Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Un-bombs (2)

Ever since Isaiah had a vision of men beating their swords into ploughshares, it has been pleasant to imagine or witness other examples of the tools or symbols of war being converted into those of peace. I've posted a couple of examples over on the Tumblr.

Ballet bomb

Un-bombs (1)

Ever since Isaiah had a vision of men beating their swords into ploughshares, it has been pleasant to imagine or witness other examples of the tools or symbols of war being converted into those of peace. I've posted a few examples over on the Tumblr.

Books, not bombs

Going Postal in Gaza

Artifact of the Moment:

Not necessarily what you think. An arcane and quotidian piece of history. Over on the Tumblr:

Would You Wear Jewelry Commemorating a War or Battle? (The Somme of All Fears)

A pretty pin marking the proverbial bloodiest day in British military history. Would you consider it strange to wear jewelry commemorating a contemporary war or battle, say, the Iraq or Afghanistan wars? the battle of Falluja? Or maybe 9-11.

Probably. But when we stop to think about it, is it really so foreign to us? The American penchant for populism has produced countless t-shirts and bumper stickers marking military campaigns and national tragedies--including 9-11. Military veterans often sport baseball caps noting their units, ships, or the wars they served in. President Clinton and other dignitaries even wore rather incongruous-looking commemorative baseball caps at the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.


Over on the Tumbler, a look at this Artifact of the Moment involving World War I and soldiers' gifts to loved ones:

Battlefield Bling From the Bloodiest Day in British Military History: The Somme

Franz Ferdinand, unloved bulldog

With the World War I centenary now upon us, there will be plenty of cause for blogging. To start things off: over on the Tumblr:

"broad and mighty … with his bulldog neck and his cold, staring eyes": Archduke Franz Ferdinand, 1914

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Coming to America: The Immigrant Experience During the Cold War (I)

As thousands of refugee children from Latin America rush to enter the United States and politicians even more hastily rush to trade accusations about security and humanity, immigration is once again a hot issue this summer.

Ironically, the country makes a point of holding especially festive citizenship ceremonies for new Americans on the 4th of July. (Here, stories of local immigrants and festivities in the Gazette: 1, 2, 3, 4). As I followed the news stories and prepared for the July 4th weekend, I suddenly realized that it was exactly 65 years ago, in July 1949, that my father came to America. Three years later, he became a citizen. Those who arrived here at that time had been fated to live in "interesting times" (as the apocryphal Chinese expression would have it): the European world that had given birth to them and shaped their identities was destroyed, yet the new American world did not fully understand them, either.

The following artifacts are a modest testimony to that experience.

Then, as now, every prospective citizen had to study to pass a test and qualify for admission. But becoming a citizen was about acculturation, not just education. Much of the naturalization process involved teaching the newcomers how to be(come) American. Just to make sure, the government provided further reading for the time after securing the coveted certificate, as well.

This booklet, written by the Attorney General and Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (1951) contained:
  • The Star-Spangled Banner (text)
  • Greetings from the President and the Attorney General
  • The Meaning of American Citizenship, By Argyle R. Mackey, Acting Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service: no longer a foreign citizen, but also not "a hyphenated-Amercican."
  • The Duties of a Citizen [include: obeying laws, voting, informing oneself about issues on the ballot, paying taxes, jury duty, holding office, serving in the military, etc.]
  • Rights and Privileges of a Citizen: basically standard civil and political rights, derived from the Constitution
  • Photo of the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, along with an "Oath of Allegiance"
  • The Five Qualities of the Good Citizen
  • "America" (My country! 'tis of thee; text) 
  • Memories of the Occasion (space for "signatures," "messages of congratulation," and "newspaper clippings")
    The "Five Qualities of the Good Citizen":
    1. "cherishes democratic values and bases his actions on them"
    2. "practices democratic human relationship in the family, school, community, and the larger scenes"
    3. "recognizes the social problems of  the times and has the will and the ability to work toward their solution"
    4. "is aware of and takes responsibility for meeting basic human needs"
    5. "possesses and uses knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary in a democratic society" 
    Most of this was the standard stuff. The "Five Qualities" are unobjectionable--even admirable. If phrased in the language of a warrant article, they could pass muster even in Amherst Town Meeting. But it was also the era of McCarthyism, which caused my parents some concern. (More on that on another occasion, perhaps.) The combination of the hunt for subversives and the dominant doctrine of assimilation could create an atmosphere of uncertainty for even the most well-intentioned of immigrants. 

    A piece in the booklet by Argyle R. Mackey, Interim Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, reflected the combined spirit of democratic hospitality and assimilationist advice:
    Today you have become a citizen of the United States of America. You are no longer an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Italian, a Pole. Neither are you a hyphenated-American--a Polish-American, an Italian-American. You are no longer the subject of a government. Henceforth, you are an integral part of this Government--a freeman--a Citizen of the United States of America.

    This citizenship, which has been solemnly conferred on you, is a thing of the spirit--not of the flesh. When you took the oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States you claimed for yourself the God-given unalienable rights which that sacred document sets forth as the natural right of all men.
    One notes that only immigrants from southern and east-central Europe merited the term, "hyphenated." (No one, after all, speaks of an English-American.) Not coincidentally, these were immigrants from the groups whose entry was severely curtailed by the notorious Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. Its replacement, the likewise restrictive McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act, aimed particularly against immigrants from "eastern" Europe, passed Congress over President Truman's veto days before my father received his citizenship.

    The stress on popular government must have been empowering. To what extent was it offset in the minds of the newcomer by the equal stress on assimilation and homogenization?  A subtly engaging short film, "The Cummington Story" (1945; score by Aaron Copland) shows how standoffish New Englanders and insecure European refugees right here in western Massachusetts overcame cultural barriers to become friends as well as neighbors.

    In 1952, Congress changed the name of the holiday honoring new Americans from "I Am an American Day" to "Citizenship Day" and shifted the date from the third Sunday in May to September 17, the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution. In accordance with President Truman's declaration, the Mayor of Minneapolis held a reception for the newcomers at City Hall.

    My father was selected as one of the two new citizens to speak at the ceremony. The name of the other, "Mrs. H.A. Bullis," is somewhat misleading. She was a fellow Polish refugee, the Countess Maria Smorczewska, who was active in the underground during the war, fled to the US in 1947, and married the widowed Harry Amos Bullis, Chairman of the Board of General Mills, in 1948.

    The program of the ceremony refers to the new Americans receiving four things: "Certificates of Naturalization," instructions concerning "The Etiquette of the Flag," "Greeting Cards," and "Citizenship Buttons."
    I of course have the Certificate of Naturalization. Curiously, given that my father was a meticulous record-keeper (regardless of whether the subject was his travel experiences, the family budget, the car's gas mileage, or my height and weight as an infant), I did not find the other items among his papers and memorabilia.

    It is possible that the booklet welcoming immigrants to American citizenship constituted the "greeting card," for I found it along with the above program. In any event, I do have the flag presented at the naturalization ceremony. My parents each had one, and I recall playing with one as a child.

    Here is the other, still striking in its freshness and simplicity. Protected from the light all these many years, it has kept its color, which appears to have been stenciled with paint onto the fabric (presumably linen?). It is less vibrant than today’s flags or even others of that day, but the muted colors are warm, and the texture of the  natural fabric offer a visual and tactile satisfaction that our slick modern synthetics simply do not. The effect, whether reflecting reality or merely a construction of our imagination, evokes a bygone era.

    Back then, of course, the flag had only 48 stars, here in the configuration specified by the Executive Order of President Taft, 24 June 1912. It did not change until the admission of Alaska and Hawaii under President Eisenhower, both in 1959.

    American flag, c. 9 3/4 x 14 1/4 inches [enlarge]

    As I've said before: whatever America's flaws and continuing problems, I'd much rather live in a country that people are fighting to get into rather than out of. Happy Fourth of July--and a warm welcome to all those still struggling to join us as citizens of this constantly evolving country.

    Friday, July 11, 2014

    Ramadan Kareem

    Wishing all my friends and readers all the best for the month of Ramadan.

    In 2011, belatedly recognizing the religious diversity of our country, the United States Postal Service issued this Eid stamp
    I am sorry that the 9th Annual Ramadan Iftar sponsored by The Turkish Cultural Center of Springfield and the UMass Rumi Club was canceled this year. It is an event that I have very much enjoyed attending in years past: one of the few genuinely multicultural gatherings here because it actually educates rather than merely promulgating platitudes.

    I of course nonetheless take to heart the spirit of the season. Because Ramadan this year falls during a time of renewed conflict in the Middle East, here are two selections from previous posts.

    In 2011, Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) offered the following simple greeting:
        To all of our Muslim friends and colleagues, Ramadan Kareem!

        May we all enjoy the blessings of health, prosperity, happiness and peace into our lives and may we all multiply it and share with others as well!  

    And in 2012, Michael Oren, Ambassador to the US from Israel (whose population is 20% Muslim) said the following at the White House Iftar:
        It is a world grounded in our holy books. Tonight, of course, is Laylat al-Qadr, the night of the Holy Quran’s revelation. As a student, I spent an entire year reading the Quran and vividly remember how it referred to the Jews as Ahlu al-Kitab—the People of the Book. It says in Sura 29, “Our God and your God is one, and to Him do we submit.” And in Sura 3, the Jews are invited to, “Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but God, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides God.”

        Similarly, the Bible tells us, in the Book of Psalms, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” And the Book of Proverbs says, fittingly for this Ramadan feast, “Better a dry crust with peace than a house full of feasting, with strife."

    * * *
    Update July 28:

    As has become the custom, the Empire State Building displayed green lights in honor of the end of Ramadan:

    And President Obama issued his Eid greeting:

    As Muslims throughout the United States and around the world celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to them and their families.  This last month has been a time of fasting, reflection, spiritual renewal, and service to the less fortunate.  While Eid marks the completion of Ramadan, it also celebrates the common values that unite us in our humanity and reinforces the obligations that people of all faiths have to each other, especially those impacted by poverty, conflict, and disease.

    In the United States, Eid also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy.  That is why we stand with people of all faiths, here at home and around the world, to protect and advance their rights to prosper, and we welcome their commitment to giving back to their communities.

    On behalf of the Administration, we wish Muslims in the United States and around the world a blessed and joyous celebration.  Eid Mubarak.

    Wishing all my friends and followers Eid Mubarak and the blessings of peace in the coming year.

    Update July 29:

    It seems that our hapless President, attacked from all sides, can do no right. Many evidently took umbrage at his wishing people a joyous celebration when fighting rages in Gaza and without mention of the situation there. Not for nothing do they call it the toughest job in the world.

    from Al Arabiya: Obama's Eid greeting to Muslims backfires

    Previous Ramadan posts:

    • 2012 Ramadan Reflection
    • 2012 Eid Mubarak!
    • 2011 Ramadan in Amherst: Celebration of Community and Concerns Over Intolerance
    • 2010 Ramadan Kareem! (with some tools for keeping track of non-Christian holidays)

    Friday, July 4, 2014

    Season of Blooms--and Blogging?

    The advent of summer, marking a transition of some sort--whether the beginning of new ways or the return to old ones--seems an appropriate time to get back to writing here. For that matter, Independence Day could be appropriate, as well. In any case, it's been much longer than I expected.

    * * *

    An appropriate metaphor?
    Traditional or old garden roses (=pre-1867) generally had fragrant, double-blossomed flowers (white, pink, red), which bloomed briefly only once in a season, on old wood. In the course of the nineteenth century, breeders sought to develop cultivars with multiple desirable attributes, able to bloom on new growth throughout the season. One result, alas, was the insipid (not colorless, but usually odorless and sometimes tasteless) and ubiquitous hybrid tea rose that we give to our lovers on Valentine's Day and other special occasions. Go to a garden of old roses in June, and then tell me why we should waste big bucks on a bouquet of American Beauty.

    Above: the Rose de Rescht, one of my stalwarts (though not recently sold around here), with the best virtues of an old rose and the new: ancient variety, strong fragrance, repeat (but not constant modern) blooming. A Damask, it was purportedly introduced to France in 1807, and to England circa 1880. Although the specifics of hybridization are unclear, it is generally said to have been reintroduced to England and Europe from Iran by Miss Lindsay, circa late 1940s.

    * * *

    Lots of things--mostly work (a.k.a. the "day job"), but also sundry civic and family obligations--got in the way. Scribbling here just did not seem to be the highest priority (not that it ever was).

    In the intervening period, I've also been changing my writing habits and outlets:  focusing more on a few important "longform" pieces (they used to be called: "essays," or "articles") for other venues (though I may sometimes link to them here), while more frequently sharing links and brief observations on Twitter (@CitizenWald), and images or other brief posts on Tumblr. Look to the latter in particular for images with short text, though generally cross-referenced to this site.

    As for this page, I have a few new summary rubrics as well as individual posts in mind.

    In the meantime, here are some "coming attractions" (though without guarantee of when any individual piece will appear):
    • Leni Riefenstahl goes grocery shopping
    • Mrs. Chamberlain defends appeasement
    • Best. Course. Title. Ever.
    • How I got quoted by the AP.
    • Proof that you can fool some of the people all of the time.
    • And of course material for the World War I centenary.