Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy across the English Channel, was the largest military invasion in the history of the world. Never before or since were so many troops and resources dedicated to a consolidated effort, and it would be hard to find another invasion that had such wide-ranging effects—the liberation of France, the collapse of the Nazi regime, and, within a year, the end of the European theater of World War II. The event was met with jubilation in France and across the West and in much of Germany, as well, where many ordinary citizens eagerly anticipated the end of the war. However, it was preceded by a bitter political struggle between British and American generals and politicians. In particular, there were significant disagreements about what role the Russian army should play in the invasion. There was no question that the invasion could not succeed without the massive Red Army, but there were also few illusions about what a Russian invasion of Eastern Europe would ultimately mean.
The particular issue that caused the greatest disagreement was allowing the Red Army to take Berlin (along with Prague). The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the decision was his to make. In the months leading up to the invasion, Eisenhower was intent on taking Berlin, but there still was no clear understanding about what such an operation would cost. By April 1945, according to a long consideration of the issue by Theodore Draper, Eisenhower was intent on taking Berlin, but only “cheaply” or at “little cost.” General Omar Bradley was, unlike Eisenhower, actually on the field of battle, and he didn’t think there would be nothing “cheap” about the invasion: he expected it to cost 100,000 American troops. Eisenhower thought the cost was too high, but many historians disagree.
There is a widespread belief that allowing the Russians to take Berlin initiated and ultimately prolonged the Cold War, at far greater cost. This was the view of many in Britain at the time, but Eisenhower had to make his decision based on actual lives rather than possible consequences decades later. It was the same mentality he would bring to the presidency, when he supported an invasion of Lebanon that helped the American-friendly government survive for decades longer, but pulled out of Korea and failed to support the Hungarian uprising, believing both enterprises to be doomed no matter what. He may have felt the same way about Berlin, though the issue will continue to be debated for decades to come.
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, will be available in stores on October 14. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry builds on the “Graphic Novels” entry from the “Pop” section.
Graphic Novels like Art Speigelman’s Maus, Chris Ware’s and Charles Burns’ Black Hole have only become popular in recent decades, but comics were invented much earlier. While some critics point to everything from Egyptian Hieroglyphics to the Bayeux Tapestry for predecessors, but most would agree that the first proper comics were created by the German artist Rodolphe Töpffer. In the 1830′s and early 1840′s, Töpffer published a series of seven satirical stories about 19th-century society. What made them unique was their format, a series of images in separate panels, with caption text describing the action—in other words, Töpffer created the first comic books.
They were soon translated and published in the United States as a supplement to the New York newspaper Brother Jonathan (though they were only recently published in book form in the United States last year). They were popular and generally well received. However, one of the highest complements Töpffer could have been paid was given him back in Germany: the great German poet, scientist and polymath Johann Wilhelm von Goethe was given a copy of Töpffer’s work on his deathbed, and he was quite impressed. He found them amusing and “highly pleasurable,” but added a caveat—“if he . . . did not have such an insignificant text [i.e., story-line] before him, he would invent things which would surpass all our expectations.” Töpffer never did take Goethe up on this and produce a more serious work, but his successors in recent years certainly have.
Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin In The Sun was a landmark of the American stage. It was, according to Hansberry’s immodest appraisal, the first play to depict American blacks as anything other than “cardboard cutout” stereotypes, and black audiences were particularly touched by the play’s “valid re-creation of life.” The phrase is James Baldwin’s, from his 1976 essay on film: “The Devil Finds Work.”
… in order for a person to bear his life, he needs a valid re-creation of that life, which is why, as Ray Charles might put it, blacks chose to sing the blues. This is why Raisin in the Sun meant so much to black people—on the stage: the film is another matter. In the theater, a current flowed back and forth between the audience and the actors, flesh and blood corroborating flesh and blood — as we say, testifying.
Famous as the play was, most people today know A Raisin in the Sun from the 1961 film version with Sidney Poitier. It won awards on its release, and, since 2005, it has been preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Baldwin, as he suggested above, was not a fan. He felt that it had none of the warmth of the original, that the connection with the audience was completely severed: “The filmed play, which is, alas, all that Raisin is on film, simply stayed up there, on that screen. The unimaginative rigidity of the film locked the audience out of it. Furthermore, the people in Raisin are not the people one goes to the movies to see.” This was an unusually harsh verdict on a generally well-regarded film, but Baldwin’s views are nothing if not unique, to put it most charitably. One contemporary reviewer who counted himself an admirer of Baldwin wrote that The Devil Finds Work “teems with a passion that is all reflex, and an anger that is unfocused and almost cynical.” Baldwin couldn’t have been too surprised to see his collection of harsh judgments elicit some harsh judgments on the part of others.
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, will be available in stores on October 14. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on Glasnost is from the “Ideas and Trends” section.
At the end of today’s entry in the new Modern Culture edition of the Devotional on glasnost — Mikhail Gorbachev’s series of reforms meant to encourage greater “openness” in Soviet society — there is a brief mention of the economic counterpart to Gorbachev’s cultural policies: perestroika, or “restructuring.” As with glasnost, the consequences of perestroika were far wider-reaching than anybody could have imagined.
Gorbachev’s program of economic restructuring began modestly, like his program of “openness,” but soon took on a momentum of their own and could not be contained to the confines he had initially envisioned for hem. However, looking at the fundamental components of perestroika are a shocking reminder of just how different the Soviet system was from capitalism. The Law on State Enterprises, for instance, stipulated that businesses could determine output levels based on consumer demand, and allowed businesses with costs that exceeded revenues to fail rather than receive state support. This is nothing but the most basic application of “supply and demand” economics and competitive business practices, but it was a huge shock to the Soviet system. As it happened, it was a fatal shock. As with glasnost, the small fissure opened up by perestroika eventually became a torrent that swept away the Soviet Union and nullified the Warsaw Pact. Introduce a little “openness” into a system founded on having none, many commented at the time, and it should come as no surprise that the entire structure would falter. (Though, of course, it came as a surprise to nearly everyone.)
But, then again, at nearly the same time that Gorbachev was restructuring the Soviet Union’s economy, Deng Xiaoping, leader of the Chinese Communist Party, was doing precisely the same thing. But while the U.S.S.R. was obliterated by Gorbachev’s reforms, China’s growth still has not abated.
The minimum wage is now 70 years old, and any sort of opposition to it is dismissed these days as curmudgeonly nonsense, the sort of thing one finds on the lunatic fringe of the far right. One figure who is often unfairly placed in that category is the economist Milton Friedman. Yes, Friedman was about as much of a free market absolutist as you could hope to find, and, yes, he did support Conservative Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run for the presidency.(Incidentally, that run is often considered the beginning of the Conservative Movement in America, which many think may have ended with the recent presidential campaign of Goldwater’s successor as Senator from Arizona—John McCain.)
But, when the Nobel Laureate was asked what his most important achievements were, he listed two causes not often associated with conservatism: his contribution to ending the compulsory military draft, and his opposition to the criminalization of drugs. Perhaps Friedman’s argument against the minimum wage is worth considering after all.
On December 7, 1975, Friedman appeared on the television program The Open Mind with Richard D. Heffner (read the entire transcript here) and made the astonishing claim that the minimum wage was a disaster for poor people and, in particular, a disaster for black Americans. His reasoning is as calm and simple as his claim is shocking: if employers don’t believe that somebody is worth the minimum wage, they aren’t going to pay them that amount. That would be charity—a perfectly wonderful thing, but not something many employers can afford. Instead, they simply won’t hire that person at all. Friedman’s conclusion is that the minimum wage leads to greater unemployment and hurts exactly the people it is meant to help.
Watch him making the claim, and see what you think:
Philip Glass is best known for his innovative “Minimalist” compositions, though he prefers to be thought of as a classical composer or, more specifically, a composer of “music with repetitive structures.” He’s one of the most listened-to modern classical composers in the world, though many members of his audience don’t necessarily know that they’re listening to him. That’s because Glass has also made a name for himself as a composer of movie scores; his most famous score &mdash for The Hours — earned him an Oscar nomination. More intriguingly, Glass has written music, entire operas in fact, for films made long before his musical career began. The three operas composed between 1991 and 1996 were based on three films by the French poet, novelist, painter and film-maker Jean Cocteau – Orphée (Orpheus, 1949), La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast, 1946), and Les Enfants Terribles (1950). Live performances of these works are rare events these days, but the opera of La Belle et la Bête is available to anyone with a DVD player.
The new Modern Culture edition of the Intellectual Devotional includes an entire section on the great Films of the twentieth century. Many of those films are available in wonderful editions from the Criterion Collection, filled with commentaries and special features. One of the films available in the collection is Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, and it contains one of the most interesting special features we’ve ever seen on a DVD: you can switch the audio between the original soundtrack and Glass’ opera, carefully synced to the actors’ movements. Glass wanted his operas to be performed with the film being projected, and with this DVD, you can experience his vision without having to wait for a revival performance, not to mention being able to stick with sweats rather than fancy opera furs.
Want to see Cocteau’s film and hear Glass’ opera? Buy it here, or add it to your Netflix queue here.
The Bay of Pigs, a poorly thought-out, poorly planned and poorly executed invasion of Cuba organized by the CIA in 1960, is one of the less-inspiring episodes in American history. The poor thinking: it was assumed that an invasion of Cuba would spark a popular uprising against Fidel Castro. The poor planning: rather than depending on military specialists, Kennedy insisted on choosing the spot of the landing himself, a spot so disadvantageous to an invasion that Castro had a hard time believing his luck when he learned of it. The poor execution: having given the green light for an invasion, Kennedy did not provide air support, and the invasion failed. But bad as this was, it’s nothing compared to other ideas that the CIA cooked up for dealing with the Bearded One.
Following the Watergate scandal, the Senate and House of Representatives took a closer look into American intelligence operations than Congress ever had. The “Church Committee” published its findings in 14 volumes, but the most shocking revelations came in its “Interim Report”: “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders.” The report outlined alleged plots involving United States intelligence services to assassinate Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujilo of the Dominican Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam, Rene Schneider of Chile (all of whom were killed) and Fidel Castro of Cuba. The plots against Castro included development of a potion that would cause his beard to fall off; poisoning his wet suit and cigars; and involving the U.S. Mafia (which lost many of its gambling interests to the 1959 Cuban Revolution) in a “hit” on a foreign leader. Seems there weren’t many Devoted Intellectuals in the CIA back then.
Stalin did establish one useful precedent. He made it a practice to bump off whoever served as head of his secret police. He never let anybody stay in the job too long. As a successful dictator, Stalin seems to have felt that anybody who had collected so many secrets would be a No. 1 menace to security if he ever went sour. Stalin thought it safer not to wait.
I think we ought to take Stalin’s example one step further. I think we ought to get rid of the CIA altogether, lock, stock, and burglar’s kit.