Category Archives: Poetry

Song of the Uber

Is Uber just a rehash of earlier lessons in economics? Some might say so (hat tip to Rohan Light) if they’re familiar with criticisms of the “putting out” economy in 19th Century industrialization.

Punch Magazine published an illustration of “cheap clothing” by John Leech in 1845.

“Cheap Clothing” illustration by John Leech for Punch Magazine in 1845

Two years earlier in 1843 they had published the “Song of the Shirt” poem by Thomas Hood.

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
   And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

   "Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!             
   And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's O! to be a slave
   Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
   If this is Christian work!

   "Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
   Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,                    
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
   And sew them on in a dream!

   "O, men, with sisters dear!
   O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out, 
   But human creatures' lives!
      Stitch—stitch—stitch,
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,      
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
   A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

   "But why do I talk of death?
   That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
   It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own, 
   Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
   And flesh and blood so cheap!
              
   "Work—work—work!
   My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
   A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
   A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
   For sometimes falling there!

   "Work—work—work!
   From weary chime to chime,   
Work—work—work,
   As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
   Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
   As well as the weary hand.

   "Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
   And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—         
While underneath the eaves
   The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
   And twit me with the spring.

   "O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
   With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
   To feel as I used to feel,            
Before I knew the woes of want
   And the walk that costs a meal!

   "O! but for one short hour!
   A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
   But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
   But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
   Hinders needle and thread!"

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
   She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

“Like mustard gas… psychological warfare and its poison… linger on for years.”

The post title comes from a 1946 “Paper Bullets” booklet that was “DEDICATED to the men and women of the Overseas Branch, United States Office of War Information… to serve their country as propagandists in time of war….”

…like mustard gas, which clings to the ground for months after battle, psychological warfare and its poison of hate and distrust linger on for years.

Fast forward to 2016 and American soldiers still suffer from mustard gas experimentation done on them. They were told by their government to never speak about it and were denied healthcare claims.

We girls could not use perfume, we could not use hairspray, anything in the house” because of his ailment.

Daughter Beverly Howe, a nurse trained in chemical, biological and radiological treatment from Thomasville, Ga., said she interviewed her father for a school paper in the early 1970s, and he disclosed the gassing reluctantly to her for the first time. As a nurse, she recognized the symptoms from her training. “He said it was secret and they weren’t supposed to talk about it,” she said. “If they did, they’d be in big trouble.”

Then, while visiting a Veterans Administration hospital in Columbia, Mo., in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a VA X-ray technician who had seen Arlie Harrell’s records asked if he had ever been exposed to mustard gas.

“I was mostly horrified when I saw the look of terror in my dad’s eyes,” said Ayers, who was with her father at that appointment. “The man told him it was OK, you can talk about it now. He said, ‘Yes,’ and that was about it.”

Put these two themes together and you get a story about lingering effects of mustard gas mixed with racism (hate and distrust).

Edwards was one of 60,000 enlisted men enrolled in a once-secret government program — formally declassified in 1993 — to test mustard gas and other chemical agents on American troops. But there was a specific reason he was chosen: Edwards is African-American.

“They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins,” Edwards says.

An NPR investigation has found evidence that Edwards’ experience was not unique. While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

[…]

All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.

Source: NPR

Ancient “Taboo” Custom Credited With Avoiding COVID19

“Easter Islanders Likely Believed Megalithic Statues Helped Maintain Soil Fertility”, Source: SciNews
The BBC has published a story of how Easter Island government officials invoked prohibition customs to control the pandemic in their country.

Thanks to both tapu and umanga, Easter Island has not only successfully warded off the coronavirus; it’s revived past practices in order to plot a more sustainable future.

Tapu is practiced in various forms across Polynesia, from New Zealand to Hawaii, and is believed to be the origin of the English word “taboo”, with British explorer James Cook first noting the concept on a visit to Tonga in 1777. While tapu is a divine mandate controlling a society’s access to certain people, places or things (with potentially dire consequences for those who transgressed in historical times), taboo is similarly used in English to describe practices that are either forbidden or restricted by social or religious customs.

The local description of the safety and security that can come from a taboo is very poetic.

What the pandemic did, [Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa] explained, was change the position of the mask from the eyes to the mouth.

“It shut our mouths, because we kept eating and consuming and searching for money and building and destroying the nature and our fragile culture, without seeing the jeopardy that we were putting ourselves in,” he said. “Now, our eyes are open, and we are more keen to promote sustainability in words, actions and plans than we ever were before.”

Unknown artist rendering of open eyes, closed mouth moai

A common thread in education has been to point to Easter Island as a lesson in ecological collapse. If true, perhaps it would be wise to look towards them for insights in environmental and health policy.

However, history is not quite so obvious, and so it turns out there is an even better reason to learn from Easter Island. The latest research shows it was invasion by foreign threats that was the main calamity to their thriving civilization.

…disease and slavery, introduced by Europeans, are more to blame than ecocide and self-destruction.

One of the turning points in analysis, from internal collapse to external threats, was a realization that fragments of “weapons” were more like evidence of sophisticated peaceful agrarian tools.

“It’s assumed that [pieces of glass] are the WMDs that led to the collapse of people,” the study’s lead author, Carl Lipo, an anthropologist and director of Binghamton University’s environmental studies program, told the BBC. “And what we found was there was no evidence, in fact, to support that these were used in a systematic, lethal fashion, and that they’re best explained as cultivation tools and things used in daily household activities.”

The assumptions made by Europeans were ignorant, a bit like someone from Easter Island landing in France observing that everyone owns a shovel and assuming it means civil war.

Two parts of the big shift in analysis are related to some pretty simple, even common sense, threads.

First, the rounded and short glass tools called “mata’a” were nothing like the offensive long-pointy weapons found in other places around the world. Who innovates around a big spoon when they could have enhanced their knife designs?

Here’s the data:

Ok I said spoon for a very specific reason. And now I have to take a second to discuss how disappointing it was to read that “researchers call them the ‘swiss army knives’ of stone tools”. I mean these same researchers are claiming tools were NOT primarily military issue while trying to describe them as ancient Swiss army knives?

SWISS ARMY KNIVES are standardized, military issue and pointy… it’s like the researchers couldn’t have possibly used a worse phrase to make their point (pun intended).

Second, these islands lacked defensive evidence expected from innovation around fortresses and garrisons built for civil wars.

No strong offensive evidence, no real defensive evidence… the island populations were decimated by something else.

So while past lessons erroneously have suggested Easter Island is about environmental disaster from over-production, instead it serves as an example of collapse from disease-infested invasion.

It all registers as important food for thought about data integrity as they practice taboo to save their population from pandemic; show the world a “good model” of disease prevention as one of the most important forms of sustainability.

… why did the population shrink after the Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century? Lipo has a single, stark answer: “Disease that is introduced by Europeans after contact.” Smallpox and plague ripped through Easter Island, halving the population in a short time. […] The fate of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island is often used [falsely] to illustrate how humans destroy their communities with environmental destruction and warfare. But it might actually provide a good model for sustainable civilizations of the future.

Oh, and why did all the trees disappear? Rats, known also for spreading the plague, are blamed for Easter Island deforestation.

Almost all of the palm seed shells discovered on the island were found to have been gnawed by rats. Thousands of rat bones have been found, and crucially, much of the damage to forestry appears to have been done before evidence of fires on the island. […] Unchecked, a single mating pair can produce a population of nearly 17 million in just over three years…capable, on their own, of deforesting large lowland coastal areas in about 200 years or less. “In the absence of effective predators, rats alone could eventually result in deforestation.”

Once again, it seems prevention of invasive and uncontrolled threats is the Easter Island lesson for COVI19 and human sustainability.

How to Win With Propaganda

An advertisement writer recently posted to LinkedIn his reflections on how to hire the best talent by using “the copy test“. It boils down to this:

… if you can get your readers to empathise with you, in a tone they resonate with, you’ve won.

Judging by comments I sometimes get here (e.g. a white woman angry about my Dambusters post because she thinks the n-word is a very fine name for a dog)… clearly I still have more copy tests to do before I’ve won.

In related news, a book by Thomas Kent is coming out now with advice on how to advance democratic values to combat dangerous Russian propaganda.

Significant attention has been given to Russian disinformation operations and their corrosive effect on the United States and other democratic governments. The Western responses have thus far been weak and uncoordinated, according to Thomas Kent, former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who is currently a Jamestown Senior Fellow and adjunct associate professor at Columbia University. He proposes an energetic new strategy to confront this threat: aggressive messaging to combat Russian information operations, while promoting the values of democracy that too many in the West have lost faith in.

I look forward to seeing how to get Russian readers to empathize with American democracy.

And on that note, a very old book called “Techniques of Persuasion” looked into Communist indoctrination camps run by the Chinese during the Korean War and highlighted how important information gathering (“confession”) was to any propaganda method.

Source: Techniques of Persuasion From Propaganda to Brainwashing by J.A.C.Brown, p. 257

Similar methods are described in the film “The Luft Gangster: Memoirs of a Second Class Hero“. When black pilot Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, USAF (Ret) was shot down in Germany he was surprised to find Nazi prison camps working hard to get empathy out of him.

The Nazis demonstrated they already had access to every detail of every American’s life down to home street, even showing him high school photos. The real elephant in the room, and palpable in the film, is whether Jefferson fell for Nazi propaganda that they respected his life more than America.

That kind of propaganda gets right into the question of using tribalism to undermine morale and distract enemies from any kind of unified objective. It’s a whole other level of winning, as documented by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

…conflict does not necessarily imply a pure contest of arms. It may center on an economic crisis, a sponsored pattern of betrayal and defection, or broad civil unrest. Whatever form it takes, it remains for the instigator a divide-and-exploit or divide-and-distract strategy that turns the enemy against himself, away from others, and exposes opportunities not otherwise available to an external State actor.

Allegedly it was this kind of strategic thinking that compelled Britain, France and America to operate heavy propaganda and even false flag operations in Africa through the 1980s intended to undermine black nationalism. More specifically, the racist apartheid government of South Africa wanted all its neighboring states to constantly be in a state of permanent improvisation and thus frame itself — an oppressive white police state — as the only stable regional partner for business deals.

Does “Knowledge Wins” Mean Privacy Lost?

The U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School has released a video called “Knowledge Wins Episode 4 – Great Power Competition – Part 1

The video starts by asking for a definition of competition, and the answer is…open. There are many different and relative definitions of competition, although in my research so far I’ve found universally that knowledge competes with privacy.

The video starts with this war-time poster encouraging people to gain knowledge:

And that reminded me of these two posters that hinted at war-time issues of privacy, information and knowledge:

Death of the Dust Seeker

By Abdukhebir Qadir Erkan

Source: Uighur Poets on Repression and Exile

Building his dwelling in the winds,
gifting the grubs the sun of his skies,
he left for the roads that run dark among letters.
Thirsting for seas that flow from night drops,
living his days outside of the seasons,
sketching his cry in a blossoming chest,
he left his flower with his dark lover.
The buds of his comforting shadows
dug ever deeper in his chest
as he stuttered like a speechless man
through canyons with word-choked memories.

*

Now grant him permission
to die as gloriously as a grub.
Let the tongue that darkened as his hair grew white
be a grave in his soul’s ruined temple.
Make a coffin from the blackboard that ate his lungs,
as we mourn him let it be our wake.

—August 3, 2017

Were the WWII RAF Dambusters Racist?

Is friendly fire still fire? Yes, the Dambusters clearly embraced racism. Just look at the name of their “mascot”…

It’s been a problem for Dambusters’ story-tellers. Back in 2011 the BBC reported that the Dambuster “mascot”, a black Labrador named the N-word, in a movie produced by Peter Jackson would be instead called “Digger“:

You can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog’s grave and there he is with his name, and it’s an important part of the film. The name of the dog was a code word to show that the dam had been successfully breached. In the film, you’re constantly hearing ‘N-word, N-word, N-word, hurray’ and Barnes Wallis is punching the air. But obviously that’s not going to happen now. So Digger seems OK, I reckon.

The BBC goes on to say that decision reflected a fact of a larger story to tell where a dog’s real name is a tiny, unessential detail.

“The film is not about the dog. My big concern would be if they watered down what the Dam Busters had achieved.”

If the N-word is used in its full form, then historians must also talk about a bigger picture of the N-word being a known wrong in 1943 and allowed anyway.

The Independent for example reported seven years later in 2018 that screenings of the original 1955 movie would leave the N-word intact, and instead warn potential viewers of its offensive language.

…”send a clearer warning to parents that the film contains discriminatory language of a nature that will be offensive to many”. The name has previously been censored for TV broadcasts, while some American versions have used dubbing to edit the dog’s name to Trigger.

Digger, Trigger… Vigor, Rigor, Bigger. These codewords based on mascots or any other thing don’t have to be accurate for retelling the main story. Look at it this way, do you really care what the words in the left column are?

Codeword Meaning
Cooler Callsign for Operation Chastise
Pranger Attack Mohne dam. German word for “pinch badly” and name for a medieval torture device
N-word Mohne dam breached, divert to Eder
Dinhgy Eder dam breached, divert to Sorpe
Tulip Cooler 2 take over Mohne, Cooler 4 take over Eder
Gilbert Attack last-resort targets
Mason Return to Base
Goner Upkeep release status (1-7) with results (8-10) on target (A-F). For example Goner 1-8-A is failed to explode, no breach of Mohne, whereas Goner 7-10-A is exploded on contact, large breach of Mohne

It shouldn’t matter what a dog’s name was in the Dambuster narrative (a narrative that really should only be about “convincing people on both sides that the Allies were winning“) unless you also want to talk about systemic racism in the RAF at that time… which tends to undermine “winning” narratives and get lots of attention from neo-Nazis.

In other words, if Peter Jackson’s film crew had tried to use the original racist slur name in their movie, they would have needed to address racism with a lot more that just basic context setting. One can’t simply insert the N-word and pretend like all the RAF racism at the time in 1943 doesn’t also come along with it. And going into the known racism of the RAF (could RAF be read as Racist AF, like were the Dambusters RAF?) would have been a very different movie.

Using the N-word also means doing far more to set the context than tossing out “you can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog’s grave” to learn more. I understand such a sentiment, as it’s low cost to drive interested viewers to some other production. The writers suggested anyone who needs to see the original dog name could visit the grave, meaning the fuller story could be found elsewhere.

That is not an unexpected response but that particular statement no longer will fly, given how Sky News reports today that even RAF Scampton has removed the N-word from the gravestone.

It is understood the decision was taken in order to not give prominence to an offensive word that goes against the modern RAF’s ethos.

So you can’t just go and see the N-word being celebrated anymore (on a base scheduled to be closed next year).

Removal of racism is the right decision by the RAF. However, note how Sky News is itself making a subtle racist mistake.

It really should have concluded it’s sentence with “…an offensive word that goes against the RAF’s ethos.” Saying it goes against the modern ethos is problematic because it means Sky News is passively excusing a legacy of racism in the RAF.

Fortunately the BBC does a better job and reports it the proper way:

The RAF said it did not want to give prominence to an offensive term that went against its ethos.

Right. RAF should take down the distraction and when it comes up explain that unfortunate choices were made, explaining why those choices were mistakes and that they are being corrected.

Everyone should be able to agree it was clearly and widely known to be derogatory after the 1800s, as the definitive book “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” explains:

We do know… that by the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, nigger had already become a familiar and influential insult. […] For many whites in positions of authority, however, referring to blacks as niggers was once a safe indulgence. […] Given whites’ use of nigger, it should come as no surprise that for many blacks the N-word has constituted a major and menacing presence that has sometimes shifted the course of their lives.

“A safe indulgence” by “whites in positions of authority” seems exactly to be what has happened in the case of the Dambusters naming their dog a racist slur 200 years after it was known to wrong blacks.

The African American Registry explains how change does indeed come slowly for those in positions of authority:

No matter what its origins, by the early 1800s, it was firmly established as a derogative name. In the 21st century, it remains a principal term of White racism, regardless of who is using it. […] In 2003, the fight to correct the shameful availability of this word had positive results. Recently Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gave a speech at Virginia Tech. There everyone was informed that a landmark decision was made with the people at Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Recognizing their error, beginning with the next edition, the word nigger will no longer be synonymous with African Americans in their publication.

While the word obviously has been harmful this whole time across two centuries, some still try to erase that fact of history by falsely presenting the Dambuster racism as innocent of motive.

It was not innocent, and it was not a different time.

Although, to be fair, during WWII general British society was less racist towards black soldiers than the British military was, and British society also was far less racist than the American military:

…when US military authorities demanded that the town’s pubs impose a colour bar, the landlords responded with signs that read: “Black Troops Only”.

Consider then how a 1964 campaign slogan used the N-word, because it was so harmful, as a weapon to attack Britain. That’s right, a politician won a competition by flouting the N-word in “the most racist election” he could. And this was just 20 years after the Dambusters raid:

Conservative MP, Peter Griffiths, had been elected in the previous year’s general election on the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

If anyone says that Dambuster dog name was neutral and at a “different time”, ask them how it ended up in a very public 1964 hate campaign.

Griffiths openly acknowledged his use of the term was racist. You can’t say 1943 was such a different time from 1968; those who used the term in World War II military campaigns then would have been voters in their 50s.

Dr. Harold Arundel Moody, a Jamaican-born physician in London who campaigned against racial prejudice established the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931, would never had his life story described as “Negro Victory” if there hadn’t been so much racism during those years.

More to the point, who were the Dambusters really targeting when they grotesquely indulged in racism by messaging bomb drops with the N-word over and over and over again?

By 1975 we can look at an episode of the popular Fawlty Towers comedy on BBC had their military veteran character Major Gowen (played by Ballard Berkeley) repeatedly saying the N-word.

The Major says: ‘The strange thing was that throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as n*****s.’ He adds: ‘ “No, no, no, no,” I said, “n*****s are West Indians, these people are w**s”. ‘ “No, no, no,” she said, “all cricketers are n*****s”.’

So you can plainly see a BBC comedy in 1975 was highlighting, as I am here today, how the N-word in Britain was treated by the “old fossil” military types — a hateful word used for a very long time.

That is why by 1943, during the raid that gave the Dambusters their famous name, there should be no question the N-word was known to be racist, as it has been widely documented widely as such before and after.

Its use in fact undermined the fight against Nazism — like dropping bombs all over black neighborhoods of the British Empire — as friendly-fire that was entirely unnecessary and easily prevented.

Again, friendly fire is still fire.

The best case for the Dambusters would be claiming weak leadership — despite public condemnations of racism — as they allowed unfortunate wrongs against their own citizens to continue unchallenged; even that doesn’t change a fundamental fact the N-word was known harmful and use of it by the Dambusters means RAF has to deal with a legacy of racism.

British racism goes bigger than just this one word, of course, given how the N-word is a reference to slavery in the military of a country that used to enforce slavery practices. Keep in mind how a push for abolition of slavery is as old as slavery itself, and the 1700s was when the British experienced mass condemnation (thus leading to its widespread abolition in the early 1800s).

We can’t say let’s erase the black experience and instead comfort whites taking the immoral luxury of perpetuating slavery through it’s associated language. The context of early 1800s abolitionism doesn’t do anything to excuse the RAF in a position of power and privilege indulging in racism.

Leaving the N-word prominently displayed without context legitimizes the wrongdoing.

Quite clearly there was racism in British ranks, and quite clearly it should be treated as such if their racism is repeated in the open. We even have documentation of the problem from those who suffered it.

…In 1939, the peacetime recruiting regulations…restricted entry into the RAF to men of “pure European descent”. Under the Act, all “men of colour” were automatically debarred…. […] …a Guyanese man…in 1941 was recruited by the RAF. Grant wanted to be a fighter pilot…. Years later after being shown Air Ministry records researched by Roger Lambo be was to painfully learn of the racism with informal Air Ministry policies.

And again, even more to the point:

As Robert Murray, who left Georgetown, Guiana to join the RAF, recalls: “I never heard of racism until I got to Britain.” …there is now a desire to celebrate the achievements of those such as Flight Sergeant Jimmy Hyde, the much-decorated Trinidadian piolt, there has been little recognition of the isolation they felt in the RAF. […] There is an official RAF photograph of Hyde, from 132 Squadron, with his Spitfire and holding “Dingo”, the squadron commander’s pet dog. Hyde, while forcing a smile, looks uneasy: it is unclear which one is the mascot.

[Source: Caribbean Air Crew in the RAF – Imperial War Museum (IWM) Reference CH11978]

However, rather than go too far down the complicated paths to explain motives for systemic racism in the military, we really should keep focus on consequences here.

Given the term was known harmful from the 1800s onward, and given that most blacks who heard the term would consider it harmful, with many first-person confirmations of being wronged, historians must conclude:

POSTING OR USING THE DOG’S NAME WITHOUT RACISM CONTEXT ERASES THE BLACK EXPERIENCE.

Perhaps this clarity to me comes from unique experience that makes the right answer more obvious versus those casually looking at the problem?

I spent many hours deep in the UK government’s military archives for my graduate degree in history from the London School of Economics. In those papers and secret memos I found an excessive amount of racism of an almost unbearable level, especially in the war-time Colonial Office correspondence on the North African campaigns (as you might imagine from the office name).

The intolerance and hate is all still there if you want to open the folders, but it most certainly should not be paraded or celebrated. And if someone pulled that racism from the archive and built a gravestone or monument to it for celebration, I would ask them frankly why they are trying to erase history (ignore the black experience) by trying to elevate and apologize for a particular racist tangent.

And here’s a sad example of a historian of Dambusters who fails miserably at this. He both acknowledges the catastrophe of the N-word and also falls victim to the false trope of “said things differently then”. From the 2020 edition of Operation Chastise.

…I have been repeatedly asked whether it is an embarrassment to acknowledge the name of Gibson’s dog, which became a wirelessed codeword for the breaching of the Mohne. A historian’s answer must be: no more than the fact that our ancestors hanged…and imprisoned homosexuals. They did and said things differently then. It would be grotesque to omit Nigger from a factual narrative merely because the word is rightly repugnant to the twenty-first-century ears. […] Yet in the twenty-first century it also seems essential to confront… the enormity of the horror that the unthinking fliers unleashed upon a host of innocents.

This is a clumsy section of the book, which has to be read very carefully. He is saying he leaves in the N-word as evidence of a wrong. Does he call it out effectively as a wrong?

No, it appears he gives far more careful consideration to the wrongs the RAF may have committed against Nazis, than the wrongs against blacks (or against homosexuals) in the RAF who were fighting against those Nazis.

Note the UK after the war coldly tried and executed their own war hero Alan Turing, for example, simply because he was gay. That narrative is almost never told correctly, given how the government today tries to elevate his name in spite of unjustly killing him.

Interesting data point: given this author of the 2020 Operation Chastise book says historians ought not to omit references to the dog’s name, he makes only 2 mentions in all its pages. And I am sure if he had gone to zero mentions, it would have done nothing to change his narrative.

If anyone believes that erasing history is harmful, then they should see removing the N-word is a restoration project (like cleaning graffiti or pulling down fences). Don’t believe anyone who claims the N-word was acceptable at the time, or that it didn’t get a reaction from those it slighted. Again, as I can’t say this enough, presentation of it without context erases the black experience.

To post such a word believing it to be “factual” without thinking of its factual consequences, is an act of erasure. It erases history and continues to promote severe and lasting wrongs, by failing to acknowledge mistakes as such. The RAF is right to correct the mistake, acknowledge the bigger story and fuller history, and move the racist name to where it can be studied appropriately for being racist.

As Randall Kennedy, the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School and author of the definitive history of the N-word, puts it:

“Given the power of ‘nigger’ to wound, it is important to provide a context within which presentation of that term can be properly understood.

What would context look like for the 1943 Operation Chastise? That’s fairly easy to answer.

The BBC three years earlier on May 16, 1940 responded to an angry letter and issued a public apology for its use of the N-word on air, acknowledging it as “sincerely regretted”.

My attention has been drawn to the fact that one of your announcers, when interpreting some records on the 11th inst., made use of the offensive term ‘nigger’. There is no need for me to remind you that this is one of the unfortunate relics of the days of slavery, vexatious to present day Africans and West Indians, and an evidence of incivility on the part of its user. I hope, sir, as a public corporation, you will take some steps to repair the damage done. I shall be glad to be advised as to what steps you take so that I may be able to inform my Committee accordingly.

======

From the Director, Secretariat of BBC to the President of the League. 16/5/40–

Following my earlier letter, I find that our announcer was at fault. The point raised on your letter is fully appreciated, and is one which the BBC is at pains to keep constantly in mind. It was unfortunately overlooked on this occasion, and a reminder on the subject is being given to announcers. I hope that your Committee will accept the BBC’s apology for this slip, which is sincerely regretted.

And speaking of the BBC, here’s an even better contextual reference from one of their own broadcasters ten years earlier…

The following poem by Una Marson (celebrated war-time broadcaster in the ministry of information, and a noted poet), published in 1933, can be found in the British Library:

Source: The Keys, Una. M. Marson, The League of Coloured Peoples, July 1933. Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board

She warns very conclusively, a full decade before Gibson so wrongly named his dog, that without any doubt the N-word was considered racist and harmful. Gibson chose the name in spite of these public protests against. Even worse, he chose to use a racist slur as a codeword in spite of known harm to the “RAF ethos” then and into the future.

Have you heard of Una Marson?

Every time someone falsely claims the N-word was somehow accepted, or normal for 1943 in the RAF, they actively are erasing her from history despite her very prominent role and the black community opposition to the term during that exact time.

The History Behind Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”

There’s a line “do not obey” within the famous Curtis Mayfield song “Move On Up”.

Take nothing less than the supreme best
Do not obey for most people say
’cause you can pass the test
So what we have to do is
move on up and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
so keep on pushing

What might “do not obey” refer to?

To start, let’s look all the way back at Woodrow Wilson’s racist “America First” campaign of 1916, which manifested in years of organized white mobs committing widespread violence and terrorizing black neighborhoods.

Historians, for example, might point to the NYC 1917 Silent Parade meant to protest that in America “black skin was death warrant”, or the Chicago 1919 massacre that was part of a “Red Summer” of white supremacist terrorist acts.

This frightful condition continued such that by 1921 all of Tulsa’s black neighborhoods and “Wall Street” were burned to the ground by planes dropping napalm.

Here’s an eyewitness account published by Smithsonian:

I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top…

The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top… ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’

Such attacks literally pushed Americans into mass graves, followed with construction of a KKK convention hall on top of cities ruined by white nationalist terrorism (an early form of racist “urban renewal” politics made famous by Nixon, although he more subtlety used dynamite and bulldozers instead of napalm and planes)…

All of this still is rarely if ever taught in American schools.

Blocked from upward mobility by systemically violent white supremacist mobs — meaning police offered the opposite of help — you perhaps can see exactly why black community protection groups emerged.

In other words, ethnic-based “gangs” were started as a way to enable the kind of peace needed to prosper, by defending American communities against organized white supremacist domestic terrorism.

Although some black gangs likely formed to counter the aggressive white youth, the unorganized black youth were no match for the well-organized, all-white gangs that were centered in their athletic clubs.

Wherever white oppression tactics were found, and police failed in their duties, a gang was likely formed to defend against injustices and thus enable a degree of protection to help enable gains in health, wealth and prosperity.

Catholic (Polish, Irish, German, Italian), Chinese, Jewish and black gangs all were established to protect against American domestic terrorism. These ethnic gangs also fundamentally depended on fund-raising and community support events. It is a fine line obviously between donations and extractions/taxation, given a lack of transparency or legal representation possible in gang systems.

A story from Milwaukee, for example, involves a fund-raising event on a huge boat in Lake Michigan. A violent storm caused a collision that sank the boat and decimated that community by drowning the “Irish Union Guard” abolitionist militia leadership. So many leaders of that one community died in just one fund-raising tragedy, it has been said the entire balance of Milwaukee’s political power abruptly shifted on that day towards German militia running the city.

Another story, this time from Minneapolis, is how Jewish gangsters violently attacked any German “Silver Shirt” militia (Nazi) rally, calling it a “patriotic duty as Americans” to shut-down pro-Hitler influence operations.

Berman learned that Silver Shirts were mounting a rally at a nearby Elks’ Lodge. When the Nazi leader called for all the “Jew bastards” in the city to be expelled, or worse, Berman and his associates burst in to the room and started cracking heads. After ten minutes, they had emptied the hall. His suit covered in blood, Berman took the microphone and announced, “This is a warning. Anybody who says anything against Jews gets the same treatment. Only next time it will be worse.” After Berman broke up two more rallies, there were no more public Silver Shirt meetings in Minneapolis.

Totally defeated on the streets the Silver Shirt members then became the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to gain an unfair advantage over their targets, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Gangs typically dissipated as they become assimilated by mainstream opportunities (upward mobility) in America (even a catholic has been elected President). However America has such high levels of continued oppression of blacks (1950s White House urban renewal was encoded race warfare) it is no wonder black gangs have lingered.

See the film “Rubble Kings” for an excellent look at the socio-economics of how and why New York gangs were formed in the 1960s and what helped them dissipate in the Bronx. Hint: upward mobility through opportunities in music and art, the foundations of today’s rap and hip-hop markets.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Mayfield may have been writing about in his lyrics. The year was 1970 when he released his debut album Curtis, and also when one of the Chicago gangs (Blackstone Rangers) tried to pressure Mayfield to fund them.

He did not obey. Instead he offered them a concert and used his platform to drive a “move on up” message.

He was pushing hope for equality and justice of assimilation that other the races in America were allowed to achieve, leaving behind the need for paying for gang protection from the systemic violence of white power groups.

The Atlantic has described the situation as “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

To make an even finer point on the social power of this song, by 1975 a popular TV show about black “nouveau-riche” prosperity in America, called The Jeffersons, created a theme song called “Movin’ On Up“.