Keeping the Flames

In a particularly beautiful part of the Netherlands, just outside the town of Sint-Oedenrode, a local teenager looked out the window to see American paratroopers drop into the field just outside the family house.

It was September 17th 1944,  and Martin (referred to as Opa to his family and so I shall too from hereon) was in the middle of the largest airborne operation ever attempted. An audacious assault meant to bypass the fortifications of the Maginot and Siegfried lines on the French and Belgian borders with Germany. The Netherlands had been under Nazi occupation since May 1940. Had Operation Market Garden succeeded the Dutch would have been liberated earlier, but also victory in Europe day could have been before Christmas 1944.

Martinus Alphonsus van Rooy, now 88, recounts the experience of having World War Two so close at such a pivotal age.  “I still don’t like the Germans,” he murmurs reflectively.  it was clear by 1944 that the Nazi war machine was slowly collapsing.  The initial surprise of Market Garden confused the enemy, so when they came after the paratroopers they thought they were after the British.  Even so the SS put Opa’s family against the wall of their house and demanded to know where the “tommies” were.  The SS left soon after empty-handed.

The Americans had asked for cans to hang on wires which would rattle and alert them to intruders at night.  They had dug in; coming out in the day and disappeared at night. Over the next week Opa and his family were strangely poised, living with World War Two happening out the window.  At one point an older SS man came to the house looking for somewhere to sleep. He slept in the kitchen. Opa’s sister took the man’s rifle and wouldn’t give it back.

The German morale was evidently poor, and they were spiritually a spent force.  “The Germans didn’t want to go to the Eastern Front. Oh no, they didn’t want to fight the Russians, they were scared [of them].” Opa recalls witnessing gunfights between the Allies and the Nazis, and got as close as to be in real danger when a hand grenade went off nearby. He remembers that the Germans were genuinely surprised, “They thought the British were above where they were.” The Allies had landed over such a wide area in order to create a corridor for ground forces in France to advance through. This did have the effect of surprise, but made the operation vulnerable to counterattack. The German Panzer divisions were able to defeat the operation, but it was to be their last victory of the war.

As the days passed the Operation became more and more futile. It depended on speed and surprise to seize the key roads and bridges forming a corridor from Eindhoven to Arnhem, which the British XXX Corps would use to bypass the fortifications of the Maginot and Sigfried lines (reinforcing the border between Germany, France, and Belgium). This was an audacious attempt to bring the war to a close before Christmas 1944.

Today, Operation Market Garden has disappeared from memory as the events of D-day and the Battle of the Bulge which burn more brightly have taken attention. They were gruelling, and devastating operations, but they were victories, and much more satisfactory stories for Hollywood to tell.

On this ANZAC day, I think it is worthwhile to seek out the lesser known tales from military history, not least because we are steadily losing those that can tell them first hand. Now in his late eighties, the teenage boy from Sint-Oedenrode who saw the flash of guns and felt the shock of a grenade, recalls his experience with a twinkle in his eye.

Trump’s list of broken promises

What is that crunching underfoot? The shards of Trump’s broken promises. The shattered dreams of those who voted for him, and are stuck between a bloviating moron and the hate of dejected democrats. 

Let no-one get away with saying that at least Trump is doing what he said he would do if elected. It simply isn’t so.

Trump’s promises before and after the election – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37982000

Vile Maxims 

Adam Smith wrote that the ‘masters of mankind,’ who at the time were the manufacturing owners in England, pursue their vile maxim: “everything for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

Noam Chomsky has written at great length about how this is as true today as it was when Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. I cannot possibly improve on the case the great professor makes in a mere essay, but simply draw out a few strands and hold them closer to the light.

There’s something very wrong about the world we live in. People tell me that the problem is deeply rooted in human nature. That we cannot possibly change it, that greed and self interest are as much a part of what makes us human as our opposable thumbs and brain size. Greed makes people abuse welfare. Greed makes people steal and use drugs. And greed makes massive financial institutions wreak havoc on the world economy behind their responsibility and demand (and get) a bailout from the taxpayer. The first two cases in which greed informs behaviour are harshly punished. The latter is not.

This is not news to anyone. Even the most reptilian neo-liberal accepts that corporate greed is negative (or perhaps they don’t, I am not particularly interested in knowing). If only because it makes the corporate interests lobby governments to pervert the free market to their own ends. But the masters of mankind have us tied up in the belief that Human Nature cannot be changed. If greed is not good then at least it is ineradicable. That way the masters can continue their plunder of the world while the rest of us toil for less and less.

I don’t think greed is necessarily a part of human nature. In fact empirical evidence taken from the myriad forms of human society demonstrates the weakness of the human nature claim. Pre-european Māori tribes engaged in inter-tribal warfare (that increased dramatically after Europeans brought the musket), but Māori society was remarkably stable, and quite immune from the pressures we like to worry about. Like individual property rights.

Our society is built to be greedy. That is capitalist nature, not human. We built the society, and we can fix it. How do we do it? A violent Revolution? I am not at all sure that storming the proverbial Bastille is the way to go. Instead, I want to look at the ails of society, which is what Marx and Engels were concerned with in the very first place. Deny and disagree with their conclusions if you wish, but their analysis of industrialization was deadly accurate. You don’t have to answer for Stalin if you invoke Marxist theories, just as supporters of Bernie Sanders do not have to answer for Trump. I say that as a throat clearing for any vocal critics.

What needs to happen now is the lower 90% of people who would have been known once as the proletariat, has to reclaim the power they once had as factory workers to unionize and agitate against the bourgeoisie. Over the years the means of production have been outsourced and the working class thereby disempowered. A sweatshop worker in China cannot hold Nike to account, multi-nationals assume the privileged of being neo-states in all but landmass. Financial regulation and deregulation espoused by the frightful hack Alan Greenspan established the new proletariat dubbed the ‘precariat’ because the working class is now characterized by insecurity. Zero-hour contracts, no health insurance, fire at will policies, the erosion of welfare so that the worker who predictably loses their job cannot pay their rent or their bills. All for ourselves and nothing for other people, the vile maxim sits at the heart of this filthy Society.

But it is based on a lie. This is not a zero sum world. Advances for some people are not necessarily imply detraction for others. If you are fortunate to be thriving in this Society I do not want to injure you or harm your prospects. I want to meet Society work for more people, like trans and non-binary people. The poor, the ill, those abandoned by Society and kept in cages. The first step is to listen to these people, the second is to make concessions. In order to get to that place it needs to be accepted that workers have rights and must be able to agitate for better conditions. They can continue to represent themselves better than any demagogue hoisting the red flag.

Lastly, security needs to be attained in all its complexity, not just in physical terms when considering domestic and international terrorism. The American Dream was about individual security. A family sustaining itself without government interference. That dream is dead as long as workers are precarious on the edge of oblivion. So be cautious when dubious and smug politicians talk about the economy. The word they actually mean to say is plutonomy, and growth for 0.1% does not strengthen the economy overall. But it does invite them to lavish parties on expensive yachts and stroke them in just the right way.

Instead of citing particular pages, much of this essay is based on Noam Chomsky’s Who Rules the World. Additional reading from The Meaning of Marxism by Paul D’Amato.