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The Lost Prophet

28 Aug

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1956What with the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the more recent, controversial SCOTUS decisions, Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor, offering Federal recognition to same-sex couples in states legalizing same-sex marriage and removing legal obstacles for homesexual Californians to marry, it’s a propitious time to reevaluate Bayard Rustin.

For those who have heard of Rustin, few understand the immense contributions he made to the civil rights movement. In 1963, he spent only ten weeks planning the March on Washington, still one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. Most credit King for adopting Gandhi’s tireless tactics of non-violence. But Brother Outsider, an award-winning documentary about Rustin’s life, showed he introduced King to these ideals. Rustin also reportedly came up with the idea of selling buttons, at 25 cents each, to fund the march — a tribute to the power of his grassroots organizing.

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In light of the changing attitudes of recent times, Rustin may finally receive the attention owed to him for his substantial contribution. At this year’s 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, President Obama decided to award Rustin posthumously with the Presidential Medal for Freedom, the highest civilian honor. “As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights,” the White House said of the President’s decision to honor Rustin this year.

But what really makes Rustin a compelling figure was his commitment to Gandhian non-violence.

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Book Review #7

30 May

George F. KennanReading John Lewis GaddisGeorge F. Kennan: An American Life was a depressing experience for a number of reasons. Reading biography has a singular drawback, that plumbing the depths of an individual whose work or experience prompted admiration would reveal some noxious secret that ultimately undermines the original cause for exploring a life. It’s not so much that I don’t admire George F. Kennan now, but that his long, eventful life casts his perspective on realism and containment in less favorable terms. It’s very difficult to read about an idol.

As an undergraduate two people distracted me from language study: my adviser and George F, Kennan. Bo doubt I had a crush on my adviser from the first day of a section of the Introduction to Political Science class he taught. I had already taken two classes on Congress and another introduction, but now I was wedded to International Relations. I abandoned any fantasy about interning for a senator. Kennan also frequently got sidetracked by women. Discussions in class were electric and fluid, not really lectures but just as insightful. Here was a teacher – for she wasn’t promoted to her position yet – who let students speak and still could maintain discipline and cover a topic. Nothing anyone said was not useful to her. Unlike Kennan in his later incarnation as a lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, she rarely spoke for more than a few minutes at a stretch, confining herself to offering introducing concepts and fielding questions. One of the first assignments was Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram”, offered in the form of his 1947 Foreign Affairs article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct“, signed as “X”. Admittedly, the relationship between the two eluded me then, but Gaddis delivered me from that confusion. The first iteration was brilliant; the “X’ article was a political error.

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Hashimoto Exists For Our Sins

16 May

Here we go again – another herpes eruption of Japanese right-wing revisionism.

A Japanese local leader’s defense of the use of Chinese and Korean sex slaves to service Japanese soldiers during World War II as a “necessary” part of the war effort has drawn angry responses from Beijing and Seoul, aggravating tensions in the region that were already high after a series of earlier provocations.

“We are shocked and indignant at the Japanese politician’s remarks, as they flagrantly challenge historical justice and the conscious of mankind,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “How Japan treats its past will decide its future.”

Mr. Hong was responding to comments by Toru Hashimoto, the outspoken mayor of Osaka, who told reporters on Monday that the taking of sex slaves–euphemistically referred in Japan as “comfort women”–was justifiable.  “Anyone can understand that the system of comfort women was necessary to provide respite for a group of high-strung, rough and tumble crowd of men braving their lives under a storm of bullets,” Mr. Hashimoto said, adding that apart from moral considerations “back then it was a necessary system to maintain military discipline.”

South Korea’s foreign ministry also slammed Mr. Hashimoto on Tuesday.

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