Thursday, April 14, 2011

Letter from Belle to Amelia, 8 August 2006
... Another thought came to me this morning, on a different subject altogether. I hesitate to even put it in this letter, but it’ll give you a glimpse of some of the reading and thinking I’ve been doing.

By way of background, the Soviets invaded eastern Poland in September 1939, ostensibly to “protect” Poland from Hitler (which propaganda the West bought). But in reality it was a land grab, with the Soviet Union tightening its grip on eastern Poland via increasing brute force, perfidy, and propaganda. (For example, as just one of their many tactics, the incoming Soviets bought up all the local goods there were to buy, paying in
zloty. The locals were happy, and the Soviets entrenched themselves further. Then the Soviets devalued the zloty - which left the locals with literally nothing.)

Poles who could escape, did so. Others plotted their escapes and took it one day at a time - not today, perhaps tomorrow. Six months into the occupation, in March 1940, in the middle of the frozen winter night, Soviet police fanned out and invaded all the residences, forcing the occupants to leave their homes within minutes. I read an oral history of a woman (elderly now, living in Buffalo) who was swept up in this as a young mother. Like many, she was woken from a deep sleep. She was disoriented and didn’t know quite what to do. She didn’t know where they were going, or for how long. She dressed her children, grabbed pillows (“not even the best ones”) and a change of clothes. She didn’t pack bread, because she had planned to make it on the morrow…

In a single 24-hour period the population of several counties was loaded onto long (5-6 kilometer) cattle freight trains that the Soviets had prepared for this purpose. In all, an estimated 1.8 million Poles were deported (my father’s family was among them). Huddled together in filthy, unheated cattle cars they traveled thousands of miles before arriving in Siberia to work in forced labor camps. Many died en route – many others died at the camps – and relatively few ever made it out (though my father’s family was among a group that did, due to amazing twists of fate and history, and a British-Polish alliance)….

Anyway, just this morning I had the thought of how different it is from the positive (though difficult) experience of American pioneers, traveling west in hope of a new beginning, economic opportunity. I’m picturing a line-graph, with pioneers venturing in a positive direction. But with deportations, it’s a journey in the opposite direction, into negative territory. Pioneers perhaps had a chance to lay proper provisions, to bake bread. Deportees, no. Yet it’s all the same stock of people, the human condition. Fifty years later, an old woman kicks herself for not seeing it coming, for not having bread in the house…

I really hate to end this letter this way. It’s actually a beautiful day out. I’ve become a broody member of the leisure class. (Actually what Brooks calls the “leisure class,” I think of as a civilized life, filled with cats & books & letters & theatre, etc...

Letter from Belle to Amelia, 26 August 2006
As a quick follow-up to the point I was making about pioneers vs. deportees in my last letter, the day after I mailed it D pointed out the following passage in The New York Review of Books, in a review of a book entitled, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany. What I had forgotten about in viewing pioneers as “positive,” was the natives whom they displaced – a resounding “negative.”
... the Nazis likened the Slavic East to the American West, equating Poles, Jews, and Russians with American Indians, peoples destined to be swept aside. So when Nazi armies were advancing, Hitler authorized his deputy in Poland to make the Vistula valley “as German as the Rhine valley,” and in 1941 he himself declared, “The Volga must be our Mississippi.” Even when the tide of war began to turn against him, Hitler clung to the analogy by equating struggles against partisans with “the Indian Wars in North America.” I [the reviewer, Wm. McNeil] found it a surprise, and a sobering one, to learn how influential American examples of ethnic cleansing were in Nazi ideology and practice.
Isn’t that interesting? I’m getting very interested, actually, in the unseen forces that seek to control and manipulate… I don’t mean that I’m getting into conspiracy theories – far from it. I’ve never had any patience for the Oliver-Stone like seeing a conspiracy theory under every rock. I used to have a paranoid coworker too, who was obsessed with the stuff and was as a result a rather shifty, secretive and noisome fellow. I just mean, the way things “really work.” Such as this bit of dialogue from Chinatown (the latest installment in our now nearly-finished Polanski Film Festival):
Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson): I just want to know what you’re worth. Over ten million?

Noah Cross (John Huston): Oh my yes.

Jake Gittes: I just want to know why you’re doing it. How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can’t already afford?

Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes, the future.

j.m. greysky comment on Salon, 7 August 2007

L wrote: “I have often had my doubts about the veracity of this anecdote, but less and less as time goes by:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
I am very struck by this quote. As Americans I think it's hard for us to relate to this. We don't see enough, haven't experienced enough, most of us. We think of science fiction - but how many of us think of history?

I'm a first generation American of Polish descent, and I was doing some internet research trying to get a better understanding of what members of my family had experienced in Poland during WWII, and the historical forces and events. I came upon a remarkable contemporaneous document (from 1940) that described the systematic occupation of Poland by the Soviets. (The document (linked to here) was written in order to open the eyes of the British government to the fact that Poland - and indeed the rest of Europe - had not one enemy, but two.)

The Soviet occupation was all done very gently, quietly, insidiously - until all the machinery was in place. Then all hell broke loose. The Soviets literally imposed their reality on an innocent, unsuspecting population. Learning of all this I was dumbstruck at the sheer overwhelming scale of the takeover, how systematically it was all put in place, so that it was very hard for an innocent population (or individual) to react against it as it was being set up, or to even understand what might be going on.

Reading this link also reminds me, uncannily, of Rovian tactics and current propaganda. It seems that totalitarian tactics are totalitarian tactics, whether they are in service of communism, fascism, or capitalism.

j.m. greysky comment on Salon, 28 April 2007, "Local totalitarianism"
The yellow bull-doze cats knock down trees. They kill myriads of life forms. It sounds like fibula's' and femur, skull and white collar, elbow or chin, humor bones too, getting ground and crunched. The sound is as real as a skull bone cracking wide open from a rifle's gun in a war-zone. This is done for a fraudulent fake and deadly economy. A trap -- A noose. A slave block in each town.
Bebop-o, you've nailed it. It's this "fraudulent fake and deadly economy" that needs to be addressed as well. It's a form of totalitarianism. How chilling is China's Olympic marketing slogan, One World/One Dream? I think of it when I see Walmart(/China) systematically reaching its tentacles every 20 miles in virtually every county across the country.

I have a weed like that in my shrub border. I cannot yank it out by hand. It's a systemic weed.

Elected officials here are indeed within walking distance. But this is a crazy town. It has no sidewalks along the busy main road! (Also it has no comprehensive plan or zoning of any kind.) Such is the wisdom of the town elders. There are few pedestrians, only hulking cars. And, of course, the not-so-occasional heartbreaking roadkill. Once the 130 acres is paved over, and nature thoroughly banished here (a “killing field” indeed, bebop-o), I suppose there won’t even be roadkill.

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