The Artist Who Asked About the Contribution of Strategic Bombing to the American Way of Life
For example, how many of us ever bother to think about the contribution of strategic bombing to the American Way of Life? As Ramirez points out, the air forces of the United States have dropped billions of bombs in the twentieth century and have killed, by the most conservative reckoning, more than two million foreign civilians. Most, of course, were Asians, including over half a million Japanese incinerated by two atomic bombs and in the B-29 firestorms that burned their cities to the ground. Another million were Indochinese killed by B-52 carpet-bombing. There were also one hundred thousand or more Koreans in the Korean War, and probably that many Germans as well as surprising numbers of innocent Italians, Rumanians, and other accidental World War II-era Europeans.
We should add to this black ledger at least ten thousand non-combatant Iraqis in two Gulf Wars, a thousand Afghan villagers and maybe five hundred Serbs as well as a few Libyans and Sudanese. In the Western Hemisphere, Presidents Harding and Coolidge sent biplanes to bomb rebellious Nicaraguans, Dominicans, and Haitians during the golden age of Dollar Diplomacy. Later the CIA bombed Guatemala 1954 and Cuba 1962. We bombed Panama in 1989 and are still bombing rural areas of Colombia today.
There is, in fact, little of the earth's surface that we haven't at some time bombed, or, as the case may be, bombarded. Thus when Ramirez was recently invited to participate in "Mexico illuminated," a multi-venue exhibition 12 September to 23 November sponsored by a consortium of arts institutions in Reading, Pennsylvania, he chose to illuminate yanqui history instead.
He won the approval of his sponsors and the Reading Redevelopment Authority to mount a public-art piece on a billboard next to the busy Bingaman Street Bridge. Imitating the green background and lettering of official highway signs, the proposed billboard simply lists eight cities bombarded or bombed by the United States, their distances from Reading, and the appropriate dates.
Ciudad de Mexico 3202 km 1847
Veracruz 3040km 1914
Hiroshima 11194 km 1945
Dresden 4837 km 1945
Hanoi 13206 km 1972
Ciudad de Panama 3497 km 1989
Kabul 10979 km 2001
Baghdad 9897 km 2003
Ramirez's idea was to let commuters puzzle out for themselves the meaning of the dates and the association between cities as disparate as Ciudad de Mexico, Dresden and Baghdad. He saw the piece as a "mirror" to help us analyze our own impact on the world. He hoped that Reading residents would become active participants in the dialogue.
They have - with a vengeance. Even though the billboard has yet to be mounted, the local paper calls it "an eruption of outrage." Letters columns and radio talk shows have been inundated with angry denunciations of Ramirez's supposedly "obscene America-bashing." The city of 82,000 doesn't seem to be talking about much else.
One columnist claimed that Ramirez was trying to show "that the rest of the world hates the United States." A city councilwoman couldn't understand what the billboard had to do with art: "Art is art. But bombing is not Art." Meanwhile, an unnamed "patriotic group" vowed to buy a counter-billboard that would simply boast vis-à-vis the bombings: "We're Glad!" Others made darker threats.
Then the display company refused to rent the billboard space to the organizers of Mexico Illuminated, issuing a non sequitur press release that "it proudly supports the men and women serving in the military." For a moment it seemed as if Ramirez was about to join that illustrious pantheon of Mexican artists - including Siquieros and Rivera - who have had their work censored or destroyed by panic-stricken gringo patrons.
But the organizers have so far stood their ground, promising to find Ramirez a space for his billboard. And some local politicians have had the guts to point out that the supposed "anti-American" message is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Angel Figueroa, a young Latino voice on the city council, calmly observes that Ramirez's billboard is merely "factual." "Everyone will have their own interpretation." ' Ramirez, for his part, tells me that he is delighted that the "meaning of art" is being discussed with unprecedented passion in American Legion Halls, bowling alleys and neighborhood saloons. At the same time, he is intrigued by the reaction to his historical Rorschach Test.
"It is amazing that a piece like this is so universally considered offensive. After all, the billboard only itemizes events that in their time were celebrated as victories and praised as just causes. Are people outraged because a Mexican artist has bothered to highlight this history? Or do I perceive an underlying shame?"
But Ramirez may have detonated something more than patriotic ire. Reading, a geriatric industrial city that has bled jobs and population for more than two generations, is in the midst of an extraordinary ethnic make-over. Within the next decade it will become the first Latino-majority city in Pennsylvania. Puerto Ricans and Mexican residents are already 40 percent of the population and have brought new vibrancy to the old red-brick town on the Schuylkill. "Mexico Illuminated" is an admirable recognition of that contribution.
But many conservative Berks county residents, including those who employ Mexican immigrants as service and agricultural workers, want only a captive labor supply, not a dynamic cultural presence or a new electorate. A recent study by the University of Michigan found that Reading was "the most segregated city in America for Hispanics." Likewise a federal judge ruled that Berks County had discriminated against Latino voters and ordered federal observers - like those sent to the Deep South in the 1960s -- to oversee last May's local elections.
Ramirez meanwhile is turning the backlash against his piece into yet more art. Using a computer, he has defiantly inserted his bombing chronology onto a photo of the Bingaman Street billboard. A wall-sized print of this montage will be mounted in the annex of the main exhibition at Albright College, along with documentation of the controversy. Viewers will be invited to register their own reaction.
Nativist critics of Ramirez should be forewarned that they are dealing with a consummate magical realist. If they're not careful, they may end up being part of the performance. Some years ago Ramirez famously erected a Trojan horse on the border between Tijuana and San Diego. When asked what was inside, he merely laughed. I suppose you either get the joke or you don't.
Note: Marcos Ramirez ERRE can be contacted directly at email@example.com. He can provide images of the work discussed in the article.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Copyright C2003 Mike Davis
comments powered by Disqus
NYGuy - 10/2/2003
The old folks used to talk about watching your own pot before you go watching others. They also believed that “ Charity begins at home.” I guess Ramirez never was told of this wisdom.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The Tlatelolco massacre took place on the night of October 2, 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Army and police forces surrounded approximately 5000 student protestors, and fired live rounds into the crowd.
The death toll is uncertain, but some estimates say that more than 300 people were killed, hundreds more wounded, and several thousand arrested.
DECLASSIFIED U.S. DOCUMENTS ON MEXICO AND THE EVENTS OF 1968
Thirty years later, the Tlatelolco massacre has grown large in Mexican memory, and lingers still. It is Mexico's Tiananmen Square, Mexico's Kent State: when the pact between the government and the people began to come apart and Mexico's extended political crisis began.
But while the declassified U.S. documents reveal new details about Tlatelolco, perhaps most important is the challenge their release poses to Mexico today. Thirty years after the massacre, the Mexican government continues to deny its people basic facts about what happened -- refusing to open Army and police records to public scrutiny on the grounds of "national security," denying Congress the right to hear testimony by agents of the state who were present at Tlatelolco. The valiant investigative efforts by reporters, scholars, historians, and an official congressional committee have helped clarify the events of 1968 enormously. But Mexico's secret archives are also critical for a full understanding of Tlatelolco -- and until they are opened, doubts about the truth of the Tlatelolco massacre will linger on.
Roxman - 9/29/2003
I was unaware that the U.S government had ever determined "that the nuclear bombings of Japan that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people were unnecessary for victory." Would you please provide some detail, so that it can be verified?
NYGuy - 9/29/2003
I think Jesse was talking about "honesty". As has been discussed here, this is a local, minor artist, from another country from which millions are fleeing, and he is just trying to get recognition. I don't know if that qualifies him as a scholar on such a large and complex historical topic. His one sided painting certainly does not change that conclusion.
Sally D. - 9/29/2003
"My issue was with the tone in which the piece was written. There are other ways to look at this issue. It isn't as simple as 'knowing progressives' as opposed to 'ignorant conservatives.'"
There could be other ways. I'm less sure that, to all intents and purposes, there are.
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/28/2003
Thanks for your compliment.
Like I said, I'm in general agreement with Mr. Davis's notion that American intervention in military actions have more often than not been ill-considered (and a person can loathe the Nazis and everything they stand for and still be appalled at the terror bombing of Dredsen, which killed thousands of innocent people and did nothing to speed the end of the war).
My issue was with the tone in which the piece was written. There are other ways to look at this issue. It isn't as simple as "knowing progressives" as opposed to "ignorant conservatives.".
Josh Greenland - 9/28/2003
Maybe the artist trying for several messages as once (what I suggested and also what you suggested), and/or is trying to provoke thought via ambiguity.
Sally D. - 9/28/2003
You've exactly got it. I choked and finally spit out this sort of leftist holier-than-thou insiderism a few years back.
I met Mr. Davis in Los Angeles some 15 or so years ago. The insider peeps at that time thought it their own cool little joke that "they [Mexicans] are taking Southern California back." As if there were a native nobility to "them," and a native shame due us. Even though, and rather obviously overlooking, it isn't the land they are taking back -- or drawn particularly to -- is it?
The "visceral snideness" you note is the self-definition of your target.
James Jefferson - 9/27/2003
Your probably right, Josh, but one might also regard Anglo "culture" as a "Trojan Horse" infiltrating and corrupting Mexico. Without a clear target being parodied, satire falls flat, like a dud bomb, and it appears that this is a general difficulty faced by Ramierez. Clever and effective grafitti does not need an essayist to explain it.
Hector - 9/27/2003
As clarified by your last remark, NYGuy, your opinions on the Ramierez exhibit are now something I can accept too. We would probably all be better off with no billboards at all (and no television) and a lot more books and newspapers. As a former Brooklyn resident, I am pleased that you are not a Yankees fan, and of course I am sympathetic to Cleveland (Jesse), what other positive sentiment is possible towards that set of sports teams ?
NYGuy - 9/27/2003
There was much discussed in the article and I can see that there could be misunderstanding. You say:
Were you not defending the people who said "We're glad" was a fair response to the artist's work?
If you agree with me that it was out of line, then we have nothing to argue about in this instance.
It was not the type of response I made and I see your point. I believe that we have agree that any glee over killing people is wrong. I won't add anything more so we can leave on a note we both agree on.
the BZA - 9/27/2003
Were you not defending the people who said "We're glad" was a fair response to the artist's work? I was not saying things you said led me to believe you were happy that innocent people died. But even in jest as a response to something you don't agree with, I feel that these people cross a line into the same territory as people who support the World Trade Center attack. If you agree with me that it was out of line, then we have nothing to argue about in this instance.
Now I'm gonnna go read something else on a different subject so I can get out of this political rut.
Josh Greenland - 9/27/2003
I think the Trojan Horse is a reference to the notion that citizens of Mexico are a "Trojan Horse" in the USA. The most viciously bigotted scenario spun from this notion says that all Mexican immigrants in the US will, in unison (in response to a signal or on a given date) kill one or more Americans. Americans is never defined, but you know it means white people, since nobody else in the eyes of the idiots who believe this drivel are "Real Americans."
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/27/2003
"Hitler was also an accomplished writer and author..."
Adolf Hitler was a hack. Mein Kampf was turgid to a point of near incoherence. Had he been a decent artist, the damage he wrought would have been consigned to canvas. That having been said, your point was valid.
"Civilians died in Germany and Japan from starvation and other deprivations forced on them by their leaders, and civilians in war are always a casualty."
That's a pretty good argument against government in general, although I'm not sure you meant it as such.
"...they are true blue Americans, probably many who were soldiers and fought to save our country, and they have every right to say what they mean and mean what they say."
Agreed, and that goes to my post pertaining to the arrogance in the writing: that the legitimate protest of ordinary people of a political message by a foreigner, was just an expression of ignorance and close-mindedness. These are polemics.
"My team the Mets are out of the playoffs, and I don’t expect much better from the Knicks or Rangers. Thanks for your sympathy..."
With all due respect, I give you no sympathy either. Come to Cleveland and root for our teams!
NYGuy - 9/26/2003
Davis is an accomplished writer and author.
I am not questioning that; I am questioning him as a wordsmith and propagandist. Hitler was also an accomplished writer and author. I have also criticized him.
“but he is not some unsophisticated hack or degenerate anarchist.
I don’t think I used any of those words, if I did please show me where and I will apoligize. My criticism was of his use of the English language for his own political purposes and the history is there by accident, misleading or non-existent. As an American I believe I have that right. As I said I did not find in reviewing my posts that I used words like degenerate anarchist, but you probably picked that up from someone else’s assessment.
There is a good deal of recent, and not-so-recent history that proves quite conclusively that a lot of German civilians were killed by bombings that the allied leaders should have known it served no legitimate military purpose and did not shorten the war.
I am well aware that your statement has some merits and I won’t go into the bombing of London, the WTC and other cities where such a comment is also relevant. So we are agreeing on something. Civilians died in Germany and Japan from starvation and other deprivations forced on them by their leaders, and civilians in war are always a casualty. That is a given, at least that is what history teaches us, even before the invention of gunpowder. Remember the Alamo.
Disagree with the mode and theatrics of the message, if you like, but the underlying content is not therefore invalid.
But isn’t that the crux of the matter. As free Americans neither I, nor anyone else has to accept the entire message because there is an element of truth in it. And I agree with those who say they don’t agree with the public display of the message. Put it in a gallery where those who believe can go marvel over it. When you put it up in the public square, so that, as Davis and Ramirez want, the public to react, then you can’t say that those who do react, but don’t accept the premise are racist, bigots, etc. I say they are true blue Americans, probably many who were soldiers and fought to save our country, and they have every right to say what they mean and mean what they say. What is wrong with that?
It has nothing to do with the artistic expression or Davis’s writing. It is the privilege of each to express themselves civilly and let the chips fall where they may. This also happens when I see other artists at a concert, on TV, Radio etc. I and no other American should be forced, Nazi or Marxist style, to accept dogma they don’t believe in.
Take the grand kids for a walk in Central Park or to a baseball game instead, please.
You really know how to hurt a guy HW. My team the Mets are out of the playoffs, and I don’t expect much better from the Knicks or Rangers. Thanks for your sympathy. :)
But I enjoy reading your posts and getting your perspectives.
Hector Rasmussen - 9/26/2003
Thanks for your comments NY Guy. More often than not I disagree with them, but they are thoughtfully intended, and that is to be appreciated.
I cannot follow all the twists of this particular thread, but I would like to suggest you consider the following:
1. Davis is an accomplished writer and author. He is misguided at times, flat wrong at other times, probably deliberately misleading all too often, and is certainly deliberately controversial (like Ramierez seems to be), but he is not some unsophisticated hack or degenerate anarchist.
2. There is a good deal of recent, and not-so-recent history that proves quite conclusively that a lot of German civilians were killed by bombings that the allied leaders should have known served no legitimate military purpose and did not shorten the war. The destruction of of the artistic treasures of Dresden (the "Paris" of the Elbe) was only one of a number of instances. I am not saying the Nazis were not ten times worse, of course they were. In fact, on a visit to the old East Germany once, I asked a young man in a Dresden beergarden what he thought about the bombing of his city and he told me that Germany had to first be ashamed for 10,000 years (because of what it did in World War II) before it could start criticizing other countries. But all that still does not mean that Ramierez and any else can't legitimately point out American (and British and other) failures to limit casualties when they could and should have. Disagree with the mode and theatrics of the message, if you like, but the underlying content is not therefore invalid.
This is not a website for children. Have you noticed that there aren't even hardly any women here ? Take the grand kids for a walk in Central Park or to a baseball game instead, please.
NYGuy - 9/26/2003
"I'm so happy to be ridiculed again, and with such a creative name as the "bleed'n heart left" because I don't think we should kill innocent people."
BZA we are not ridiculing you. How could we when you, I and others on this board agree. None of us think we should kill people, particularly innocent people. So you see you are not wrong and you are not being ridiculed.
In my opinion Davis writes a piece of political propaganda using an unknown Mexican artist to exaggerate his point and inject a bit of race baiting into his argument. But the biggest objection is that he feels the listing of the cities is free speech for a “foreigner”, but suggests that those “Americans” with a different view, essentially the “rich white folk” who built the city, should be denied free speech since they may be expressing racists motives. I believe that if anyone feels that the project is a trumped up publicity stunt, they are free to say so, as are those who post on this board. It is a free speech issue not a racial issue.
As you point out the WTC was bombed and many civilians were killed, not unlike the cities of Hiroshima and Dresden. If one points out the illogical selection by the artist in not including this recent event, that is not ridiculing anyone, it is merely showing an inconsistency in the artists thinking, making his motives suspect.
There are people out there in this world who aren't terrorists who believe that was a just cause, a legitimate response to US aggression. I don't just think they are wrong politically, I find that entire way of thinking disgusting, and you should too.
Again I don’t see the disagreement. Aside from the “political elements’ I, and I believe most people posting would agree that wholesale slaughter of people is disgusting.
the BZA - 9/26/2003
NYGuy: In Baghdad because of the precision bombing only the military were affected and a quick victory for mankind was achieved.
me: If history plays out so that people must be sacrificed in order to sustain order and save other innocent lives, then so be it.
I'm sorry, who is being a little more than naive?
I'm so happy to be ridiculed again, and with such a creative name as the "bleed'n heart left" because I don't think we should kill innocent people. I still fail to see how not being happy about this is a political issue. Do you think I am happy about the world trade center that I saw come crashing to the ground less than a mile from me? Or the people I watched jumping from the building, thinking they were debris only to find out later that I had watched people die? There are people out there in this world who aren't terrorists who believe that was a just cause, a legitimate response to US aggression. I don't just think they are wrong politically, I find that entire way of thinking disgusting, you should too.
I even know how you are going to respond to this. Don't do it, just move on. Also, is there anyone on the right who can spell?
Dave Livingston - 9/26/2003
IMHO you are, please pardon the expession, right on target to refer to this as nada as anti-American propaganda. That said, I'll go on to say the nicest people, as a people, whom I've enountered in my not especially extensive travels, but nonetheless on every inhabited continent save South America have been the people of the Valley of Mexico. But as always there are good people here & there & bad people too.
Dave Livingston - 9/25/2003
It is evident that BZA is more than a little naive to think only combatants are killed or injured in warfare. War, especially modern warfare, by its very nature is to a great extent indiscriminate in regard to suffers from its effects. To think otherwise is plain silly. That said, it is my belief that probably I was permitted to survive being seriously WIA in Viet-Nam in part because never once either tour, in which I was very frequently closely engaged with the enemy, did I so much as consider harming a non-combatant, let alone ever actually doing so.
Evidence that NYGuy is correct this is thought to be a great country the world around is that a large proportion of the world is seeking to move here at this very moment. If not actually attempting to move here much, if not most of the world wishes to move here, to this terribly rotten place, if one believes the whimpering Bleed'n Heart Left.
The world's population is not scrambling to move to China, Cuba, Afghanistan, Nigeria or Saudia Arabia. In that frame of condsideration, if the American occupation has proven so god-awlful as the Press claims, where is the flood of refugees from Iraq escaping our tyranny?
For those of us here old enogh to remember 1975, it might be recollected that over a million people, approximately 1/8th of the then population fled the Republic of Viet-Nam, South Viet-Nam, when it was conquered, with Teddy Kennedy's and his fellow Democrats acquiesence, by the Communists, but there has been no comparable flood of refugees from Iraq. Therefore, most people there do not desparately fear us.
flying tiger - 9/25/2003
I apreciate that Ramiriz wants to remind us of the horrors of 20th century warfare, but his list is incomplete. Where is Guernica, 1937, Nanking, 1937,Rotterdam 1940, Warsaw, 1940, London, 1940-1941, Coventry 1940, Pearl Harbor 1941, and 9/11/01? The Americans are not responsible for Without these places, Ramiriz has just created anti-American propaganda, not art. Don't the victims of these war crimes matter to you? Or does it only count when Americans are at war defending themselves.
While we are at it, let us remember Columbus, New Mexico, 1916. We Americans have not forgotten this atrocity. Your hands are not clean.
NYGuy - 9/25/2003
Perhaps we got off on the wrong foot, but I appreciate your coming forth with what you believe in. We don't have to agree to learn from each other.
As for poor people yes I knew them and came from that class. The ones I knew were not victims and eventually were described as the "greatest generation." They suffered the dust bowl, they sold apples on the street, some jumped out of Wall Street windows, others such as veterans, marched on Washington, college graduates went to Macy’s as store clerks, etc. Later I got to know them as people with scarred faces and bodies from a kamikaze attack on their naval vessel, there were those who were survivors of the Bantam death march and others who burned Japanese soldiers to death with their flame throwers. So I am no lover of war and hope some day we can have peace.
I do want a peaceful world for my grandchildren and am grateful for the above people who helped restore peace against the killing machines of Germany and Japan. It permitted me to move up from my factory job, go to night school and get educated, get a better job and raise two sons who went to the top colleges and universities in the U. S and England. Yes, I am very grateful for those who carried out those bombings and made a better live for all of us, including my grandchildren and saved the lives of billions of people.
Bombing was an instrument of that war. What were our alternatives? To view the above and conclude that I love to see “anyone” die is unfair. And, I believe most of the people of Reading, some of who fought in that war, probably feel the same way too.
Bigotry as practiced by Mr. Davis only increases the likelihood that we will repeat the past.
With my experience, I prefer to focus on the positive, that we won the war. I follow the examples of the veterans who did not discuss the horrors they faced, but were positive and build a bigger, better and stronger America. If others want to set up straw men and tell the world they go to bed every night crying about the poor Japanese and Germans who tried to kill us, they are entitled to do so. I don’t think that makes me uncaring, and it does not change things for those who died in Dresden or a concentration camp. And, I guess if others want to puff themselves up they write articles such as Mr. Davis. But, we also have the right to disagree and the right to let him know. What a great country.
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/25/2003
"...is WW II already that far back that historians don't remember some of the basic facts?"
I don't think that's it. I simply think that, in the eyes of the article's author, there are certain people who deserved to suffer under "strategic bombing", and others who don't. Hence, while Mr. Davis (and Ramirez, the Mexican "artist") are eager (rightfully, I may add) to tot up far-flung victims of American violence, they of course omit the wholesale destruction of Southern society by Federal might in 1861-65.
the BZA - 9/25/2003
So now poor people are poor because they can't keep their pants on. I find your outdated concepts disgusting, and I won't respond to them.
As for Mr. Rasmussen, I am at a loss to see where I was criticized in what was essentially a response that said "nobody's perfect."
A few points: I didn't necessarily like the article very much. While I enjoy Mike Davis' books on Los Angeles and local politics, I find a great deal of his commentary unnecessarily sarcastic and biased. Were he to have merely reported this story, it would have had the same impact without turning off people who perhaps are more middle of the road than him. After all, anyone who knows anything about history and politics will see a Mike Davis byline and immediately know where he is coming from. The art itself seems fairly obvious and not particularly remarkable, although the response it has garnered seems to show how powerful it is to many people.
Also, Mr. Davis was not saying that the other sign should not be put up on a legal basis. He was merely saying what I think any rational human being would agree with: despite political affiliation or belief in justice of any kind, these were grim events in world history where millions of innocent people died. This cannot be argued and to say that you are happy about it is indeed a very dark thing to say. It is precisely this arrogance which has given America such a bad image throughout the world. Frankly, I am shocked at the idea that anyone would find such a suggestion amusing or intelligent. As a grandfather and a citizen who I'm sure does not always agree with the choices its government makes, I would hope you would be horrified at the idea of someone else's grandchildren dying not for a cause they believe in, but for the country they were simply born into. If history plays out so that people must be sacrificed in order to sustain order and save other innocent lives, then so be it. But I don't believe we should be proud of these difficult decisions, and certainly we should not be happy that we had to make them.
I agree that we should face the problems of today, but it is ironic that you would discuss such a topic on a website that is specifically geared towards current events in an historical context. We must understand WWII and Vietnam and the wars that came before in order to fix mistakes we made and never repeat them. No one is suggesting we live in the past. But in order to understand our future and the choices we need to make, we must first come to realize that our country isn't perfect, that it has made mistakes, and that it is time for us to come together and make the world a better place, not just for Americans, but for all people. If I sound like an idealist searching for a utopia, then you can call me names and make fun of me. But I don't see how working towards peace and the betterment of human kind is a controversial idea.
NYGuy - 9/25/2003
Dear Adopted NY Guy,
My criticisms of Davis were mild. His type of tactics is well know. Create a reason to get an article started and they go into ones’ political rants, which appeared in 12 of Davis’ 13 paragraphs.
There are two parts to this article. 1) Who is the Artist and, 2) the propaganda of the author.
As for the artists, Davis is embarrassed to discuss Ramirez credentials, i. e. a local California artist, who has less statute than the majority of those who exhibit each year at the Greenwich Art fair in New York City. So we are starting out with, to be generous, a minor artist, whom Davis says has some profound task to “illuminate yanqui history”. No only a load, but a level of arrogance that is seldom seen. Just think of all those history major paying $20,000-30,000 per year and than going on to get a PhD who are so poorly informed about “yanqui history.” Only a grandstanding fool would make such a statement.
But we soon learn that Ramirez is not only a grandstander, he is also a pawn Of course Davis now disregards Ramirez’s original intentions to say nothing about his “painting”, to let each of us draw our own conclusions, and Davis spends the rest of the article, 12 paragraphs, telling us what Ramirez’ picture means in his own political terms.
Davis tells us that the entire episode came about when Ramirez was invited to, read this carefully now, “Mexico Illuminated”. Since Mexico is not know for its world humanitarian efforts and benefited from other countries putting its citizens at risk to save it, it is strange to learn that Ramirez fancies himself as a world expert on humanitarian issues. Of course he also got his works shown at Albright College, which has helped the Latino community to assimilate in its new country, and says nothing about his talent. But, the clairvoyant Mr. Davis is able to tell us” “Meanwhile, an unnamed "patriotic group" vowed to buy a counter-billboard that would simply boast vis-à-vis the bombings: "We're Glad!" Others made darker threats.” Mr. Ramirez says he want each of us to give our opinion, which is the American way, particularly when it comes to artists, singers, playwrights, etc. But Mr. Davis wants others to be silenced unless they agree with him. So much for liberal thought.
Mr. Davis also cleverly gives us insights into the Latino community in Reading, and how it is becoming a dominant part of the population. He fails, however, to tell us how many American Citizens are in the community, the people he it attacking. According to the Latino Report, 70% of the Latinos are Puerto Rican and American Citizen, 14% are others, 9% are Dominican and a small minority, 7% are Mexican. However, Mr. Davis’ outrage is about the Mexican’s who are being exploited by the greedy white landowners. Yes, one should be concerned about the conditions of the “Latino mushroom workers” and local groups are working to improve conditions, which they have done. Among the Lationos, however, we find a familiar pattern, the single moms who make ¼ of what a married Latino family with two parents make. Since the Supreme Court does not allow us to go into ones’ bedroom, it is up to the Latino’s to pull themselves out of the poverty conditions they have brought upon themselves.
And yes, as an American who knew many of the brave service men who helped save the world against the killing machines of Germany and Japan, I see the bombing depicted as a necessary instrument in saving the lives of billions of people.
Hector your wisdom is appreciated, we cannot live in the past and must try to solve today’s problems.
I also agree with your criticism of my comment on New York. My wife, children, grandchildren and friends all said I went over the top and I should listen to your advice and I am going back to my humble way.
Hector Rasmussen - 9/24/2003
Adopted NY Guy,
I understand your critique of Davis and BZA, though I don't entirely agree and I think you are out of line against Reisch. I too am suspicious of his motives, which remind of comments I often heard in Europe when I lived there (though from a small minority it must be said), but I think you should confine your criticism to what Reisch actually said, e.g. he said nothing about which deaths were "deserved" or "justified".
At the end of the day, we cannot undo World War II and other past wars, and have to move on to problems we can solve today. In this regard, I must take exception to your exaggerated praise for New York and New Yorkers. I have many fond memories of my years there, but "wisdom" was hardly a ubiquitous trait amongst the populace. Watch the behavior of car, truck, and yellow taxi drivers going from one red light to the next, along one of the main avenues next time you are there, and you'll get my drift, I think.
James Jefferson - 9/24/2003
I found Mr. Davis' piece illuminating, but I too don't get the Trojan Horse "joke". Anyone know which direction the horse was facing ?
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/24/2003
Yes, I agree with Mr. Davis and Mr. Ramirez that carpet-bombing of cities and civilian populations is a bad thing. My issue is with some of the statements in this post, as well as its general tone:
"...how many of us ever bother to think about the contribution of strategic bombing to the American Way of Life?"
There's a visceral snideness to the way Mr. Davis refers to the 'American Way of Life' (seeing how he writes for The Nation, I can almost see the following litany: what is the American Way of Life? Racism, sexism, homophobia...).
Not surprisingly, neither Mr. Davis nor Mr. Ramirez mention Confederate cities like Vicksburg, Richmond, and Atlanta, which were targets of "strategic bombing" during the States War. Of course, the residents of those cities were Slaveholding, Patriarchal, Racist, White Christians, and thus deserving of everything they got, as opposed to the saintly foreigners of Hanoi and Mexico City.
"For a moment it seemed as if Ramirez was about to join that illustrious pantheon of Mexican artists - including Siquieros and Rivera - who have had their work censored or destroyed by panic-stricken gringo patrons."
I don't know about Siquieros, but from what I understand concerning Diego Rivera, the Rockefellers didn't want their money used to create images of Lenin, a mass murderer, in their building. What a crime.
By the way, exactly how is posting a road sign with the names of cities and distances considered "art"? There's a sign near my house that says SPEED LIMIT 25. Is that art? What about that sign on "M.A.S.H.", the one with the distance from the 4077 to Cpl. Klinger's hometown of Toledo on it? That art, too? This art thing seems pretty easy. All I have to do is whip up a psuedo-roadsign with a left-wing political message, and voila! Instant art.
"Some years ago Ramirez famously erected a Trojan horse on the border between Tijuana and San Diego. When asked what was inside, he merely laughed. I suppose you either get the joke or you don't."
I get it. Kill the gringos! Viva Atzlan!
Larry Nederlof - 9/24/2003
When I read the following sentence: - "and probably that many Germans as well as surprising numbers of innocent Italians, Rumanians, and other accidental World War II-era Europeans" - I wondered why those unfortunate Italians and Rumanians would be innocent and only the Germans guilty?
Has the writer forgotten about Mussolini and the fact that the Rumanians joined the Germans as they thought in that way to be able to get parts of adjoining Russia that had been a bone of contention for centuries, is WW II already that far back that historians don't remember some of the basic facts?
NYGuy - 9/24/2003
What is your point. Is this scholarship on the listing of six cities. And the only thing you learned about WW2 is 2 million germans died and that breaks your heart. Concentration camp numbers don't matter since these people were not fit to live. England's arrogance meant they deserved the bombing of London and the brutal treatment of the Chinese by Japan is justified since they were fighting the big bully the U. S.
Let me guess. You have a PhD in History and you graduated with honors. Congratulations.
And of course your comments about the propaganda piece by this artist are inciseful. Or is it just that your specialty is propaganda.
NYGuy - 9/24/2003
"People come to this country because our policies have made it a living hell trying to survive anywhere else, and because they believe propaganda that tells them they can have free speech and good jobs. Instead, people like you want to take it away from them, no matter where they are.
And stop giving New York a bad name.
I read to learn, why do you read? I also read to see what the article says. Have you read the article?
Seems like you are one of those dumb people who have been deceived. Tell us were you are going next time, not that I respect your decisions, based upon your comments, but again to learn something.
Good luck, write again and tell us about the Utopia you found.
And stop giving New York a bad name.
New York is the center of the universe, it is were all wisdom comes from, and the people who live there are all smart.
the BZA - 9/23/2003
Why do you bother reading these things if you are just going to believe propaganda? Do you honestly believe that only military targets were hit in Baghdad? Would you argue with the US government, which has determined that the nuclear bombings of Japan that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people were unnecessary for victory, and probably could have been avoided without additional loss of American lives? Since when did we bomb Afghanistan to liberate its women and which of these women is experiencing a better life where their children are dead and their attackers have abandoned their rebuilding plan to go and kill more people?
People come to this country because our policies have made it a living hell trying to survive anywhere else, and because they believe propaganda that tells them they can have free speech and good jobs. Instead, people like you want to take it away from them, no matter where they are.
And stop giving New York a bad name.
Michael L. Reisch - 9/23/2003
A low estimate of the German civilians killed by carpet bombing in WWII is close to one million. On February 13 1945 twelve weeks before the end of the War somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 were incinerated in Dresden alone. The exact number will never be known due to the large number of refugees in the city at the time. The Official US Strategic Bombing Survey carried out after the War places that number at 25,000, an order of magnitude lower, for obvious political reasons.
The ethnic cleansing of 15 million Germans from their eastern provinces, Silesia, Pommerania, East Prussia, the Sudeten etc. between 1944 - 1950 resulted in another 2 million deaths.
All was sanctioned by the US at Potsdam.
NYGuy - 9/22/2003
“For example, how many of us ever bother to think about the contribution of strategic bombing to the American Way of Life?”
I have. Actually we have already thought about so ERRE is showing nothing new. I thought about the bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima many times and believed it was justified because of the leaders of Germany and Japan who wanted to enslave the world. The U. S. action enabled Americans to return to their families, their wives and their children and help build a better America. Actually they were so successful that people are rushing into the U. S. in great numbers to enjoy the freedoms they have here. .
For 1914 I would think more of Verdun and the Western Front. But I guess this display is a political stunt and not meant to put anything in context. And I guess we could point to the bombings of London, and cities in China, France, Russia,etc. but then the artist probably would be laughed out of town.
Kabul helped to liberate women from oppression and permit the people of that country to make a better life for themselves. It also help to make the U. S. a safer place in which to live. No wonder everyone wants to come here.
In Baghdad because of the precision bombing only the military were affected and a quick victory for mankind was achieved. Again, I am happy because it makes me feel safer.
I believe artists have a right to express themselves, and understand they first they have to get attention. Some put crosses in urine others list geographical differences from Reading and hope to be recognized and end up with large sums of money. As is indicated in the article, the author acknowledges he doesn’t know what he is painting, but what the hell even if he doesn’t perhaps he can get a discrimination lawsuit with a big payoff. Since he comes from such an ideal country he now want to preach to the world, and we let him. What a great country. No wonder everyone wants to come here.
- Stanford historian uncovers the dark roots of humanitarianism
- Historian hailed for offering a history of the culture wars
- Scholars to set the West straight about "Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad"
- Why Eugene Genovese’s 2 sentences about Vietnam went viral in 1965
- Historians named to the 2015 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences