Bob Schwartz

Tag: South

Ukraine: Adolf Hitler and William Faulkner

Adolf Hitler - William Faulkner
The term lingua franca means a language that is understood across cultures. It literally means “Frankish language,” referring to a hybrid language that was used for commerce and diplomacy during the Renaissance. Today, one might call English a lingua franca, since unofficially and officially (as in air transport), it is the one universally used and understood.

In contemporary history, the person who comes up most often as an historical analogy is Adolf Hitler. For good reason. Others may have killed more. Others may have conquered more territory. But Hitler did it all, ignited world war, and did it in our times, in living memory, and in ways that shaped the world—and thus shaped our thinking and conversation now and for generations to come. He is the historical persona franca.

A previous post pointed out that Putin’s post-Olympics invasion of Ukraine bested Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938. Hitler waited almost two years after his self-promotional 1936 Berlin Olympics before the Anschluss; somewhat bizarrely, even though Putin politely waited for two days after the Paralympics in Sochi closed, the annexation of Crimea was effectively done while the Olympics were still being held.

When Hillary Clinton mentioned in a speech that Putin’s actions were reminiscent of Hitler, she was shushed up by her supporters and her detractors. Talk like that was deemed premature, alarmist, undiplomatic, and, in Hillary’s case, unpresidential. And yet as events have sped along, the mentions increase. Just today, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia had to admit that we have not seen an event like the annexation of Crimea since…the 1930s. And whether Hitler is a persona franca or a trump card, Putin uses it himself, claiming that the Ukrainian ouster of Yanakovych was orchestrated by Nazi thugs who are now in power.

History matters, and Hitler matters in history, whatever use he may be in thinking about the critical issues developing in Ukraine. This year is the centennial of World War I (also known as THE World War and the War to End All Wars, before there was a second one). So maybe take a little time to learn a little more about Europe in the period from 1914 to 1945—a mere thirty years or so in which there were two world wars, one of the most evil men in history, an attempt to eliminate an entire people from the earth, and the development of an apocalyptic weapon that gives God a run for his money.

Why learn this history? Because literally everything that is in the news about Russia and the Ukraine is joined with it. Because history never goes away, particularly in Europe. Or anywhere. As William Faulkner wrote, having lived in the American South where history never goes away, where understanding history is the only way to understand today, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Accidental Racist or Ebony and Ivory

Accidental Racist
You know that the controversy about Accidental Racist, the track and video from Brad Paisley’s new Wheelhouse album, is way out of hand when he is criticized for not being a “real” Southerner anyway because he was born in West Virginia and only now lives in Tennessee.

Seriously.

If you haven’t heard, Accidental Racist is a collaboration between Paisley and LL Cool J. You can find, listen to and purchase the audio. But the official video was pulled almost immediately, in the wake of an unprecedented avalanche of criticism and derision of the song—musically, culturally, politically, sociologically, morally—which adds up to this: It is the worst, most misguided, most laughable, most unlistenable record ever.

What did Brad Paisley, not quite authentic Southerner, and certainly a musical lightweight (20 number one singles, but those were country number ones), do to deserve this?

He wrote and recorded a song that, stripped to its essentials, says that it’s hard to be a Southerner because people come at you with all kinds of presuppositions, not the least of which is that everything you do or say has to be measured against a history which you were not involved in, which doesn’t reflect who you are, and which puts you in the position of not being quite sure of what you can embrace and what you have to reject. LL Cool J comes in to briefly add exactly the same perspective for urban black men.

Simplistic and clumsy, musically and poetically? Maybe. Sincere? Absolutely. Reflects a real problem for Southerners, who just like post-War Germans, have a culture they are proud of, but have to still perform a delicate balancing act to make sure they aren’t the wrong kind of proud so that they can distance themselves from aspects of their own history and from that very culture? If you think that’s easy, try it yourself.

Is Accidental Racist really that bad? Submitted for your consideration, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Stevie Wonder (he deserves a knighthood too). These two are musical geniuses and real humanitarians. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J would be the first to admit that they are not in their league.

The success of McCartney and Wonder includes their collaboration Ebony and Ivory, which spent seven weeks as a number one single in 1982. The song did not propose anything  challenging or deep about racism, nothing about history, or blame, or stereotypes. Instead, it all comes down to something obvious, something uncontroversial that nobody could complain about. Maybe covering this would have been a better choice in 2013. Or maybe not.

Ebony and Ivory

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

We all know that people are the same where ever we go
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?
Ebony, ivory living in perfect harmony
Ebony, ivory, ooh

We all know that people are the same where ever we go
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord why don’t we?