Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Reviews-We Will Shoot Back, The Rise of The Fourth Reich, The Sundered Realm

We Will Shoot Back
by Akinyele Omowale Umoja
Some believe that the modern US Civil Rights Movement started with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, reached its zenith in the March on Washington and/or the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and died with the assassination of MLK. This story version normally shows black people and some supportive whites being beaten, insulted, spit on, shot at, and even killed all without even trying to protect themselves. The blacks are long suffering martyrs who look mutely to Washington D.C. for guidance and protection. Well. This book puts the lie to that fantasy.

While certainly MLK believed in non-violence as both a moral necessity and the only realistic tactical choice available to an outnumbered, mostly unarmed and incredibly despised minority, MLK's views never achieved 100% acceptance in the movement, even among people inclined to support him like many SCLC, SNCC, NAACP, and CORE members. Some people, even those who meant well, were under the incorrect impression that southern blacks were more comfortable with non-violence and turning the other cheek while those crazy blacks from the NOI or Panthers (usually from the North or West) were the ones supported defensive, retaliatory or pre-emptive violence. Some black movement participants had this viewpoint before they came south.

This simply wasn't the case. The Civil Rights movement needs to be understood as not just something that happened in the fifties and sixties in the South but rather as an ongoing struggle by black people throughout American history to claim their independence and constitutional rights. Several southern born and bred black men and black women simply did not believe in turning the other cheek. The fact that occasionally they HAD to did not mean they accepted it. Some simply didn't do so under any circumstances. Often such people were considered "crazy n******s" and wound up dead, imprisoned or in insane asylums. But it did not go unnoticed that white racists normally gave such people a wide berth. It's one thing to abuse people who won't fight back. It's something else to mess with people who have guns and will use them.


In some very real ways the Civil Rights movement (The author focuses on Mississippi and prefers the term "The Mississippi Freedom Movement") wasn't about individual black people deciding they had had enough but rather different people linking together to struggle. There were lots of different ways to fight for freedom, all of which could be extremely dangerous, especially in Mississippi. 

This book examines the struggle in post WW2 Mississippi, perhaps the place which most fiercely embodied the racist dedication to white supremacy and terror. It was black southerners, often WWI/WW2/Korean War veterans with long bitter experience of racism, who provided housing, transportation, and security for many civil rights workers. It was black men and women, who eschewing non-violence, armed themselves and occasionally engaged in shootouts with Klan nightriders, wounding and allegedly killing a few of them. It was black southerners operating under southern gun-friendly laws, who occasionally showed up armed at civil rights protests, just so police and other reactionary forces would be marginally less likely to resort to violence. Black southerners created formal and informal paramilitary forces to protect civil rights workers, enforce boycotts and keep an eye on any unfamiliar (i.e non civil rights workers) whites in black neighborhoods. This was an indigenous movement that was organized and run by Black Mississippi citizens with a history of resisting white racism. They converted more SNCC workers to their POV than the other way around. 
This was astounding stuff. There was American apartheid. Like apartheid elsewhere this system required, really demanded that black people accept their own inferiority. When black people stopped doing this and more importantly could not be made to do so, the system started to crumble. I was familiar with some stories but you would have to read the book or talk to someone who grew up under the Southern regime to understand how petty, cruel and arbitrary this all was. Are you black and wearing a suit during the week? You might have a problem. Contradict or disagree with a white person? Problem. Own your own land/business and thus don't work for white people? SERIOUS problem. Try to register to vote or actually vote? Look a white person in the eye or flirt with a white woman? Death was an immediate possibility.

This book shows that armed resistance was a small but crucial movement element. The knowledge (or often even the bluff) that there were black men with guns who didn't mind shooting back gave many black people the courage to march, agitate and engage in protest and boycotts. The Klan, associated groups and police suddenly discovered that their regularly scheduled night time shooting and bombing ventures into black communities were not cost free activities. The simple deterrent effect of being armed was a much bigger factor than actual shooting incidents, though the book details many of those. We Will Shoot Back explains the how the singular heroism of such men as C.O. Chinn, who upon hearing that a white man rudely told his mother to get him involved in menial labor went to the white man's house with a gun and politely advised him to stay the f*** out of Chinn family business, was reworked into a collective response to oppression.





The Rise of The Fourth Reich
by Jim Marrs
I try to be rational and find evidence for ideas before accepting them. Nevertheless I have a soft spot for some conspiracy theories, if only because so many things that most people once thought were outrageous and proof that the person who believed them had a leaky brain have since been proven true. Who would have believed that the US government would experiment on civilians and military personnel by deliberately exposing them to radiation or handing out LSD. But that's true. Who would have thought that the US government would make common cause with organized crime elements to eliminate Castro or destroy European political movements? But that happened as well. And do we really believe that an apolitical small time incompetent criminal murdered the leading civil rights personality of his generation and escaped overseas, after conveniently leaving behind "evidence" that he did it?  Or that a crazy Palestinian murdered a Presidential candidate even though the candidate was shot in the head from behind while the assailant was always in the front? And who would have imagined that the FBI would run programs of murder, surveillance, intimidation and blackmail designed to disrupt and destroy black political movements. But they did just that.

All the same I read this book skeptically. However as luck would have it I finished this just as the Snowden NSA revelations broke and otherwise liberal people (cough Joy Reid cough) fell over themselves to defend and praise the national security state. So that was ironic. Still, although this is a very interesting book, especially if you have a bent towards conspiracy theories, it ultimately can't sustain its argument.

The book starts with some facts which are not necessarily well known and then uses those to produce an overarching tale of conspiracy and secret history. For some these facts are enough to "prove" everything that comes afterwards. For me, even though I was definitely sympathetic to the argument, they weren't. For my money the author's thesis is strongest when he's sticking to what can be proved and making modest logical assertions based on those facts. But some later claims either can't be demonstrated to be true or could have a multitude of other causal factors which the author ignores or glides over.

The book's theme is that the West and most especially the United States may have defeated the Nazis militarily but that the Nazi virus was not specific to German heritage. The author argues that for reasons of self-interest, ideology, and shared hostility to real democracy the US leadership class has internalized many Nazi ideals about authoritarianism, class, race, and military primacy. I don't necessarily disagree with this. I just disagree that by the seventies any Nazis were required for this process. I also don't think, as the author holds, that the Nazis found the Templar (Solomon's) Treasure or had put together a workable low yield nuclear bomb which they used at Kursk.


Marrs provides excellent documented information about how several US corporations aided the Nazis before, during and after WW2. Some prominent US families, including most infamously the Bushes and the Dulles, had Nazi ties. There's some fascinating (and I think probably true) arguments that Rudolf Hess actually provided a legitimate peace offer from Hitler to the British Royal Family, which had Nazi sympathizers within. The author details the various US or Vatican programs which assisted Nazis in leaving Europe and resettling in the US or South America. The US space program would have looked very different without Nazi assistance. Some people will find it offensive but the book makes a valid argument that Stalin intended to invade the West and Hitler merely beat him to the punch.

The book is at its strongest when it sticks to wartime or immediately post-war actions. By the time it gets to the seventies and beyond the author has been reduced to arguing that the manner in which American society has grown (huge security state and military, low levels of dissent, lots of drugs, close connections between business and government) is congruent with how Nazis would have wanted things. This may or may not be true but it's certainly not akin to claiming, as the book does elsewhere that there are or by this time, were, secret societies, filled with former Nazis or sympathizers who sought to influence events to their liking.

Several Republican ethnic outreach coordinators were either linked to or were themselves former Nazis. Pat Buchanan used to make a hobby of defending these folks. This was an interesting book. After the early chapters the remainder is a critique of American political, drug, criminal, economic and social practices.





The Sundered Realm 

by Robert E. Vardeman and Victor Milan
My brother often teases me that there are many books I read as a kid that our parents probably wouldn't have let me read if they had known what was in them. Well I certainly wasn't going to tell my parents and with a few exceptions neither were my siblings or cousins. The Sundered Realm is definitely such a book. I recently reordered the entire War of Powers series and started re-reading. It was about as good as I remembered it to be. Certainly there are some things which haven't aged as well but generally I thought the story held up. There is also the hypothesis, which may be true, that my parents knew exactly what I was reading but had a strong belief in letting teens find their own way, within certain guidelines. Who can say.

This book is miles apart from the works of Tolkien, in which apparently sex is not a primary motivating factor or those of Martin where seemingly everybody who wins is evil. Probably the closest comparison is to Robert E. Howard. In this story the heroes are often good but don't mind cheating on occasion while the bad guys have reason to be bad. And everybody who still can, enjoys sex. This is a raunchy tale. This book is the first of a six book series. However all six books combined are roughly equivalent to just one of Martin's tomes. This is quick reading, though admittedly not at all near the quality of a Martin or a Stephen King. Motivations are quickly detailed. The world back history is outlined at the beginning of each book and via character revelations throughout the story. So yes this might be considered the literary equivalent of fast food but heck sometimes fast food hits the spot.

In a world with uneven seasons and where magic works, the dominant human realm is the Sky City. This is just what is sounds like, a city in the clouds that rotates around a fixed point in the ground. The humans who live here have access to advanced magic and technology. However they didn't create those things and don't know how to use all of them. The city was created by a race of evil lizard men who tried and failed to exterminate all of humanity. Eons ago, in a cataclysmic war involving demons and gods, humanity won and drove away much of the lizard men. However some humans took over the Sky City. They now view their fellow humans with much of the same contempt that the lizard men once did.They call such humans "groundlings".
Fost Longstrider is a low born "groundling". Women have reason to know that his last name doesn't just apply to his travel speed. Fost Longstrider is a courier and sometime warrior who is hired to deliver a vase/jug to a wizard. However when he reaches his destination he finds that the wizard is dead. Fost is then attacked by Sky City troops, whom he defeats and kills. It turns out the jug contains the spirit of the long since dead philosopher/magician Erimenes, who, when alive preached a pure asceticism and hatred of the body. So when he died, instead of transitioning to the next stage, his shade stayed on this plane. However in the 1400 years since his death, Erimenes has had a change of heart. He is now a hopeless horndog voyeur who thinks life is wasted on the living. He desperately craves to see sex and violence. And if none is forthcoming he'll try to stir some up. 

Erimenes knows the whereabouts of some VERY powerful magical amulets which is 1) why the dead wizard wanted him, 2) why the Sky City troops wanted him and 3) why Fost encounters a beautiful woman who tries to kill him and steal the jug. Their knockdown dragout fight turns into something equally vigorous but much more pleasurable. But in the morning the woman is gone, along with Erimenes' jug. The woman was Moriana, rightful heir to the Sky City throne, who needs Erimenes' knowledge to battle her older sister Synalon, usurper Queen of Sky City, and one EVIL albeit sexy woman. But Fost is not into one night stands unless he's the one doing the dumping. Anyway Fost's professional pride won't permit him to let anyone steal from him, even if he likes how she looks naked. He sets out after Moriana and runs into a buzzsaw of political and business intrigue, sorcerous sibling rivalry, war, torture, derring do, extremely dangerous adversaries, non-human plans for revenge, battle between gods and demons, and of course a vexing affection and perhaps ultimately even love for Moriana. This book was just over 200 pages and a fun read.
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