediately after–is the conservative vs liberal contradiction. Since the liberals here are capitalist white men enjoying the privileges of US settler colonialism not all that much less than the conservatives are, then the conservative/liberal contradiction is really hiding a much more profound contradiction that one can only see if one is paying close attention. This is the white bourgeois vs the marginalized black/aboriginal/proletarian contradiction.

Indeed, as Wyatt and Billy are riding their choppers, or walking the streets of New Orleans, we get brief peeks of rural black families, or blacks playing music during Mardi Gras, or someone dressed as a Native American in the Mardi Gras parade. All marginalized people.

To get back to the story, Wyatt, Billy, and George continue on their way, while we hear “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” by Fraternity of Man, then “If 6 Was 9,” by Jimi Hendrix. Both of these songs reflect our bikers’ attitude to life in general, and to reactionaries in particular: just keep on smoking dope, and who cares what’s going on in the rest of the world? We do our own thing, and who cares if the conservatives don’t like it?

Umm…actually, Wyatt, Billy, and George do need to care.

They stop off in a little diner where the locals make no secret of their surprised reaction to these three strangely dressed visitors. Once again, there’s a duality in these reactions: first, a bevy of cute teenage girls finds the three men handsome and fascinating; second, all the men, being bigoted, narrow-minded conservatives, engage in non-stop heckling of Wyatt, Billy, and George.

It doesn’t take long for our three heroes to face the fact that they’re clearly not welcome, so they leave, in spite of the girls’ coming out to talk to them at their bikes.

That night, Wyatt, Billy, and George camp outside as usual. George laments the direction he sees his country going in. He says, “This used to be a helluva good country.” He’s wrong. A country founded on black slavery and the genocide of its aboriginals was never a good country. What’s more, these old sins laid the foundation for the three men’s current predicament.

Though lip-service is routinely paid to the notion of the US being a country founded on the principles of “freedom and democracy,” a deeper investigation of the intents of the Founding Fathers reveals that these land-owning, upper-class white men were primarily out to protect their class interests. They made a few concessions to working class Americans as a result of indispensable political agitation.

Nonetheless, those class interests have to this day been continually maintained in such divide-and-conquer forms as racism against blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, and all non-WASP immigrants; other forms of the divide-and-conquer of the proletariat have included sex roles, keeping women in the home and away from such things as voting, and belief in such nonsense as ‘capitalism is freedom,’ the ‘free market,’ the ‘American Dream,‘ and the ‘land of opportunity.’ These illusory freedoms are what the reactionary nemeses of Wyatt and Billy will fight to the death for (as George explains), while condemning the freedom that our two protagonists practice.

As soon as the illusory form of freedom is exposed as such by the real exponents of freedom, these reactionaries further expose their fascist mentality through violence. This expression of violence is why one cannot coexist with these kinds of people: they must be fought and defeated; if they aren’t defeated, they’ll not only defeat, but also kill us. This harsh reality is what Wyatt and Billy won’t accept, and it’s also what gets them and George killed.

Freedom does not come for free.

One cannot escape the fascist mentality through drugs, though Wyatt and Billy continue to try to after George’s murder.

The two get to New Orleans and decide to find the brothel that George recommended. As they’re dining in a restaurant, getting drunk, and talking about going to the brothel, we hear a song by The Electric Prunes that does a psychedelic rendition of the Mass’s Kyrie. We continue to hear the song as they wander into the brothel and look around at the artwork. These two druggies are pursuing pleasure while we hear more music about the opium of the people.

They get two prostitutes, Karen (Black) and Mary (Basil), and all four of them drop the hippie hitchhiker’s acid after entering a cemetery in New Orleans’s French Quarter. As they’re all tripping out, we hear the voices of other people there reciting the Credo, Ave Maria, and Pater Noster. Again, we have a juxtaposition of drug use with the opium of the people.

Mary gets naked, and she and Wyatt screw. Karen has a bad trip. Wyatt embraces a statue of a goddess, and, weeping, complains of his abusive mother as if the statue were of her. He seems to be having an epiphany that Billy, unfortunately, isn’t having: Wyatt seems to realize that his rebellion against society is based on his rebellion against his parents, which would seem to be the basis of Billy’s own social revolt. This is why the two bikers can’t be revolutionaries: they won’t take on the system because all they want to do is stick it to their parents, their Oedipal, love/hate relationship with their parents being a universal narcissistic trauma.

The two bikers ride out the next day, and that night, camping out as usual, they chat for a while before sleeping. Billy is thrilled to be rich from their cocaine deal, thinking with the materialism of a typical capitalist and equating their material success with freedom. Wyatt, however, knows better, saying they “blew it.” That acid trip must have helped him understand how superficial their “freedom” is.

A common experience during an acid trip is a dissolving of the barrier between self and other. One feels a sense of unity between oneself and all of humanity, like the equating of Atman with Brahman, resulting in stronger empathy. Wyatt could very well have felt such an emotional connection with the marginalized aboriginals, blacks, and female lumpenproletariat (i.e., those two prostitutes, Karen and Mary). This would have made him realize that mainstream American liberalism just isn’t progressive enough.

Accordingly, he wears his “Captain America” leather jacket far more sparingly, that is, only outside at night, when it’s much too cool not to wear it. When Billy is shot by the man in the truck, the hick who doesn’t like his long hair, Wyatt rides back to help Billy and puts his star-spangled jacket on Billy’s wounds.

He’ll die anyway, because the gunman shoots Wyatt next, destroying his star-spangled bike. What does all of this mean, symbolically? It means that the American flag won’t heal your wounds, and that American capitalism will one day destroy itself through the violence of its own bigoted, reactionary, fascist mentality. Interpreted this way, the ending of Easy Rider can be seen as a prophetic warning of what would happen to the US, and to the world it dominates, decades after the film was made.

Please indulge me in a digression through recent political history.

The US of the mid-twentieth century–with its strong unions, high taxes for the rich, and welfare, to say nothing of the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, second-wave feminism, and gay liberation–had enormous progressive potential. The American government, however, was also giving safe haven to former Nazis in NASA, NATO, and the West German government, all rationalized as part of the effort to contain communism.

This tolerance of fascism (as seen in an allegorical sense in Easy Rider in the form of these reactionary hicks who are never properly fought off) has led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which, for all of its imperfections, was an effective counterweight against US/NATO imperialism, aiding liberation movements in the Third World and goading the US government to adopt more economically progressive policies to keep the American working class from resorting to socialist revolution.

Without the USSR as that effective counterweight, the US government has since been able to do anything it wants with impunity: hence, the gutting of welfare, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed the mergers and acquisitions of American media until now only six corporations control most of Americans’ access to information. Then, there’s been one imperialist war after another: Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the ongoing threats of war with Iran, Russia, and China.

Hollywood liberals (including one or two Jewish ones) are now cheering on a Ukrainian government and military under the strong influence of Neo-Nazis. Instead of using its revenue to help the poor (a huge section of which are, of course, aboriginal, black, and female), to repair roads and crumbling infrastructure, to end homelessness, to fund education and healthcare, and to create jobs, the US government sends billions and billions of dollars to those Ukrainian Nazis in a proxy war to weaken Russia (as it had in the 1980s in Afghanistan), as part of an ambitious, yet maniacal, plan to go after China in a similar way (through Taiwan). All of these events risk a nuclear WWIII, which would kill everyone on the planet.

This is what happens when we let things slide, like an easy rider on the road that leads to the far right. The violent hicks who kill Wyatt, Billy, and George aren’t literal fascists, of course, but they share the same vicious, intolerant mentality; hence, they can be easily seen as representative of the fascists I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. If one can’t tolerate something as simple as longer hair on a white man, one isn’t going to tolerate much of anything else. These intolerant people, however, have been tolerated by liberals, not just in the film, but in our society for all these decades, leading not only to the film’s ending, but also to our current political predicament, which is why I brought it up.

The hicks fear the freedom of the longhairs because such freedom has the potential to lead to the liberation of the marginalized groups I mentioned above, including, ultimately, the liberation of the global proletariat (not that the liberals, as represented by Wyatt and Billy, are doing anything to pave the way towards such liberation). The hicks have a black-and-white view of the world in which one is either absolutely like their reactionary selves, or absolutely like long-haired ‘commies’…and the only good commie is one that’s dead, remember. This conception of the world is what links the violent end of Easy Rider to the precarious state of the world today.

Once again, the hicks are coming to get us. We’ll have to do a lot more than just give them the finger.

Birds

What’s
supposed
left wing is, seen more closely,
in the centre, which in turn
moves to the right.

A
bird
in flight, whose flapping wings are
left here, over there on the right,
is only so depending on your
point of view.

If
it’s
flying forwards, you will see
the left wing where it ought
to be, and where the right
should be.

If
it’s
flying backwards, right at you,
the left, centre and right
may seem a confused
monstrosity,

as
has
been the case, increasingly,
for the past forty years.
As it nears,

the
bird,
which is an eagle, quite the hawk,
shows no signs of slowing down
as it reaches us,
its prey.

Not
knowing
the left wing from the right,
we will be snatched up
in its claws, fed
to its chicks.

Slopes

When
we slide
down a hill
on a sled, we
don’t think of
the speed of the
slipping, the danger.

The
thrill of
the feeling
of freedom will
blind us to how we
will crash at the foot
of the hill of our pride.

A
few
decades
ago, we all
thought of the
West as invincible;
we saw no cracks in the ice.

The
liberal
Sisyphus
must roll a rock
up a hill, just to go
back and roll it again.
We always go down, not up.

All
of this
time, we
keep rolling
lower and lower,
no hope of ascent,
or of even staying put.

The
crash
at the
bottom is
coming, and
it’s going to hurt.
Will we be ready for it?

Thrones

She
had
the
big
chair, just
as so many
before her

used
that
seat
with
the intent to
take over and
plunder worlds.

One
may
sit
and
rest, while
many more
must fight

to
be
in
an
adequate
state of
existence.

One
can
sit
and
take it easy
on a throne
without gems,

and
the
men
and
women of the
world can be
seated as well.

So
we
in
an
abased state
must rise up
so all may sit.

Analysis of ‘Spartacus’

Spartacus is a 1960 epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick (replacing original director Anthony Mann after the first week of shooting; therefore this is the only film over which Kubrick didn’t have complete artistic control) and written by Dalton Trumbo (who also wrote the novel, and the screenplay for, Johnny Got His Gun), based on Howard Fast‘s 1951 historical novel of the same name. The story is inspired by that of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in ancient, republican Rome, resulting in the Third Servile War.

The film stars Kirk Douglas in the title role, with Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, and John Gavin. Both Fast and Trumbo, being avowed leftists, were blacklisted, the former having to self-publish his book, and the latter being one of the Hollywood Ten.

Spartacus won four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Ustinov, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. It had been the biggest moneymaker in Universal Studios’ history until Airport surpassed it in 1970.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, and here is a link to a PDF of Fast’s novel.

Spartacus is a hero to communists and leftists in general, for how his slave uprising against the Roman ruling class has inspired the socialists of today to foment revolution against the capitalist class of the modern world. Karl Marx praised him, his namesake was given to the German Spartacus League of 1915-1918, and the failed German communist revolution of January 1919 was called the Spartacist uprising.

Other examples of art and popular culture inspired by Spartacus include a 2004 miniseries starring Goran Višnjić in the title role, and a ballet of the same name, composed by Aram Khachaturian in 1954 and first staged in 1956; some of the music of this ballet was used in the soundtrack to the Penthouse production of Caligula in 1979.

To get back to Fast’s novel and the 1960 film, we immediately notice how differently both treat the subject matter of the story. The characters of Marcus Licinius Crassus (Olivier), Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov), Varinia (Simmons), and Gracchus (Laughton) are all shared in both the book and the film, and apart from the basic history of the slaves’ failed uprising against Rome, the telling of the story differs wildly between book and movie.

The novel tells the story of Spartacus in a piecemeal fashion, given from the points of view of the various characters after Spartacus’ death, while the film tells his story in a straightforward, chronological way. The gladiatorial fight between Spartacus and Draba (played by Woody Strode) is generally similar, and the scenes of Crassus and Varinia, him frustrated in his efforts to win her love, and of Gracchus’ plan to steal her and her baby from Crassus and to give them their freedom, are essentially the same, though they differ greatly in the details.

A crucial difference between novel and movie is in the presentation of Spartacus’ death: in the book, he dies in battle (as affirmed by Plutarch, Appian, and Florus, though Appian also reports that Spartacus’ body was not found), whereas in the film, Spartacus is crucified.

Indeed, the sight of Spartacus chained to a rock to starve at the beginning of the film, his punishment for having bitten the leg of a Roman soldier, hamstringing him, is a parallel of his crucifixion at the end of the film. This parallel gives the story a sense that it has come full circle: his suffering is at its greatest at the beginning, with him as a slave lugging heavy rocks on his back from the mines in Libya; just as his suffering is at its greatest also at the end, with him hanging in excruciating pain.

In the novel, in chapter three of Part Two, is a vivid description of hell on Earth, a hell for slaves mining for gold in the unbearably hot desert of Nubia. To make matters worse, children are needed when the veins narrow “deep inside the black rock escarpment.” (One is reminded of Congolese children today, mining for the cobalt we use in our cellphones.) Spartacus is among “one hundred and twenty-two Thracians chained neck to neck, carrying their burning hot chains across the desert…” (PDF, page 55)

The film’s beginning is the equivalent to this chapter, the opening scene only briefly depicting the suffering of Spartacus and his fellow slaves in Libya, rather than Nubia. The chapter captures, with great intensity, the misery and despair of the slaves as they work, virtually without rest, from early in the dawn ’til the dusk. “Their skins are patchworks of black dust and brown dirt…” (PDF, page 57). Many slaves die from these back-breaking work conditions.

There’s a brief moment in the early morning, before the sun is fully risen to beat its oppressive heat on the slaves as they go to work. “In this single hour of the day, the desert is a friend.” (PDF, page 61). But only for that cool hour.

In the film, Batiatus arrives, discovers Spartacus, and saves him from his chaining to the rock to have him trained as a gladiator. Batiatus is a lanista, the owner of a school for gladiators. Spartacus is about to be pampered, a whole new experience for him that includes baths and massages, and a girl for a mate (in the novel, he’s mated to Varinia, rather than merely teased with her and denied her, as in the film; PDF, pages 78-81, 83).

Still, there is no happiness in being trained to kill or be killed for the entertainment of the ruling class. The fighting of gladiators to the death is perfectly symbolic of how the ruling class has always divided the people from each other, making them fight each other instead of fighting their oppressors. Their sense of alienation is well displayed in the scene when Spartacus asks Draba his name, the latter telling the former it isn’t wise to know the names of, or to become friends with, those they will have to kill, or be killed by, in the arena.

Though Draba has said this, he still doesn’t want to kill a fellow gladiator for the sport of rich Romans (who in the film are Crassus, Marcus Glabrus [played by John Dall, who incidentally also played chief psychopathic killer Brandon Shaw, in Hitchcock’s Rope], Helena Glabrus [played by Nina Foch], and Claudia Marius [played by Joanna Barnes]; but who in the novel are two men named Caius Crassus and Marius Bracus). So at the end of his fight with Spartacus, having won, Draba refuses to kill him, to the annoyance of their Roman audience, and instead he hurls his trident at them, only to be speared in the back himself. Nonetheless, Draba’s solidarity with Spartacus has inspired the surviving gladiator.

Added to this sense of solidarity, as a cure for alienation, is Spartacus and Varinia falling in love. She gets naked for him when he first meets her. He doesn’t think of her as a mere sex object, though: “Spartacus saw her and loved her, not for her nakedness, but because without clothes she was not naked at all and did not cringe or attempt to cover herself with her arms, but stood simply and proudly, showing no pain nor hurt, not looking at him or at Batiatus, but contained within herself, contained with her eyesight and her soul and her dreams, and containing all those things because she had decided to surrender life which was worth nothing any more. His heart went out to her.” (PDF, page 80)

In the film, Batiatus and Marcellus, the gladiators’ trainer (played by Charles McGraw) lecherously watch the couple, hoping to enjoy seeing them have sex; but Spartacus, furious at their lack of respect for his and her privacy, shouts at the men that he is not an animal. She, still naked, says she isn’t an animal, either. He naturally agrees with her, unlike the two voyeurs.

The love he feels for her, especially when he learns she has been sold to Crassus and therefore he’ll never see her again, is the final straw that drives him, followed by the other gladiators/slaves, to bring about a spontaneous rebellion. (The sight of Draba’s hanging body is also a major provocation for them.)

In the novel, this rebellion isn’t quite so spontaneous. There is discussion among Spartacus, Crixus the Gaul (played by John Ireland in the film), and Gannicus (played by Paul Lambert in the film) about whether they, as gladiators, should consider themselves friends (PDF, page 111). Thus the seeds of solidarity among slaves have been sown. They know that the Thracians call Spartacus “father” for all the love he’s shown his fellow slaves. He hints at a plotting of a rebellion when he says he’ll fight no more gladiators, and that he, Gannicus, and Crixus “will know what to do when the time comes to do it” (PDF, page 115).

In the film, Spartacus just spontaneously kills Marcellus by dunking his head in a pot of soup and drowning him in it. After having had to endure his trainer’s taunts for so long, he surely relishes killing the man. As we know in the modern world, though, revolutions cannot be so spontaneous: meticulous planning, theory, and organization are indispensable, as is the ability to intuit a revolutionary situation.

To get back to the story, though, more and more slaves join the gladiators’ rebellion, and Spartacus’ plan is for them all to go south to Brundusium and pay to have pirates’ ships take them out of Italy and to their home countries. Along the way, he is reunited with Varinia.

The Roman Senate is growing alarmed at the escalation of events, and Glabrus is to lead his cohorts to fight and subdue the slaves. Meanwhile, Crassus has found himself a handsome boy slave named Antoninus (Curtis), who is gifted at singing and reciting poetry.

In a scene originally censored by the prudish Production Code, Crassus is given a bath by Antoninus. The former asks the latter (with the voice of Anthony Hopkins in the restored version) of his sexual preferences, using indirect, symbolic language. Crassus asks the youth if he eats oysters, symbolic of female genitals; then he asks if Antoninus eats snails, symbolic of male genitals. Crassus considers these preferences a matter of taste rather than of morality; he then confesses his own eating of both oysters and snails, indicating his bisexuality.

The point to be made here is that Crassus is obviously trying to seduce the boy; how many slaves, male and female, were forced to perform sexual favours for their masters? In the scene previous to this one, Gracchus and Batiatus have a discussion alluding to the enjoyment of female slaves, in Gracchus’ case, to the point of him not even wanting to get married.

After Crassus’ bath with Antoninus, the former walks out, followed by the latter, to an adjoining room looking out across the river to the city of Rome. There, Crassus tells Antoninus of the greatness of Rome, and of how how one’s attitude towards her should be.

Crassus, in describing Rome’s greatness, is given a line that is an allusion to Julius Caesar, in which Cassius, complaining to Brutus about Caesar, says, “…he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus…” (I, ii, lines 135-136). In Spartacus, however, Crassus says this to Antoninus of Rome: “There is the power that bestrides the known world like a Colossus.”

What’s interesting in these two variations on the quote is that the first refers to Caesar, while the second refers to Rome, personified as a beloved woman, a man’s mistress. Young Julius Caesar, recall, is in Spartacus, played by John Gavin (who incidentally, in the same year, played Marion Crane‘s boyfriend, Sam Loomis, in Psycho). Later in the film, Crassus tells Caesar of his fear of him, an allusion to how Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey would form the First Triumvirate, and Crassus and Pompey would lose to Caesar’s rising power.

Indeed, the fear of republican Rome becoming a dictatorship, something Gracchus will fear of Crassus’ rising power towards the end of Spartacus, is a fear Brutus and Cassius would have of Caesar, which they would use to justify assassinating him. Crassus’ name fortuitously sounds like a pun on Cassius, hence what’s so intriguing about the allusion to Shakespeare’s play as put on Crassus’ lips. He fears Caesar’s rise as Cassius would decades later.

That Crassus’ absolute rule over Rome would come in association with the defeat of Spartacus’ army is also worthy of comment. In the modern world, many right-wing, authoritarian dictatorships came into being after the crushing of proletarian attempts at gaining power: fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, etc. The ruling class makes a masquerade of democracy when times are good; but if threatened, that same ruling class ends the masquerade and rules with an iron fist, as Crassus does.

In his speech on Rome to Antoninus, Crassus speaks as if everyone, including such members of the ruling class as himself, must make himself a slave to his beautiful mistress and goddess, Roma. In implying that he, too, is a slave in this larger sense, Crassus is rationalizing the whole slave system to the youth. He’s also implying that, in serving Rome, Antoninus must serve Crassus all the more faithfully and devotedly.

It is at this point that the boy sneaks away without Crassus knowing. Antoninus, of course, will join Spartacus’ army, eager to learn how to fight. The youth will endure the indignities of slavery no more: Crassus’ designs to enjoy Antoninus for his sexual sport, combined with this mad notion of enslaving oneself to a lofty abstract ideal such as Rome, are too much for him.

In today’s world, the global proletariat has its own political ideals to which it is expected to enslave itself: the “rules based international order,” the “free market,” or simply neoliberalism, are all ideals that we wage slaves are expected to grovel before, never questioning the source of our oppression.

On their way to Brundusium, the slaves enlist the help of a Cilician pirate envoy named Tigranes Levantus (played by Herbert Lom). Gracchus bribes the pirates to get them to take the slaves out of Italy, so that, fearing Crassus’ rise to power, he needn’t fear the slave crisis being exploited by Crassus to justify his making a dictatorship of Rome.

Still, Crassus bribes the pirates better, and they end up betraying Spartacus et al. When Tigranes returns to tell Spartacus the evil tidings, then offers him and the other slave leaders a chance to escape and live like kings in other countries, Spartacus tells him to go away. Opportunism has no place in a sincere struggle to be free.

At an earlier point on the way to Brundusium, Glabrus’ cohorts camp one night and, contemptuously underestimating the slaves, see no need to set up a proper perimeter of fortification around the camp, so the slaves can easily infiltrate it and massacre most of the men in the cohorts. This incident is based on the disastrous military leadership of Gaius Claudius Glaber against Spartacus on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

In Fast’s novel, Varinius Glabrus, as he’s called, is “vain, rather stupid, and politically dependable.” He’s killed with all the other men, all except one frightened, shamefaced soldier, who tells Gracchus and the rest of the Senate about the massacre (PDF, Part Five, chapters iv-vi). In the film, Marcus Glabrus is the one to explain his incompetence to the Senate, and he is sent out, disgraced. Crassus, his friend, leaves with him, pretending to share in his disgrace, but as Gracchus knows, Crassus will return, stronger than ever.

To get back to the part when Spartacus knows that he and his comrades cannot escape by sea, he knows their only way forward is to confront Crassus and his army, and thus to head back to Rome. His army is an impressive one, by the way, including women fighters, as we can see in the movie, extraordinary for one made back in 1960.

Here’s the thing: to be truly free, one cannot just run away from one’s oppressor–one must confront him and fight him. At the end of Fast’s novel, Varinia and her baby escape to live in a village near the Alps; but Roman soldiers go up there to enslave those villagers who can’t pay the high taxes, and her son, after she’s dead, has to fight these Romans just as his father, of the same name, did. (PDF, page 272)

In the film, the final confrontation happens, and it’s a nasty fight, with Spartacus’ army sending out rollers of flames to attack the Roman soldiers with. Much of the violence of this scene, with bloody stabbings and Spartacus’ hacking off of a Roman soldier’s arm, was originally censored out of the film, as with the ‘oysters and snails’ scene, because of the negative reaction of the preview audience.

By the time all of this has happened, Spartacus has already gotten Varinia with child, and when the slaves have been defeated, she has given birth to it. Crassus and Batiatus find her among the bodies of the fallen slaves, and Crassus wants her and the baby to be taken to his home. He especially wants to find Spartacus, to destroy the legend of the slave.

Why is it so important to Crassus to destroy the legend of Spartacus? Because, though the slave leader and his army have been defeated, their brave example will inspire thousands of future slaves to revolt one day. And where Spartacus has failed, any of the subsequent attempts may prove successful. That’s what Crassus is afraid of.

The Romans offer to spare the lives of the defeated slaves if they identify which man among them, living or dead, is Spartacus. They all respond with the famous repeated shout of “I’m Spartacus!” (a quote referenced and parodied in many films, including That Thing You Do!, and even Kubrick’s next film, Lolita), starting with Antoninus, who has prevented the real Spartacus from identifying himself, then dozens of men in his army shout it, in loving solidarity with their leader, who is moved to tears by their love.

This surviving love and solidarity is what is so threatening to Crassus, then the richest man in Rome. The slaves know they have lost…for now, but the hope of future success still burns like a flame in their hearts, and Crassus will have to find a way to extinguish that flame.

In our modern world, the Crassuses of today have been hard at work trying to extinguish the flame of hope that a socialist revolution will replace the capitalist hell we live in now. This story, as written by leftists Fast and Trumbo, was meant as an allegory for our times today; the master vs. slave contradiction of Spartacus is meant to represent the bourgeois vs. proletarian contradiction. And just as Crassus wants to destroy the legend of Spartacus, so do the bourgeoisie want to destroy the legend of Marxism-Leninism.

Imagine if, after the crushing of the Communards and the Paris Commune, that socialists had just given up! Of course they weren’t going to do that: instead, they worked hard to understand and learn from the errors that the Communards made.

Similarly, though a ruthless campaign of anti-communist propaganda (which I refute here, as in other posts) was doused here, there, and everywhere to extinguish the fire of socialism in the twentieth century, and that propaganda was a huge factor in the defeat of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc, we today shouldn’t listen to the capitalist lies that “socialism doesn’t work” and “TINA.” Instead, we must learn from the mistakes of the twentieth century and revive the hope that yes, another world is possible, that there is an alternative to neoliberalism.

To give a sense of how Crassus can be seen as an ancient version of a capitalist, in Fast’s novel, there’s a scene with him giving some women a tour of a perfume factory he owns. The scene at first hardly seems relevant to the life of Spartacus, but at the end of it, we can see Fast’s intentions (PDF, Part Six, chapter x).

Crassus speaks of how he makes much more of a profit with such businesses as his perfume factory than he could ever make in such wars as the Servile War. Furthermore, his workers in the factories aren’t slaves, so he needn’t feed or house them. Since they are free, he imagines he needn’t fear an uprising among them (PDF, page 221).

The bourgeoisie today, right-wing libertarians in particular, are fond of saying that if workers don’t like their jobs, they are free to quit, leaving their ‘poor, suffering’ bosses to have to find replacements. It may be relatively easy to quit when the economy is good, but not so when the economy is bad, as it is now, the worst it’s been since…forever, it seems.

Fast often refers to Romans as being on the dole, but this doesn’t change the fact that Rome was as brutal an empire as any. As an allegory of today’s world, his novel depicts Roman imperialism as paralleled (though assuredly not equal) with British and American imperialism. Romans being on the dole is to be paralleled with the welfare capitalism of the UK and US of the prosperous postwar years when the novel was written and the film was made. Welfare capitalism–at a time when the US and UK overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, to stop him from nationalizing Iranian oil, or when the US overthrew the government of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 for the sake of the United Fruit Company–is still capitalism…it’s still imperialism.

To get back to the story, though, Crassus has Varinia and her baby live with him. He’s captivated by her beauty, as well as puzzled with why such a beauty would remain in love with a lowly slave like Spartacus. None of Crassus’ wealth can lure her heart away from the father of her child and over to the man who has defeated him. But of course, Crassus’ defeat of the man she’s loved will ensure that she’ll never love Crassus…except that narcissistic Crassus will never accept her attitude.

What’s significant about the scene with him and her at dinner at night, in his attempt to woo her (recall that this scene is in Fast’s novel, too–Part Seven, chapter v), is that we see a kind of reversal of the roles of slave and master. He serves her food: squab and honey, a piece of melon, and a cup of wine, He has her wear a heavy necklace, once owned by a Persian queen. He doesn’t command her to eat–he invites her.

This reversal of roles suggests Hegel‘s master-slave dialectic, in which each tries to achieve self-recognition through the other. We’ve already seen the death struggle in the form of the battle in which Crassus’ army has defeated that of Spartacus.

Now, if all of the slaves are killed, then self-recognition through the other cannot be. The “I’m Spartacus!” shout of so many of the slaves, ensuring their collective crucifixion to a man, is nonetheless troubling for Crassus, not only because their defiant spirit will inspire other slaves, but also because their collective death means none will be left to give him and their other Roman masters the recognition they crave.

Crassus tries to get that recognition through Varinia, who coldly refuses to give it to him. Lacan said that man’s desire is the desire of the Other: to have the Other desire him, and to be recognized and acknowledged by the Other. Crassus’ desire is Varinia’s recognition, which she will never give him.

In Hegel’s myth, after the master has achieved dominance over the slave, a contradiction arises in how all of the slave’s work, producing so many things, gives their creator the recognition he craves, meaning he no longer needs it from his master; on the other hand, the master, having grown dependent on all of the slave’s productions, becomes subordinate. In Varinia’s case, her baby can be seen to symbolize the slave’s creations; similarly, her insistence that she nurse her own baby without the need of a slave-nurse to do it for her shows her self-emancipating agency.

Crassus’ frustration grows when he brings up Spartacus, who she insists was just a simple man, not a god. That she can love such a humble man is wounding to Crassus’ pride in the extreme. His implied threats to her baby’s life show, ironically, how defeated he really is. Since he owns her, he could simply rape her; but he wants her to love him, and he can never make her do that.

Another fascinating paradox occurs later, when Spartacus and Antoninus are made to fight each other to the death, the victor to be subsequently crucified. Since crucifixion is one of the worst, most painful ways to die, a death by stabbing is far preferred. So both men would kill each other…out of love…to spare the loser of the fight from suffering the agony of the cross.

Spartacus wins, and though neither history nor Fast’s novel have him die by crucifixion, the film has him die this way. Such an alteration naturally makes him into a Christ-figure, one who dies so future generations may live, that is, his sacrificial death will make of him a martyr who will inspire future slaves–including present-day wage slaves–to continue the struggle and, we hope, liberate us all for good.

Now, Fast’s novel gives extensive discussion of all those slaves crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua, where Batiatus has trained the gladiators. One gladiator/slave rebel whose crucifixion is given especial focus is a Jew named David. As he hangs in agony and despair on his cross, he ruminates over his mostly unfortunate life. (PDF, Part Six)

Fast divides David’s life into four parts: first, “a happy time of not knowing,” then, a time “full of knowledge and sorrow and hatred,” next came a “time of hope…when he fought with Spartacus,” and finally, a “time of despair,” when “their cause was lost” (PDF, page 212).

The difference between the times of not knowing and of knowing weren’t really those of happiness vs. unhappiness, but rather those of naïvely not knowing of the evils already present in the world, back when David was a child, and of when he became a man, had his eyes opened, saw the difference between the rich and the poor, and finally realized the world’s evil (PDF, page 190). Such a realization would have been especially poignant for David when he saw his father crucified for his involvement with the Maccabean rebellion (PDF, page 192).

Though Fast, having published Spartacus in 1951, wouldn’t have known at the time of the growing despair of socialists since the dissolution of the USSR (in fact, sadly, he came to believe the lies Khrushchev spoke about Stalin in his “secret speech,” and broke away from communism), still, David’s despair on the cross, and the length of his unhappy life, can be seen to allegorize the despair of any leftist revolutionary whose cause has failed, including the fall of the Soviet system.

We leftists in today’s world were once wide-eyed and naïve, like David as a boy, blissfully ignorant of the evils of the world. Then we grew up, put away childish things, ate of the Tree of Knowledge, so to speak, and underwent our Fall into a knowledge of those evils; and accordingly, we felt the pain, the sorrow, and the hatred of those evils. Then there were those of us who were old enough to remember the era of the Soviets, and how their influence even softened the blow of capitalism with the welfare state; we experienced a time of revolutionary hope, like David’s hope as he insists on standing beside Spartacus in battle (PDF, page 200). And finally, our time of despair has been from the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, and the ensuing rise of neoliberal capitalism from then to the present day.

The suffering of David on that cross, one of the longest and most painful ways anyone can die, is a perfect metaphor for the long, drawn-out pain we on the left have felt as we watched Clinton gut welfare, Dubya start the “War on Terror,” Obama continue and expand Dubya’s policies, Trump lower the already-low corporate tax rate even further, and appoint conservative Supreme Court justices so Roe vs. Wade could be overturned, and Biden provoke Russia and intensify nuclear brinksmanship.

We’ve watched this slide into imperial tyranny (as did Cicero of republican Rome degenerating into the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus; Cicero, who appears in Fast’s novel as an ambitious, upwardly-mobile writer of a monograph on the Servile Wars [PDF, Part Four, chapter i], but not as a critic of the power structure that would eventually have him killed), and we see no way out of the present situation. But recall the end of the movie, when liberated Varinia shows crucified Spartacus their now-freed baby. This child personifies our hopes of a revived revolution, which just might happen as the Western empire is crumbling.

We hang on the cross in agony, like Spartacus, but that baby of hope is alive and free. Instead of letting our heads droop down in despair, let’s keep our eyes on that baby.

Taiwan

Photo by Alan Wang on Pexels.com

As a resident of this island for, as of the end of the month of this article’s publication, what will be twenty-six years, I feel I must voice my opinions of the locals, especially as regards the attitude of many of them to China. What I’m about to say here is not a scientifically authoritative set of observations; it’s just the idiosyncratic opinions of a Canadian expatriate who has lived here and informally watched the locals for over two and a half decades.

Take these opinions with a grain of salt; I’m about to say some things many of the locals won’t like to read, but things I feel must be said. Be prepared, for much of what I’ll say will be critical, but with compassion: my intent is to help Taiwan save herself, not to be malicious. Furthermore, the criticisms are not meant to be sweeping generalizations of all of the locals, or even necessarily a comment on most of them, but rather a comment on as many of them as would be enough to prod Taiwan in the direction of provoking a war with China. More on that later.

I find the Taiwanese attitude to outsiders to be a curious one, full of contradictions. While some of them like China, from whence they came in waves over the years (mostly from Fujian province in particular, then with Chiang Kai-shek when Mao’s communists took over the mainland), many others detest the country of their ethnic origin. It’s a classic case of what Freud once called “the narcissism of small differences.”

On the other hand, the one country for which one would think the Taiwanese would have an abiding hatred, Japan, which had occupied the island from 1895 to the end of the Second World War, actually is a country the locals like so much that they visit it constantly, perhaps more than any other country, to my knowledge. My beloved Taiwanese wife, with whom I’ve vacationed in Japan many times, speaks Japanese very well. Just so we’re clear, though, Japanese rule here could be brutally repressive, as with their response to the Wushe Incident, which was dramatized in the Taiwanese film, Seediq Bale.

The locals’ attitude towards Westerners, whom they typically call waiguoren (“foreigners”) or meiguoren (“Americans”), is a mixture of contradictory feelings. Sometimes, they’re fascinated with us, reacting as if we were movie stars, or something. Little kids (and, occasionally, even adults) stare at us as if in a trance, as if there’s something shocking about how different we as non-Asians look from them.

At other times, a minority of locals, those with a more xenophobic attitude (sadly, a reaction any foreigner or racial minority will have to face from time to time in any country) will regard us as comical-looking; these ones may use the racial slur a-do-ah (“big nose”), or mock us by saying “Hello!” and “How do you do?” in an exaggerated tone, equivalent to white racists mocking Asians by bowing, squinting their eyes, sticking out their upper-front teeth and saying something ignorant like “Ah-so!” (which, incidentally, is Japanese, not Chinese, whitey.)

What all these contradictory attitudes have in common is the preoccupation with how ‘different’ we are from them. Such a preoccupation seems to stem, at least in part, from how the locals’ society conditions them, from early childhood, to be remarkably conformist. Social conformity, of course, exists in all countries and all cultures; but some places are more obviously conformist than others. A common way to reprimand bad behaviour among the locals is to call the offender qiguai (“strange”); one is bad because one is different from everyone else.

The real enforcing of conformity happens during elementary, junior, and senior high school…naturally. Kids here are bombarded with piles of homework not only from these schools, but also from their cram schools (buxiban) of many subjects (English, math, science, etc.), home tutors, and music lessons. In all of this intense study, we see how these kids are being prepared for the long working day–as of 2019, the fourth longest hours in the world.

Unlike in the West, the Taiwanese didn’t experience a radical 1960s countercultural rebellion against “The Man.” They’re essentially as we Westerners were back in the 1950s. To be sure, there are a number of individual cases of Taiwanese who go against the grain: I had the pleasure here of teaching a young woman, a violinist, who is now in the US studying the arts and is in a happy relationship with her female partner. I’m delighted every time I encounter such an exception; I’d encourage much more of it if I had the opportunity. But when I speak of conformity, I’m describing the large majority of the locals I’ve encountered, a largeness that I hope, for their sake, will soon shrink…if it hasn’t already, without my noticing.

Now, of course, East Asians have no monopoly on conservatism and conformity. Consider the recent, outrageous overturning of Roe vs. Wade by those Americans far too influenced by religious authoritarianism. But at least there’s a significant number of left-leaning Westerners trying to resist such reactionary behaviour. Sadly, I see far too little of such resistance here; by this, I’m referring to the Western pockets of resistance to such things as the mask and vaccine mandates. I know of no such questioning of authority here; anyone who does, please enlighten me–I’d be so happy to see examples of it here.

Alongside the locals’ non-questioning of authority, their homogeneity, which leads to their frequent over-reactions to foreigners as described above, their self-absorption (brought on, I believe, by their media’s constant focus on Taiwan, with scant exposure of international news to the locals), and their fear of a Chinese invasion, comes their belief that this island is a country, rather than a breakaway province of China. The locals are, essentially, ethnic Chinese, just as a huge percentage of the Ukrainian population is made up of ethnic Russians. Constitutionally, Taiwan is the Republic of China; the ruling Democratic Progressive Party keeps selling the public the idea that Taiwan is a ‘sovereign’ country.

I’m sorry, Taiwanese readers, but I must be frank with you. Nationalism is a form of collective narcissism. One thinks one’s country is ‘great’ because one was born there.

Just so we’re clear: nationalism has a danger of degenerating into fascism. See what’s happened to Ukrainian nationalists to see what I mean. Excessive patriotism, combined with economic hard times, tends to lead to such things as Naziism. Note today’s economy, and do the math to see what I’m getting at. Now, most Taiwanese are kind, gentle people who are very unlikely to develop the violent ways of fascism, but I worry that the combination of economic hard times, this nationalistic pride among the locals, and especially, American manipulations of the people here towards Sinophobia could make some disturbing changes in my home.

Indeed, the US government in its evil machinations encourages Taiwanese ‘nationalism’ as much as it can. Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under Trump and confessed liar for the CIA, made a visit to Taiwan to embolden the locals in an anti-China stance. At one point during his visit, he wore a mask designed with a combination of the American and Taiwanese flags. The obvious message behind this design is that an ‘independent’ Taiwan is to be inextricably linked to the American empire. Translation: Taiwan is to be subservient to American interests.

If the Taiwanese think that, with their long work days as mentioned above, a link to ultra-capitalist, imperialist America will give them freedom, they should think again.

Indeed, far too many Taiwanese naïvely think that the US is here to protect us against a Chinese invasion, so they welcome neocon assholes like Pompeo. They don’t realize that the American government has ulterior motives: namely, to Balkanize China (and Russia, by the way), thereby weakening her. Call Taiwan a country, break Hong Kong off from China, use the unsubstantiated hoax of the Uyghur ‘genocide’ to justify breaking Xinjiang off from China, etc.

Though only fairly recently did Taiwanese news media start to show a substantial amount of international news, when they (and Western media) discuss such important stories as the Russian/Ukraine war, it’s to see how the conflict is to be paralleled with the danger of such a war happening here with China. Sadly, their coverage of Ukraine largely parrots the disingenuous Western reporting of the war (e.g., Taiwanese news reports of international news all too often show CNN reports with Chinese subtitles).

Accordingly, the average Taiwanese, if not the great majority of them, accept uncritically the MSM narrative that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was an “unprovoked” act of aggression by the villainous Putin. I suspect that a precious few Taiwanese (if any–indeed, my “precious few” is me being generous and hopeful that more locals are properly informed of what’s really going on in eastern Europe than I think) are aware that the Russian intervention is actually a reaction to eight years of Ukrainian neo-Nazi provocations.

It started with the broken promise not to push NATO “one inch” eastward beyond reunified Germany. Never a friend to Russia, NATO has absorbed many of the former SSRs, to the uncomfortable point of touching Russia’s borders at Latvia and Estonia. Belarus has held out, but the push to make Ukraine and Georgia join NATO means, if one day achieved, nuclear missiles can be placed in those countries and pointed at Russia, something this nuclear-armed country can never be expected to tolerate.

(It’s useful to compare such a predicament to the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the USSR tried to give missiles to Cuba to point at the US. The Taiwanese might also want to consider how the people of China feel about the Trump administration’s sale of a billion dollars of weapons to Taiwan to be used one day on China. The Taiwanese see it as defence; China sees a threat.)

Tensions escalated in 2014 when the CIA helped to orchestrate a violent coup d’état in Ukraine, ousting the democratically-elected Viktor Yanukovych and replacing his government with one that includes neo-Nazis, as their military also includes. The eight years since that coup, leading to the war starting in late February of this year, have involved the neo-Nazis, in their bigoted hatred of the ethnic Russians of the Donbass regions, not only to pass legislation denying those Russians the right to use their language (naturally leading to Russian separatism in those regions), but also to violent attacks on those Russians, causing thousands of deaths.

Furthermore, in the few months leading up to the Russian invasion, the US was sending hoards of weapons to Ukraine, provoking Russia all the more. Attempts to negotiate peace (i.e., the Minsk Accords) were disregarded by the Ukrainian government. True, Zelenskyy campaigned and was elected on a platform of peace, but the neo-Nazis threatened to kill him if he tried to sue for peace with Russia. Also, the ‘democratic’ Ukrainian government has banned eleven opposition parties.

Finally, contrary to the nonsense and propaganda of the Western mainstream media, Ukraine is losing the warbadly. They haven’t the necessary equipment or organization, and Ukrainian soldiers are refusing to fight, knowing they face certain death if they try. The purpose of the MSM lies that Ukraine is ‘winning’ is to promote the US/NATO agenda of protracting the war, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder, in order to bleed Russia slowly, and thus weaken her, as the mujahideen in Afghanistan was successfully used in the 1980s to weaken the Soviet Union.

I bring up all of this in keeping with the paralleling of the Russia/Ukraine war with a possible China/Taiwan war, so the locals here can understand how the US plans to use Taiwan as cannon fodder to provoke such a war here, while lying in the media that a Chinese invasion will be ‘unprovoked.’ The Taiwanese typically think that China is going to invade Taiwan just because the CPC ‘wants to,’ or something (actually, China wants to reunite with Taiwan peacefully, and will use military force only if they have to). Similarly, the locals here usually buy into the Western media narrative that Russia invaded Ukraine just because Putin ‘wanted to.’

Since the Taiwanese are naturally terrified (as I, a resident here, am) of this island becoming a war zone, the first step toward preventing such a calamity is to see what’s happening in Russia/Ukraine and China/Taiwan in its proper geopolitical context, something the MSM (and therefore also the Taiwanese news media, part of the TV version of which, by the way, is aptly called TVBS!) will never allow us to see: that these conflicts are actually US/NATO moves on a global chessboard, if you will, to prevent the replacement of US unipolar hegemony with a much more sensible multipolar world, including Russia and China as emerging powers, which could create a balance of power that in turn could conceivably promote peace and end our decades-long plague of American imperialism.

It would be laughable (if it weren’t so infuriating) that the American government–whose Attila-the-Hun-conservative, Bible-thumping Supreme Court just overturned its women’s right to abortion–goes around judging Russia and China as ‘autocratic’ and ‘authoritarian.’ The government of the same country that spies on its citizens and censors its media left, right, and centre has the gall to judge Russia and China as infringing on human rights. The country’s government that has been invading and bombing countries all over the Middle East and occupying countries all over the world with its military bases, has the audacity to judge Russian and Chinese “aggression.” The government of the country that has, over and over again, interfered with the democratic and electoral processes in many countries has the cheek to accuse Russia, baselessly, with interfering in the 2016 US election to give it to Trump, who ended up putting sanctions on Russia anyway!

Still, the average Taiwanese knows little of these issues, since the local media largely doesn’t discuss them, and any time I discuss them with my adult English students here, they never mention any prior knowledge of the issues. They just parrot the mainstream opinions heard on the TV.

Granted, many–if not most–people in Western countries also parrot those mainstream opinions, but we also have access to alternative forms of media that can give us the news from different perspectives. To my knowledge, there isn’t any such alternative media here in Taiwan, and if there is, it must be extremely scant. If, on the other hand, anyone out there reading this knows of such alternatives, please give me some links in the comments; I’d really like to be proven wrong about this, though I don’t think I will be.

My theory for why such alternative media here is generally lacking ties in with what I was saying above about how most Taiwanese are conservative and conformist. Apart from accepting uncritically far too much of the American spin on world affairs, the locals here simply don’t have sufficient time to examine world events from different angles. This is not their fault.

Starting in childhood, they get up early and go to school or work, where they slave away all day until they finally get home, too exhausted for any deep thinking. To be sure, they’re just as capable of deep thinking as we are in the West, but their version of the capitalist system brainwashes them, from childhood, into being little more than obedient workers whose whole life objective is making as much money for the family as possible.

Of course, the notion of TINA has been spread around the world, not just here, thanks to the hateful neoliberal agenda; but at least there are significant pockets of leftist resistance to it in most of the rest of the world, to varying degrees. I’m aware of no such resistance here, to any significant degree. Again, this is not the fault of the locals. As I said above, their time is so consumed with work and the need to make money that they simply can’t make the needed level of commitment to doing such things as promoting workers’ rights, or opposing imperialism.

Indeed, I remember back in the 2010s when an attempt was made to set up an IWW union here, and it barely materialized beyond one meeting of us in Taipei on a Sunday afternoon. The leader, an American with, I’m sorry to say, an attitude far too abrasive for his own good, got frustrated with our inability to commit to regular union meetings. Two Taiwanese members emailed him a long message explaining, among other issues, how difficult and unpleasant it was for them (as it also was for me, by the way) to wipe out their one day off to go from their city of residence to Taipei for these monthly Sunday meetings (we often work on Saturdays here: that’s how bad capitalism can get in Taiwan).

People here are so tired from their long workweeks that long sleeps over the weekend are, for them, the highest bliss. There is simply far too little time for most locals to spend questioning the system that wears them out so much. That little bit of weekend free time is for family, exercise (often in the form of hiking in the hills), online games, or watching the latest, mindless Hollywood action or superhero movie. Free time is usually about escape, not fighting the Man.

And along with far too little time for political protest is far too little time for questioning mainstream media narratives, learning the historical background to things like the Ukrainian conflict, the real reason for NATO‘s existence, and US imperialism. Yet without this learning, how will the Taiwanese be prepared when the American empire starts increasing its provocations on China as they’ve done on Russia?

The locals naïvely think that the American weapons sold to Taiwan and the US military training given to the Taiwanese army are to protect them from a Chinese invasion, rather than part of a provocation of such an invasion. The CIA has been working with Ukraine in its war with Russia, and all those weapons were sent there. Far from being ‘protected,’ Ukraine is being crushed. The same will happen here if the Taiwanese continue to trust the perfidious American government.

I think many Taiwanese already realize, from NATO’s non-intervention in Ukraine to stop Russia (which otherwise would escalate into WWIII and could go nuclear), that the American army won’t intervene to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan (to avoid the same cataclysmic escalation). The locals are not that politically naïve.

Still, they must understand that the American government is a false friend; they’ll come to this understanding by studying the history of American interference in other countries’ affairs, the American ruling class’s contempt for the rights of American women, people of colour (including Asians!), the working class, etc. If the American capitalist class doesn’t care about the people of their own country, why would they care about the people of Taiwan?

Understanding these sobering realities will result from the Taiwanese coming out of their shell–not thinking of the rest of the world as some strange, far-away place that has no relevance to the locals’ lives–and learning about the rest of the world in depth. I’m not saying that the Taiwanese know nothing, or next to nothing, about the rest of the world, but to survive the danger of the American government luring them into becoming cannon fodder against China, they’ll need to do much more learning about the world than they’ve done so far.

Let’s all hope that, unless many of them have already done this kind of comprehensive study of these issues, and I’m therefore wrong in my assessment of what they know, they will do this thorough study, and do it soon. Our lives will depend on it.

Analysis of ‘Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima’

I: Introduction

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (or to the Victims…whichever–in Polish, it’s Tren Ofiarom Hiroszimy) is an avant-garde composition for 52 string instruments by Krzysztof Penderecki (pronounced  [ˈkʂɨʂtɔf pɛndɛˈrɛt͡skʲi], the Polish c in his surname, like that of hanyu pinyin, being pronounced ‘ts’).

Composed and premiered in 1961, the piece was originally to be called 8’37”, after its length of performance, since the durations of the sound events of the piece are given in seconds, rather than through the use of, for example, the quarter and eighth notes of conventional notation. Indeed, Penderecki’s score is as experimental as is the music, using a variety of unorthodox ways to indicate how the music is to be played.

The piece was originally meant to be just an experiment with new musical ideas, as Penderecki said, to “develop a new musical language,” hence the original absolute music title. It was meant as an example of sonorism, focusing on timbre, texture, articulation, dynamics, counterpoint, and motion to create a form free of traditional ideas of “expressivity” in the playing of instruments. “It existed only in my imagination, in a somewhat abstract way,” he later said.

When he heard it performed, though, he was struck by the emotive power of what he had written. It was no longer just an abstract experiment with sounds. With what could he associate the feelings of terror evoked in the music?…the victims of Hiroshima, when the atomic bomb was dropped on them at the end of WWII. Hence, the piece’s new name, a threnody, or wailing ode of mourning for the victims’ suffering and deaths.

So though the piece was composed throughout with just the intention of experimenting with new ways to organize musical sound, its new name and dedication have given the piece a whole new dimension of meaning, a meaning that not only inspires compassion for the victims to whom it’s dedicated, but one that also makes the piece especially relevant for our troubled times today, with all the reckless nuclear brinksmanship of the US and NATO against Russia and China.

The 52 string instruments used in the piece are grouped into 24 violins, ten violas, ten cellos, and eight double basses. The unconventional sounds they are manipulated to make include tone clusters, faster and slower vibratos, slapping, and playing on the tailpiece and behind the bridge. While the sound durations are, as noted above, given precisely in seconds, other aspects of the music are aleatoric, allowing the players a choice of techniques. Nonetheless, specific note clusters are used, as well as quarter tones.

Such unorthodox techniques give the music its terrifying character, which is why the Threnody, as well as other avant-garde works by Penderecki–such as his Utrenja, The Awakening of Jacob, De Natura Sonoris, Kanon, and Polymorphia–have been used in such horror films and thrillers as The Shining, The Exorcist, and Children of Men. Purists in the world of avant-garde music may not like the, to them, excessive associations of experimental soundscapes with the horror genre, but Penderecki’s association of 8’37” with the suffering of the Japanese at the end of WWII was more than justified, as I will argue below.

II: The Historical Background of the Nuking

It is still believed by many that the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing about 200,000 people, was regrettable but necessary, so that a long, protracted ground assault, risking the lives of many American soldiers, could be avoided. A closer look, however, at the actual, historical circumstances surrounding the bombings will indicate how wrong this rationalization is.

At the time, Japan’s leaders were ready to surrender, though hoping for at least a conditional surrender, to save their emperor, Hirohito, from being harmed or removed, as a handful of high-ranking Nazis would be tried for war crimes. The US, however, still seething with virulent racial hatred for the Japanese over the bombing of Pearl Harbor, wanted nothing less than an unconditional surrender.

Pretty much the whole of the Japanese islands were being pummelled with conventional American bombs. The Japanese knew they’d lost. In fact, when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese at first couldn’t tell the difference between the effect of the older and new kinds of bombs. The use of these two new bombs did not end the war, as many assume; therefore, where was the justification to use them?

A number of American generals dissented over the use of those awful bombs. So what was the real reason they were dropped on those two unfortunate cities? They were a demonstration of a new, deadly toy of the American military…not to intimidate Japan, but to frighten that nation that was already understood to be the new enemy of the US: the Soviet Union!

…and what really made Japan surrender, if it wasn’t the bomb? A convincing explanation comes from what the USSR did, not the US. Up until their surrender, the Japanese were holding out on the small hope that the USSR would mediate negotiations with the US and influence a conditional surrender, one that wouldn’t favour the US too much, to give Japan better terms for their surrender. The USSR, however, invaded Manchuria, clearly indicating no interest in siding with Japan in any way, meaning Japan would be forced to surrender unconditionally. In short, it was the Soviet Union, not the American nuking, that decisively stopped Japan.

Therefore, the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had no redeeming moral justification of any kind. They were acts of mass murder on a mostly civilian population (the military portion of which was admittedly significant, but still a minority); in spite of the heinous war crimes of the Japanese military on Korea, China, the Philippines, etc., these victims had done no direct harm to Americans.

Granted, all Japanese were part of the war effort in some sense, as is the case with the people of other countries involved in WWII. Civilian Japanese helped in industry, making weapons, giving material support to the military, etc.; but to a great extent, this civilian support was for defence as well as offence–these particular people weren’t themselves raping and beheading their Asian neighbours, so the way they were killed was way out of proportion to their crime of equipping their soldiers to commit their ugly deeds. Japan’s loss of the war, with the conventional bombings that more accurately targeted military areas, should have been punishment enough for them.

As much as I abhor Nazi Germany, and I would never consider defensible the average “Aryan” civilian supporting Nazi ideology and helping out in their war effort, I would also never consider nuking any German city to be an acceptable way of forcing the fascists and fascist sympathizers to surrender. Similarly, though I detest the US military-industrial complex and wish wholeheartedly for its imminent defeat, I would never dream of such a defeat coming from nukes.

III: The Composition

Here is a link to a video of the Threnody, with footage of the aftermath of the bombing, with images of the destruction and the suffering of the surviving victims of radiation poisoning, and the doctors trying to help them.

And here is a link to a video of the piece with an animated score, so you can follow what is happening in the music, and you can see it broken down into its many parts.

The piece opens with fortissimo tone clusters played first on the first five of the ten violas, next on the first six of the twenty-four violins, then on the first four of the eight double basses, etc., until all of the subdivided groups of strings are playing their own set of clusters. This piling on of tone clusters lasts for fifteen seconds.

The cacophony of all of these clusters suggests the screaming of the residents of Hiroshima as they look up into the sky and see the Enola Gay flying over their city, knowing they’d be bombed, but not knowing the brand new nature of the horror they were about to experience.

After the first fifteen seconds, the music immediately comes down from fortissimo to forte (sub. f), and a slow vibrato is heard on the first six violins, and soon after on the third six, the second six, and the fourth six. This all goes on for the next eleven seconds.

The following four seconds has the first five of the celli doing the slow vibrato; and the last six of the violins switch from a slow vibrato to a fast one, as the two groups of violas have been doing from the previous eleven seconds until now. These vibratos, slow and fast, add an eeriness to the dark, terrifying atmosphere so unmistakably established.

Those violas will, during the next six seconds, immediately come down to pianissimissimo (sub. ppp), as will all the other strings at the beginning of the next thirty seconds. During the six-second section, the last five of the celli will play the slow vibratos as the strings hitherto playing slow vibratos are, group by group, replacing slow vibratos with fast ones.

The switch to ppp sounds especially scary, like a suspenseful scene in a horror movie right after an initial shock of terror. Small wonder Penderecki’s music is, rightly or wrongly, so associated with horror films. One senses, at this moment in the music, the trembling people of Hiroshima looking up at the bomber plane in all helplessness, waiting for “Little Boy” to be dropped.

Next come the experimental sound effects to be made on the strings. In the score, an arrow pointing up indicates the playing of a note of the highest, though indefinite, pitch (recall the aleatoric aspects of this music). An icon of four vertical lines with a horizontal arc crossing them represents, respectively, the instrument’s four strings and its bridge; the straight line under the arc indicates a four-note arpeggio to be played under the bridge.

Some notes are to be plucked (pizzicatopizz.), others bowed (arco). Again, if the straight line is below an arc, one is to play between the bridge and the tailpiece. Vertical lines intersected with short, upwardly diagonal lines indicate a percussion effect: striking the upper sounding board of the instrument with the nut or fingertips.

The symbol of a short, vertical line with a cone shape pointing to the right tells the last five cellists to bow the tailpiece. An umbrella-like symbol tells the first five cellists to play on the bridge.

These string effects are not required to be played at exact speeds. Only the order in which they are to be played matters. As Angus Lee explains in his video analysis of the Threnody, different performers will have varying levels of difficulty or ease in executing each different technique; so there will be considerable freedom in playing these parts, another example of the aleatoric aspects of Penderecki’s piece.

The result, when one hears the differing timing of each player, bowing, plucking, or tapping his or her instrument, is a rather chaotic flurry of sounds. Controlled chaos, yet chaos all the same. When we hear this chaotic texture of sounds, it suggests to us the frenzied panic of the people of Hiroshima, them all frenetically scrambling to run for cover and escape their doom.

Next, a pianissimo note in F is heard on the ten celli, which is briefly sustained, but soon after, some celli slide down to lower notes, others to higher ones (indeterminate pitches here, graphically presented in the score with a thick black line), while the remaining celli stay on the F. This results in another tone cluster; then those upwardly and downwardly straying notes return to the F. This goes on for fifteen seconds. It’s a moment of relative calm, as if some of the people of Hiroshima have found a place to protect themselves from the bomb, and are trying to reassure themselves that they are safe…at least for the moment.

Other strings do the same effect, with the first twelve violins sustaining a note on E and branching out upwards and downwards into a larger tone cluster, this time ppp. Then, the eight double basses, also ppp, do this on an E-flat, then bloat out into a huge dissonant chord before returning to that E-flat.

The ten violas, playing mezzo-forte, give out a huge cluster chord that decrescendos and slides into an A. The last twelve violins then play a sustained high B-flat in ppp, which fans out into a large tone cluster, which is accompanied by another mf cluster chord on the ten violas, which in turn decrescendos and slides into an A.

This shifting back and forth, from single notes to tone clusters and back again, on different groups of strings and at softer and louder dynamics, continues for some time. One senses during this moment that those people are trembling in suspense, waiting for the bombing to be over with.

There’s a brief silence, then groups of ppp tone clusters from all the strings are heard, the notation indicating all the pitches to be played. We’re almost halfway into the piece by now. The feeling one gets from all of these creepy dissonances is a sense of nausea from all those terrified Japanese, nausea from their despair.

Next, a fortissimo cluster chord is heard on the ten violas, notes ranging from about an F (above middle C) to about a c′′. This is soon followed by a similar tone cluster, also ff, on the last twelve of the violins, playing a range of notes from about c′′ to about f′′-sharp. Other groups of strings come in with their own loud cluster chords. It’s as though the bomb has now been released, and the people of Hiroshima are all screaming together as they watch it fall from the bomber and come closer and closer to the ground.

Eventually, all these cluster chords played on all the groups of strings decrescendo and do upward or downward glissandi. It’s as though terror among the people has been replaced with resignation to their fate, just as the bomb is about to hit the ground.

Next, we hear individual notes of distinct pitches played by each cello, notes that are sustained and that fan out upwards and downwards. These are played softly, and are followed by the same fanning out of individual notes played piano on the last twelve of the violins, then on the ten violas, and ultimately on all the strings, ending with each group playing loud tone clusters.

This fanning out of notes suggests the impact of the bomb on the ground, each individual note representing each piece of rock, concrete, brick, etc., that has been shattered from the blast. Again, the clusters represent the screams of those people not yet killed.

We then hear creepy glissandi in the cluster chords of the celli and double basses, suggesting the moaning and groaning of the traumatized survivors, many of whom won’t be survivors for very long. These clusters thin out into single tones and go from fff to f, then decrescendo from f to silence in the double basses, and to p in the celli, and to pp with slow vibrato, ending off with a ten-second decrescendo to pppp.

This slow fading to another brief silence suggests the dying-off of many hitherto survivors, leaving those still living to be doubly traumatized, from their own suffering and from the deaths of loved ones they’ve witnessed dying.

The string effects come back, including the one with the upward arrow symbol mentioned above, as well as certain pizzicato and arco notes of definite pitch. These are played by individual strings from all the groups. The tension in this section suggests the traumatic reaction of the survivors to the horrors just experienced.

The percussive effects remind us of those heard earlier, as if they are PTSD-like flashbacks of the panic felt before the bomb dropped. Sometimes we have individual players making the bowed, plucked, or percussive effects, as if we’re hearing the pain of lonely survivors with no living family or friends to mourn with. Sometimes we have players in groups, suggesting the mourning of living family and friends who are weeping and wailing together, trying to comfort each other in all futility.

A little later on, we get the string effects notated with the umbrella-like symbols mentioned earlier, as well as those with the vertical line going through a cone pointing to the right. These are played on the celli and the double basses. Other string effects are heard on groups of three or four violins, violas, and celli, accompanied by a sustained cluster chord on the violins. The ten violas will join in with a cluster chord of their own as those violins, having done a crescendo from mf to fortissimo, play another slow vibrato.

As the above continues, other strings come in with their own tone clusters. The dissonances pile up, with slow vibratos played on some groups. The dynamics go down to piano and pianissimo, but soon crescendo and abruptly stop, leaving a brief silence.

Next, a climactic cluster chord is played on all the groups of strings, a huge dissonance with notes ranging all the way from about a c to a c′′. The totality of it is like a culmination of all the preceding horrors, as well as of the suffering they caused. The slow decrescendo, fading to silence, suggests again the slow, painful dying-off of many more victims.

IV: Conclusion–What Can the Threnody Mean for Us Today?

Needless to say, this music is disturbing to listen to, especially on the YouTube video (link above) that combines the music with the footage of the aftermath of the bombing. It’s disturbing because it should be. Nuclear war is nothing other than disturbing, though some nut-jobs think it can be used to defeat Russia today.

Another one of the reasons that those two bombs should never have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it ushered in the nuclear age. Faced with the threat of such bombs being dropped on the USSR and, later, China and the DPRK, these socialist states were compelled to make their own nuclear arsenals.

…and look at where we are today.

Threatened with the loss of their unipolar global hegemony, the US and the extension of its imperialism, NATO, have been provoking Russia ever since the counterrevolutionary dissolution of the USSR, with the aid of Ukrainian neo-Nazis (and no, you don’t stop them from being fascists by a mere change of logo), culminating in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Even cold-blooded war criminal Henry Kissinger has enough sense to know that the only way out of this war is to give Putin what he wants: Ukrainian neutrality, no NATO membership for the country, and a reasonable amount of autonomy for the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics…perfectly acceptable requests for the sake of Russian security, except that the US and NATO refuse to grant them.

That this war, if not ended, could escalate into a very nuclear WWIII (as could also happen when the US–via Taiwanprovokes China into a similar war), should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. Still, the US and NATO keep pressing their–and everyone else’s–luck…all because they don’t want to accept the emerging multipolar world with rising Russia and China, a world which, if handled well, could lead to a balance of power that could facilitate world peace.

(I go into more detail about these issues in these posts, if you’re interested, Dear Reader.)

The current-day threat of nuclear annihilation is what makes Penderecki’s Threnody not only relevant, but outright urgent to listen to. Let this terrifying music stir up your survival instinct and inspire you to do whatever we can do to stop the psychopaths in power from killing everyone and everything on our fragile planet.

The End of the World?

I: Introduction

As the above title implies, I’m afraid that this isn’t going to be a very rosy, positive post, Dear Reader.

Some readers who have read my posts about my family, and who know about my C-PTSD, might think that what I’m about to describe is just a reflection of my tendency to catastrophize the problems of the world, and I’d really like to think that that’s all that is going on here in my reaction to current events.

But I don’t think it’s my attitude to the problems.

I think it’s the problems themselves.

Now, before you think I’m just putting you on a real downer here, Dear Reader, consider that the first step in dealing with problems is acknowledging that they exist, rather than denying and running away from them. So let’s acknowledge these problems, where they began, how they’ve progressed, and what they’re escalating into now.

II: Background

First, with the ending of the great majority of the socialist states of the world, the capitalist class no longer felt the need to soften the plight of the working class with such things as welfare; for without any significant existing Marxist alternative to capitalism, the ruling class needn’t fear revolution if things grow intolerable for the poor. Hence, the rise of neoliberalism.

(For those of you who don’t think of the demise of 20th century Marxism-Leninism as a bad thing, please read this to understand why I think its demise was bad.)

That problem, however, was only the beginning.

With contemporary capitalism always comes imperialism, and with the end of the anti-imperialist bloc of Soviet states came, from the point of view of the imperialists, the gleeful realization that they could do anything they wanted, to any country, with impunity. The September 11th attacks, regardless of whether you choose to believe they were caused by radical Muslim terrorists or were an inside job, gave the American imperialists the perfect pretext to start carving up the Middle East any way they liked, as a general explained was the plan in this video.

With the “War on Terror” came the Patriot Act and the beginning of the decline in civil liberties. The state of permanent war has also meant a rise in the profits of the likes of Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, etc., profits that must be kept up to counteract the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, so the perpetuation of war has made it into a kind of addiction.

With war always comes war crimes, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were of course no exceptions. Chelsea Manning sent classified government documents of such crimes to Wikileaks, exposing the murderous American military and arousing its wrath. The persecution of her and Julian Assange has been the first major recent example of a threat to the freedom of the press, something that has gotten much worse in the 2020s.

Similarly, when Edward Snowden publicized the NSA’s plan to monitor the cellphone conversations of ordinary Americans, an Orwellian act rationalized as a form of counterterrorism, he was forced to leave the US for ‘treason,’ really a defence of freedom.

I’ve made this summary to set the stage, as it were, for what’s been coming since. The rise of neoliberal capitalism, an unfettered “free market” version that allows the rich to get richer and to exploit and immiserate the poor, has resulted–far from the right-wing libertarians’ fantasy of “small government”–in the wealthy being so rich that they can buy the government and make it do their bidding. The imperialist drive to find new markets in, and export capital to, other countries results in a further bloating of the military-industrial complex…big government, capitalist government.

The current-day depredations of imperialism aren’t limited to the countries of the Middle East. Any country that runs foul of the globe-spanning hegemony of the US and NATO is a target. Such targets have included the DPRK, Venezuela (with her vast oil reserves), Bolivia (with her lithium, so coveted by Elon Musk), and…of course, Russia and China.

And here is where things start to get especially scary.

III: The Threat of World War III

Not only has NATO, an extension of US imperialism, inched further and further eastward towards the Russian border over the past three decades, making Vladimir Putin more and more nervous, so has China been surrounded by American military bases in places like Australia, the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea in what John Pilger has quoted a US strategist as calling “the perfect noose.” There is also the US navy in the South China Sea, and there are the over-a-billion-dollars worth in weapons the Trump administration sold to Taiwan to point at China.

A reminder: the US and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons, and China has hundreds.

So, we have all this dangerous and totally unnecessary nuclear brinksmanship going on with these three countries, which instead of competing with each other could be working together for the greater global good, a potential multipolarity whose balance of power could, if developed properly, actually improve our chances for world peace. Instead, the US is jealously fighting to preserve its unipolar hegemony, and would rather risk the annihilation of all life in a nuclear WWIII than share global power.

IV: Media Censorship

To make matters worse, as the Russian/Ukraine war rages on, one that even the Pope has acknowledged was NATO’s fault, the culmination of a thirty-year (and especially an eight-year) provocation of Russia from that eastward expansion I mentioned above, the mainstream Western media is censoring any dissident voices questioning the narrative that the war is ‘all Putin’s fault.’ Putin is no saint, to be sure, but the Russian intervention was far from unprovoked.

You know the old cliché: in war, the first casualty is the truth, and such a casualty is certainly here with Ukraine. Though the mainstream news media admitted to the presence and influence of neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian government and military before the Russian intervention, since then their presence is either denied, downplayed, or outright ignored. Yet it is precisely this neo-Nazi presence that provoked the Russian response by killing ethnic Russians in the Donbass region in the eight years between the 2014 coup that ousted Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian military operation beginning this February to protect that Russian community.

One can claim the pro-Russian side is biased if one wants to, but so is the anti-Russian side. The point of having a free press is to allow publication of both sides of the story, for the sake of balance. Justifying censorship of “Russian propaganda” has only reduced the Russophobic coverage of CNN, the BBC, MSNBC, etc., to nothing more than Western propaganda…and hypocrisy.

The censorship of the pro-Russian side–properly understood, the actual anti-war side, since the only real end to this war will be granting Russia’s security requests, i.e., giving the Donbass region its independence, as well as ensuring a neutral Ukraine (no NATO membership)–has gotten so bad that the US set up a Disinformation Governance Board, in effect, a Ministry of Truth directed by a self-styled Mary Poppins. Added to this, many dissident voices, including those of Caleb Maupin, Mint Press News, etc., are no longer being given access to PayPal; so in not getting paid for their journalism (something that had precedent with Wikileaks about twelve years ago), these people are in effect being silenced, for one can’t be expected to focus properly on one’s journalism if one has to use up one’s necessary time making money doing another job.

And if we aren’t given access to dissenting voices that might otherwise dissuade us from going along with the manufactured consent for more and more war, we’ll find ourselves inching all that much closer to a nuclear WWIII.

V: A Love of Death

So what is the mindset behind all this pushing for more and more war? Obviously, part of it is the profit motive, as I mentioned above (i.e., Boeing et al), since war is a business and a racket. But with the ever-growing dangers of nuclear annihilation, which will also halt the growth of those profits, we must look for an additional motive behind all this warmongering: what Erich Fromm called the necrophilous character.

By “necrophilous,” Fromm wasn’t referring to the sexual perversion, but rather to a pathological preoccupation with death, with the non-living: “Necrophilia in the characterological sense can be described as the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures. [Fromm, page 369, his emphasis]

Fromm’s idea of the necrophilous character orientation is an elaboration on and a refining of Freud‘s notion of the death drive, which with Eros, the life instinct, is conceived as one of “the two most fundamental forces within man” [Fromm, page 369]. The death drive, just like the drive to achieve pleasure, involves a removal of tension to achieve a state of rest. As Hamlet said, “To die, to sleep, no more…”

It shouldn’t be hard to see how endless wars, leading to the risk of nuclear annihilation, as well as capitalism’s immiseration of the poor leading to their deaths through suicide, drug abuse and other addictions, the epidemic of homelessness, and the yearly starvation of millions in the Third World, are all manifestations of the necrophilous orientation in the ruling class, who adamantly refuse to do anything about these problems. This orientation, however, has manifested itself in other ways, too, which I’ll describe now.

VI: Economic Collapse and the Oligarchs

At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic blew up into what it’s been since, there were already predictions of a global economic meltdown, which the pandemic, of course, has only exacerbated (and served as a political distraction). Masses of people have lost work, have been threatened with (if not already subjected to) homelessness, and/or have developed serious mental health problems; the horrors of Third World poverty have gotten much worse, and the gig economy has found new, particularly heinous, ways of exploiting workers desperate for money.

Such Western oligarchs as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have all, in their own ways, exploited the covid pandemic to get even more obscenely wealthy as all this global suffering continues. Their combined wealth, as well as that of the other multi-billionaire oligarchs of the world, could end world hunger, end homelessness, and be used to build schools and hospitals, among other benefits; but they always seem to have excuses for why doing such good for the world ‘won’t work.’ Instead, they fly off in rockets or buy social media platforms.

These men know they could help the world. People have nagged them to do it. Still, they won’t: this isn’t merely because of greed and selfishness, as I see it; I think they have at least an unconscious urge to kill off masses of the poor. Recall Bezos‘s connections with the CIA, as well as his ownership of the Washington Post; he is one of many examples of oligarchs who have undue influence over the government and the media. Gates, with not only all the money he’s given to control the WHO, but also the money he’s given to many, many media sources, is another “philanthropist” who has similarly excessive influence.

Recall how Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to allow mergers and acquisitions in the American media, resulting in about 90% of that media being controlled by six corporations. Hollywood is essentially required to make the CIA, an evil organization dedicated for decades to bringing about regime change after regime change, look good in films. See how the government, media, and oligarchs are working hand in hand to deceive and screw us all.

VII: The Oligarchs’ Love of Death

Let’s connect the dots: wealthy oligarchs control government organizations and the media, the latter of which is now silencing dissident voices, first about covid, then immediately after about the Russian/Ukraine war, which as I said above, could go nuclear. (People denigrate ‘authoritarian’ countries like Russia, China, the DPRK, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., for having state-controlled media; yet with Western oligarchs controlling the American government and media, both of which, through organizations like NATO, control other countries’ governments and media, do these Western “democracies” really have anything other than state-controlled media, if only indirectly so?) Manufactured consent for war, with no dissident media voices allowed to reverse the influence of this evil: the necrophilous orientation, on full display…if only people could see it.

Elsewhere, we see the number of covid deaths in the US has recently reached around one million (this assuming that they, as the ever-so-dubious mainstream media maintains, have all died of covid as opposed to having died with covid, especially since the omicron variant, though spreading faster, is less deadly than the previous variants, of which the survival rate has always been the great majority of those who have caught it). A single-payer, universal health-care system would suit these patients, in the richest country in the world. Yet the American government still prefers to spend billions of dollars on the military (while having upwards of a thirty-trillion-dollar deficit), and to send over a billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine, to make Ukrainians cannon fodder in the US/NATO proxy war against Russia. There’s money for war, but not for health: this is the necrophilous character, in a nutshell.

VIII: Roe vs. Wade

Now, one thing has happened recently in the US that, on the surface, doesn’t seem all that necrophilous: the Supreme Court’s leaked majority vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. If we examine this right-wing outrage more thoroughly, though, we’ll see that it’s hardly life-affirming at all: the compassion that the anti-abortionists have for the unborn ends when the unborn are born. These right-wingers are adamantly opposed to providing any kind of childcare, maternity leave, or any other form of financial relief to struggling single mothers (or fathers now obligated to help raise babies both parents would otherwise not have had). Life may “begin at conception,” but compassion ends at birth, apparently.

And in a world with not only the pandemic forcing children to wear masks and therefore get very little chance to learn how to read facial expressions (as older generations have taken for granted), with not only the looming threat of a nuclear WWIII, and with not only an economic meltdown so bad that it could be the end of capitalism (replaced not with socialism, but either barbarism or some kind of neo-feudal totalitarianism), but also skyrocketing inflation (made worse by rising gas prices in a bid ‘to stick it to Putin,’ a cutting-off of one’s nose to spite one’s face if ever there was one), bringing excessive life into such a shitty world is anything but “pro-life.” Birthing unwanted babies in the worst of economies, with very possible food scarcities (conveniently blamed on Russia, mind you, while the West is completely unwilling to grant Russia’s most straightforward requests to end the war that’s exacerbating this food crisis) on the way: what could go wrong?

IX: Compassion

Bible-thumpers call life (before birth, mind you) “sacred.” Buddhists, however, say, “Birth is Ill, decay is Ill, sickness is Ill, death is Ill: likewise sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair. To be conjoined with things which we dislike: to be separated from things which we like–that also is Ill. Not to get what one wants–that also is Ill. In a word, this body, this fivefold mass which is based on grasping–that is Ill.” [Smart and Hecht, page 236]

Small wonder Schopenhauer, greatly influenced by Buddhism, had a pessimism regarding non-life as preferable to life; but being far removed from those of the necrophilous orientation, he confronted human suffering with an attitude head and shoulders above that of these Bible-thumping anti-abortionists–he espoused compassion for sufferers.

We socialists also have compassion for those who suffer; this is why we advocate universal healthcare, housing, education, and employment for all, and a society that produces things not for profit, but to provide for everyone. Such a beneficial transformation of society would reduce suffering to a far more tolerable level than we have in the current neoliberal nightmare. Such vast improvements are far more pro-life than the Bible-thumpers could ever offer.

X: Climate Change

Now, if we don’t end all life on this Earth through nuclear war, there’s another, equally sure way that will do it: through climate change. The warnings have been given for decades, and while conservatives outright deny the existence of this danger, liberals offer woefully inadequate solutions to the problem. All of the efforts of ordinary people to mitigate the problem–e.g., recycling, plastic straws replaced with paper ones, cleaning up pollution on the beaches, etc.–fade into insignificance when compared to the gargantuan contributor, which if anything is only getting worse: the US military as the greatest polluter in the world.

The climate change issue is not only very real, it’s an urgent problem that must be reversed, and soon, before its devastating effects can no longer be rectified. Sea levels are rising now. Wildfires have been raging in countries all over the world. This issue cannot wait, yet as I said above, the efforts to deal with it so far have been nothing more than puny compared to what must be done.

As for those right-wing libertarians who deny climate change, and who are no doubt informed by the greedy heads of corporations who put profit before human life, those right-wingers should consider the implications behind the underground bunkers that the super-rich will have when a world-ending disaster like the ultimate effects of climate change happen, or when there’s a nuclear war, or when the civilizational collapse brought on by the self-destruction of capitalism renders money useless. Will the boot-licking, climate-change-denying conservatives ever admit to themselves what the super-rich have known all along–that climate change is real, and that the super-rich thus have been lying to the conservatives?

Indeed, a number of blog posts by Rainer Shea discuss how the oligarchs plan to deal with the very civilizational collapse they themselves have been responsible for bringing on. In one such post, a CEO euphemistically referred to “the Event” (i.e., the end of the world via climate change or nuclear war), worrying about the loyalty of the armed guards of his bunker when money has become useless. As always, these necrophilous types care only about themselves, and they plan to hide out in their bunkers while the rest of the world burns.

XI: Conclusion–Revolution is the Solution

To make matters worse, the return of fascism, as a way of tightening the elites’ grip of power on us, is but one of many examples of how ‘democracy’ has revealed itself to be an illusion. The rich have militarized police, robotic dogs, and fascistic-minded bootlickers among the working class and petite bourgeoisie, all ready and willing to protect them. Liberals, though pretending to be progressive, are in their very defence of Ukraine revealing fascist sympathies. Though the sanctions on Russia have resulted in many countries, such as China and India, dropping the US dollar, which will help bring about the end of the Anglo/American empire, such a Western decline won’t come without a fight.

Chelsea Manning sent out an interesting tweet recently, about the need not only to be armed, but also for the armed to come into communities to train together. People, time is running out. Voting out the bad guys won’t work. There is no kind and gentle way to end the corruption in politics. We will have to fight our way out of this.

We can no longer just sit around and share memes on Facebook about revolution. We have to do it, and soon. Right-wingers among the masses, convinced by bourgeois propaganda that socialism is “Satanic,” will fight us tooth and nail, as will the police and standing armies of the ruling class. A revolution is not a dinner party.

In my heart, I don’t like violence; but it isn’t a matter of liking it. We have no other choice. If we on the left don’t organize, train, and act now, the end of the world will come, in the form of nuclear war, climate change, or neo-feudalism brought on by civilizational collapse, with that of capitalism. And with the media as censored as it is now, many won’t even see it coming.

Let’s get our act together, people.